Typically when you think of skiing and boarding in NZ, the mind leaps to the famous southern slopes of Queenstown and Wanaka.
Admittedly, these are beautiful regions, and well worth a visit if you have the chance. There happens to be however, a spectacular alternative sitting near the centre of the North Island.
We’re referring to Mt Ruapehu, which in English roughly translates to “pit of noise” or “exploding pit.” If you can’t guess, it’s a volcano – the centre and
upper regions of the North Island are littered with them.
There are no cons to the fact, only pros. Ruapehu is active, but the definition of being as such is loose. There is no real threat to visiting – and sometimes traversing – them. This part of the country is spectacular, as are the views from the top, so to forgo an ascent up the mountain would be a big mistake.
Here’re our two cents on the fantastic Mt Ruapehu region.
Mt Ruapehu is the home of some of New Zealands prime ski-fields, Whakapapa and Turoa.
Whakapapa, being the largest ski-field in New Zealand lies one on the northern facing side, and the other on the southern. A third, club-operated ski field can be found on the mountains east side. The little gem is called Tukino, and being smaller than it’s bigger brothers, offers a great getaway from the commercial ski fields and the crowds.
If you’re a novice skier, Whakapapa is the place for you. The aptly named Happy Valley is the big area dedicated to the learners, and it’s set apart from the more
advanced runs. If those boisterous experts have been a concern in the past, they won’t be anymore!
If you are one of those boisterous experts, you’re catered for too. As we’ve mentioned, Ruapehu is a volcano, and the rugged volcanic landscape provides some awesome varied terrain. Think drops, bowls, bumps, and more. Check out this page for more info on the ski-field.
If you think the cafes on a mountain would only be the kind to bring you limp sandwiches and fatty pies, think again. Whakapapa is the proud owner of the Knoll Ridge Cafe, who is ready to bring you a world class menu with a world class view to match. The towering glass windows provide a stellar view of the mountain and the valley below (see above).
Turoa is the little brother of Whakapapa, but only in the comparative sense. This sibling still holds the silver medal for being the largest field in the country.
Sitting on the southern side of Mt Ruapehu, Turoa is a particularly great place to go if you’re confident on the slopes. There’s a good learners area, but with 25 black and black diamond runs, it’s truly a place for the fast and fearless.
What’s more, The Highnoon Express is NZ’s highest chairlift. A whopping 772 m descent means less time sitting on the chair, and more time doing what you came for!
If going off-piste is your kind of style, the Triangle and Glacier back-country areas are lift-accessed – so take this as your opportunity to ditch the crowds. The mountain is yours!
3. How Convenient
The northern slopes have their own advantages, but if anything, they’re just a bit more convenient.
While it’d be nice to pop off to Otago at a moment’s notice, it’s often not a realistic option. Catching a plane to Queenstown can make a significant dent in the wallet, and driving from the North Island can take a couple days on the road (and sea).
If you’re heading to Ruapehu from Auckland (our biggest city), it’ll take just 5 hours. From Wellington (our second biggest city) – 4 and a half. A great trip is about the journey, not the destination. But let’s be honest, a quick journey doesn’t hurt.
If you plan a trip to the regal Ruapehu, you won’t have your money and time slip away from you.
4. The Lay of the Land
‘Rugged’ and ‘diverse’ are words that come to mind, but enough about me.
Alright alright, maybe they’re a better fit for describing Mt Ruapehu. Being a volcano, and being surrounded by volcanoes, gives the opportunity for a remarkable and rugged landscape.
The mountain itself is a piece of art, which you’ll understand when you’re driving up to the ski-fields. Unlike the dry, open mountainside of the southern slopes, the base of Mt Ruapehu is surrounded in thick native forest. When you emerge from the forest during your ascent, the view down on the land yonder will surely amaze even the less easily amazed.
Look past the mountain, and there’s a vast plain formed from lahars over the course of time. Look even further, and the forest returns. Waterfalls of staggering height like the Mangawhero Falls pictured below surprise and impress visitors.
There are numerous walking tracks in the area, so there’s no need to sit around if you’re not up the mountain. Nearby is Tongariro, a famous 1-day hike in NZ, so lace up those hiking boots and let’s get walking!
5. Wheeling and Dealing
If you don’t like the idea of a walk, maybe you’ll fancy the idea of a pedal. Ruapehu is not only the place for skis, but for mountain bikes too. In fact, the area is
home to two NZ Cycleways Great Rides: the Timber Trail and the Mountains to Sea – Nga Ara Tuhono.
The Timber Trail is 85 km, family friendly, and will take 2 days. This isn’t about the need for speed – savour your time on the track. This part of NZ is breathtaking so take in the forest around you, and take a quick snap when you cross the iconic swing bridges.
The Mountains to Sea ride will take a bit longer – more like 3-5 days depending on your level of fitness. This trail will also take you through gorgeous forest, to the famous Bridge to Nowhere (which actually goes somewhere), and is interrupted by a chilled out boat ride taking you to the next leg. Alternatively you can kayak down river, but kicking back after days of riding can be welcome reprieve.
6. Rest Your Weary Head
After a day on the slopes, or on the bike, or on your feet, you’re going to want a place to sleep. A comfy place, no less.
While Ohakune and Whakapapa Village are close, they can often be booked out depending on the time of year. We’d suggest instead staying in Rotorua, or Taupo – just a short drive away.
In Rotorua, stop in at the YHA. Accommodation is not only plentiful and central, but affordable and of a reliable standard. Talk about ticking every box!
In Taupo, we have to recommend our own Haka Lodge. This stylish hostel has a range of dorm and private room options, and has a few extra touches to ensure a memorable stay. Think a toasty soak in the spa in the colder months, and a spacious upper deck for the warmer ones. We’ll fire up the barbie!
There you have it! If Ruapehu is tickling your fancy, why not check out our NZ Dirt & Snow Tour? It’ll give you some time on the slopes, and on the bike so you can really say you experienced Ruapehu the right way!