What is an ‘outstanding natural feature or landscape’?

A feature or landscape must be both outstanding and natural to fall within section 6(b). 1496


‘Natural’ means ‘a product of nature’. It may therefore include pasture and exotic tree species but not human-made structures. A landscape with structures may still have a degree of naturalness but it will be less natural than an unaltered landscape or a landscape without structures and with a lack of human influence. 1497

In order to be ‘natural’ a feature or landscape is not required to be pristine. There is a spectrum of naturalness from a pristine natural landscape to a cityscape and a cultured natural landscape may still be an outstanding natural landscape. 1498  In this regard, the concept of ‘sufficient naturalness’ has gained traction over recent years, meaning landscapes that are sufficiently natural to qualify for protection under Section 6(a), even if they contain a combination of natural and cultural elements.

The Environment Court has indicated that such landscapes may contain relatively unmodified and legible landforms, be marked by the presence of (usually native) vegetation, and convey the feeling of being uncluttered by structures and/or obvious human influence. 1499 The reality is, however, that few parts of rural New Zealand are devoid of the signs of human influence and presence, so that a common sense approach has to be adopted in interpreting this stance. 


A landscape will be considered outstanding if it is “conspicuous, eminent, remarkable or iconic” within the context of the area concerned – the district if the assessment is being undertaken for a district plan and the region if it is for a regional policy statement or plan. 1500

The NZILA Practice Note defines an ‘outstanding natural landscape’ as ‘a natural landscape that is particularly notable at a local, district, regional or national scale’.

The criteria for assessing whether a landscape is outstanding include: 1501

  • Natural science factors (geological, topographical, ecological, and dynamic components of the landscape)
  • Aesthetic values (including memorability and naturalness)
  • Expressiveness or legibility (how obviously the landscape demonstrates the formative processes leading to it)
  • Transient values (occasional presence of wildlife or other values at certain times of the day or year)
  • Whether the values are shared and recognised
  • Value to tangata whenua
  • Historical associations

The NZILA Best Practice Guidance Note groups these assessment criteria into three landscape attributes:

  • Biophysical elements, patterns and processes
  • Sensory or perceptual qualities
  • Associative meanings and values (including spiritual, cultural or social associations)

District plans and regional policy statements or plans should identify outstanding natural features and landscapes. However, lack of identification of an area within the relevant planning documents is not determinative of whether an area is an outstanding natural feature or landscape. 1502 As a result such landscapes and features have frequently been attributed sich status as a result of Environment Court decisions. 

Policy 15 of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 requires natural features and landscapes in the coastal environment to be identified and assessed, having regard to:

  • natural science factors, including geological, topographical, ecological and dynamic components;
  • the presence of water including in seas, lakes, rivers and streams;
  • legibility or expressiveness – how obviously the feature or landscape demonstrates its formative processes;
  • aesthetic values including memorability and naturalness;
  • vegetation (native and exotic);
  • transient values, including presence of wildlife or other values at certain times of the day or year;
  • whether the values are shared and recognised;
  • cultural and spiritual values for tangata whenua, identified by working, as far as practicable, in accordance with tikanga Māori; including their expression as cultural landscapes and features;
  • historical and heritage associations; and
  • wild or scenic values.

The assessment of outstanding is not required to be undertaken on a national basis.  It is the protection of outstanding landscapes that is of national importance.  It is not only nationally outstanding natural landscapes that are to be protected.

  1. Wakatipu Environmental Soc Inc v Queenstown Lakes DC [2000] NZRMA 59 (EnvC)

  2. Wakatipu Environmental Society Inc and ors v Queenstown-Lakes District Council [2000] NZRMA 59, at [88] and [89]

  3. Long Bay-Okura Great Park Soc Inc v North Shore CC (NZEnvC A078/08, 16 July 2008)

  4. High Country Rosehip Orchards Ltd v Mackenzie DC [2011] NZEnvC 387

  5. Wakatipu Environmental Soc Inc v Queenstown Lakes DC [2000] NZRMA 59 (EnvC)

  6. Wakatipu Environmental Soc Inc v Queenstown Lakes DC [2000] NZRMA 59 (EnvC)

  7. Rangitikei Guardians Soc Inc v Manawatu-Wanganui RC [2010] NZEnvC 14

Last updated at 3:36PM on January 8, 2018