Let me just admit it, ranking things and picking bests and worsts is challenging, and addictive, plus it starts some great discussions. After visiting 15 US National Parks last summer, Adam and I came up with the OGRES Score to rank the national parks on the criteria that made for our best experiences and most recommended parks.
Now that we’ve visited and blogged about three more national parks: Mulu National Park in Malaysia and then Tongariro and Abel Tasman National Parks in New Zealand, I thought it would be appropriate to rate those parks against what we saw in the US and see how they stacked up.
You can jump to the recap of the methodology and summary of the old results, and the scores for the new contenders and the final ranking. If you’ve visited some or any of these parks, let me know how you think they compare!
Random note: Just in case anyone is still anxiously awaiting more on travel insurance, I’m expecting to talk about that next week.
Ranking parks is hard, so Adam and I came up with these five key factors that really made a difference in our park experience.
|One of a Kind natural beauty. Or, alternately, does it make you go “Oh $*@&!”. Almost every park has a little “O”, but some have a lot more than others.|
|Groupability and Geographic Accessibility – I give high marks for parks that are close to other great sites, or near fun cities and airports. Some points for small towns or on-site groceries, amenities and wifi. While this isn’t an important factor on a long road trip, it’s great for planning shorter trips.|
|Revisitability / Return Visit – Having visited, would we return to see more or go back to re-experience the park again? Some parks feel “done” after just one visit but others need more time. This would also be a good indicator that a park is worth a longer stay as opposed to a short one or two day visit.|
|Ease of Access and Activities – This component captures the variability of things to do at a park, as well as the ease with you can figure out what to do, and where to eat and sleep. The rangers and park materials are huge here.|
|Solitude or Swarms – At the park, we gave high marks for when we could more easily avoid crowds and traffic to appreciate the natural beauty, and low marks for swarms of tourists and traffic that are too difficult to avoid.|
Each park can earn up to 10 points on each segment, for a total of 50 points. The only change with the international parks, is that I assessed geographic accessibility from within the region. For instance, Mulu got low scores because it can require two flights to get to even from within Malaysia, but Tongariro scored high because it’s just a few hours’ drive from Auckland.
Ranking parks is difficult, because they all have their charms, and I am always happy to hear other points of view about parks and trips so let me know what you think in the comments or over a beer sometime.
Here are the results of the first OGRES Score for the 15 US National Parks we visited. (The post with the detailed scores is here.)
Thanks for sticking with me here through that lengthy setup. Here’s the OGRES Score for the three international parks we visited:
|Mulu National Park in Malaysia is home to the biggest cave in the world. In addition to the huge volume of caves and rock formations, this park has tons of bats and other jungle life within the tropical rain forest ecosystem. I gave it very high marks for “One of a Kind” natural beauty and on “Returnability”. There’s tons of cave activities and we easily spent a week there and could’ve done more. Most of the cave adventures are guided and done in groups, so the park scored high marks on “Ease” but lost a few on “Solitude”. Mulu also really took a hit on “Geographic Accessibility”, due to it’s out-of-the-way location in Borneo. Go to Mulu if you like cave adventures and you have the time to get there. For more info, check out the Official Mulu Website and My Post on Cave Adventures at Mulu.|
|Tongariro National Park on the North Island of New Zealand is famous for volcanoes. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing gets you up close and personal with two biggies, including Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings, which is very “One of a Kind”. Once you get to the country, it is an easy four hour drive from Auckland, so I gave the park 9 points on “geographic accessibility”. With all the international parks, I’m assuming you start in the region, which in this case means New Zealand or possibly Australia.|
Tongariro got dinged a bit on “Returnability”, because the Alpine Crossing feels like a one-time trip, though there are lots of other activities. It’s relatively “Easy” to get around the park and plan activities, though I really missed the central ranger station like we saw in the US parks. The major drawback of this park is that the Alpine Crossing is quite crowded, hence the low score of 4 points for “Solitude”. If you’re an outdoorsy person and can handle a moderately challenging hike, tackle this one while you’re roadtripping the North Island. See the official Tongariro Park website and my post on hiking the Alpine Crossing for more.
|And finally, Abel Tasman in New Zealand was our top international park of the three included in these rankings. It scored high marks across the board on all our key park factors. While it’s not the most “One of a Kind”, the beaches and tidal flats were beautiful. It’s near to Marlborough for wine tasting and a handful of other national parks on the South Island for good “groupability”. The full Coastal Trail is one of New Zealand’s great walks, and I hope I make it back to hike more of it next time. There’s tour operators around the park that make it “Easy” to kayak, hike, or sightsee on land or water, and in general we didn’t face too many “Swarms” of people. Visit this park if you’re into beautiful beach views and easy hiking or paddling. For more info, here’s the official site and my post.|
The whole point of scoring these parks is so we can decide which ones are the best! Here’s the final rankings with the new parks from outside the USA. (Yup, the list is getting more and more random because we choose parks around the world that happen to be near our path. We are the Wandering Ogres for a reason.
So, the two New Zealand parks were up there with the best national parks we visited in the US, and Mulu in Malaysia was not far behind. One moral of this story is that if you are thinking about visiting a National Park, there’s probably one or two amazing ones within your hemisphere, and maybe even closer than you think.
The other moral of the story, for me, is about New Zealand. While the two NZ Parks we visited scored very highly, they were still very comparable to wonders we saw in the US. It seems a little crazy in retrospect, but I expected more from New Zealand. I expected to be awed and amazed at every turn. I don’t know how Adam and I set our mental expectations so high. The great outcome for me is that I have even more respect for appreciation for the parks here in the US.
So, which of these three national parks would you visit if they weren’t on the other side of the world? Are there other parks should Adam and I check out in our future wanderings? Perhaps something in the south-east United States? Let me know in the comments, I’d love any inspiration as we plan our next adventure. It just might give us a few more things to rank in the near future.