Bing Lucas was the creator of New Zealand's national parks and reserves system, widely acknowledged as the finest in the world.
He died of a heart attack while walking with his family, in a setting he might have chosen - the Queen Charlotte track.
Conservation Minister Sandra Lee said Mr Lucas had spent the past three decades protecting and enhancing conservation. He was a "kaumatua of New Zealand conservation who truly made a difference."
Bing Lucas, a former director-general of the Lands and Survey Department and the first director of national parks and reserves, pushed for a balance between fostering public access to natural assets and safeguarding them from exploitation.
His promotion of the walkways system in national parks is the best example of his pragmatic approach.
In places, walkways cross private land and some farmers were not happy, his former deputy, George McMillan, said. But Federated Farmers could see there was little to fear, a reflection of the work Mr Lucas had put into guiding a team effort on the walkways legislation.
"That was Bing's thrust right through - demonstrating that the walkways were to everyone's advantage."
He fiercely opposed a Treasury suggestion that people should pay to enter a national park, and caused a stir during the Manapouri controversy by opposing the Government's plan to raise the lake level.
Since 1995 he was a World Heritage vice-chairman.
A friend, Ken Edgecombe, who collaborated with him in creating a musical, Saultalk, based on the life of St Paul, said Mr Lucas was astute, alert and a mine of ideas.
"He had a roguish sense of humour, his eyes were alive, he was interested in everybody and everything."
Mr Lucas, who lived in Tawa, north of Welllington, is survived by his wife, two children and five grandchildren.