Mount Ruapehu Ski Resort

With its two companion volcanoes, the World Heritage area of Mount Ruapehu is the location for North Island's only premier ski fields - Whakapapa and Turoa. The massive peak provided some of the locations for Mt Doom in the 'Lord of the Rings' film trilogy.

Mount Ruapehu dominates the central North island landscape, rising high above the surrounding countryside to 2,797 metres. Its spectacular neighbours are Mount Ngauruhoe (active, like Ruapehu) and Mount Tongariro. The three volcanoes are a breathtaking sight, particularly in the winter months when they are snow-capped.

Skiing started at Whakapapa in 1913. By 1920 there was a new access road. Sir Edmund Hillary of Everest fame opened New Zealand’s first chairlift here in 1954, the year after his epic climb. Today Whakapapa (1360 acres) and Turoa (1236 acres) are the largest ski areas in the country. The volcanic terrain on the north-west flank of Ruapehu has created a mix of deep gullies (natural halfpipes for snowboarders) narrow chutes and wide-open flanks.

Whakapapa (the Wh is equivalent to an F according to Maori pronunciation, and needs to be said carefully in polite company!) is New Zealand’s largest and busiest ski area. It is also probably the most meteorologically challenging. Tongariro National Park on the north-western slopes of Ruapehu, attracts unpredictable weather. Ruapehu also erupts (has a “good cough”, as one wit put it) from time to time. Having done so to startling effect in 1995 and 1996, there was a fairly significant “event” in October 2006 and another in March 2007 when the crater lake wall ruptured causing a moderate “lahar” (mud slide). The volcano is meticulously monitored for eruptions and lahars.

Turoa is the lesser-known resort clinging to the “far side” (south- west flank) of the hulking Mount Ruapehu on the other side of the peak from its more famous neighbour. Yet Turoa has Australasia’s biggest vertical drop: 722 m (2,362ft). The layout and terrain seem very different from its sister resort, making it an attractive alternative, and well worth the effort of sampling both resorts. There is no easy way to get from one resort to the other in snow, so driving is the only easy way to visit both areas. The road from Ohakune to the resort is spectacular (but not difficult), lined with exotic semi-tropical vegetation. Mt Ruapehu lift passes can be used in both Whakapapa and Turoa. There is a bus service several times a day each way between the two.

Mount Ruapehu Ski Area

Whakapapa and Turoa, just under four miles from Ohakune on the south-western slopes of the volcano – are jointly marketed and owned by the same company, Ruapehu Alpine Lifts.

Whakapapa, purchased its neighbour at the turn of the century, and in an ideal world could have linked the two to form a superlative ski area which would have dwarfed every other resort in New Zealand and probably Australia too. However they are too far from each other and the terrain does not lend itself to a link. But it's possible for experienced locals to traverse the two miles from one to the other - and for more adventurous visitors, there are guided traverses.

By road the same journey is 40 miles! But RAL has submitted plans for a snow road that would allow easier access between the ski areas. In good conditions - not only good snow and visibility, but no eruptions! - Whakapapa is arguably the most interesting and challenging resort in Australasia. But during a wet, windy white-out, visibility, with no trees, can be so poor that the resort can sometimes be barely skiable, or seeable.

Turoa, North Island's so-called "Giant" resort, built much more recently, in the late 1970s, and absorbing some of its neighbour's crowds, reaches high towards the peak of the volcano, right into glacier country below Mt Ruapehu's summit ridge - the only lift-served glacier in Australasia, with correspondingly magnificent scenery and a good snow record. The terrain, with a preponderance of wide open cruising terrain offers easy skiing all the way down to the base (snow permitting). The longest run is well over two miles. There is also a significant amount of off-piste skiing. Turoa has a cafeteria and bar at the base, along with rentals and a medical centre.

Mount Ruapehu Ski Lifts & Passes

Mt Ruapehu is spending NZ $30 million on on-mountain investments, including three new high speed chairs - two at Whakapapa and one at Turoa: the high-speed six-seat High Noon Express - the longest and highest lift in Australasia.

The new lift is also claimed to have the biggest uphill capacity in Australasia. Turoa's 1.4 km High Noon Express (with a vertical rise of 400 metres) can transport more than 3,200 people an hour, and has a top speed of five metres per second.

Meanwhile construction plans for the Valley Express chairlift proposed for Whakapapa have been delayed due to the need for a more lengthy approval and consent process after concerns about any further development on Mt Ruapehu that encroaches into the so called Maori "gift area". But the general manager, Dave Mazey says: "Despite this delay, development of the on-mountain facilities at Mt Ruapehu is still our priority."

Mount Ruapehu Beginner Skiing

At Whakapapa, beginners have an extremely easy area dedicated to them. With the help of 25 snow guns, Happy Valley, tucked away from the main slopes, normally opens at the end of May, in advance of the rest of the area. It has its own cafeteria, ski-hire-building and free chairlift access.

The Rock Garden area is the next step up. At Turoa The Alpine Meadow area, with extensive snowmaking, offers sheltered and easy skiing for beginners, who can move on to the Wintergarden Platter, enjoying a long run back to the base area.

Mount Ruapehu Intermediate Skiing

At Whakapapa, the runs off the Waterfall Express chair and the Waterfall T-bar are among the best prospects, with wonderful scenery. Those in search of fairly un-challenging off piste will make for the Far West T-bar and the Black Magic area, particularly good on powder days.

The Park Lane and Movenpick quad chairs provide lower and mid-mountain access to the main intermediate slopes. The Giant chair at Turoa and the Jumbo T-bar above it access a variety of blue cruisers, including the Bypass Trails, Show Big Bowl, Vertigo, Breadrun and the long Show Off run all the way back to the base.

Mount Ruapehu Advanced & Expert Skiing

Depending on the mood of the volcano it is possible - and safe - to climb to the crater lake (45 - 60 minutes) from either side and ski down. Whakapapa's more interesting terrain is on the snow-encrusted Pinnacles area, where good visibility is essential to avoid bluffs and drop-offs.

This double-black steep and exhilarating area, reached in part via the Valley T-bar (but eventually more accessible with when the proposed six-seater Valley Express chair is finally built), gives the resort its special cachet. It is best skied in powder or spring snow - in icy conditions it can be dangerous.

At Turoa, chutes, natural halfpipes and surreal ice-and-snow structures higher up the mountain provide experts with plenty of challenges. There's a vast area below the rugged, snow-and-ice encrusted Girdlestone area on the Mangaehuehu Glacier now accessed by the High Noon Express (an area used for speed record attempts by skiers and snowboarders), and many other places where you can explore ungroomed snow.

Mount Ruapehu Boarding & Freestyle

There's good terrain for all at Whakapapa: a halfpipe on Hut Flat, a beginners' terrain park in the Rock Garden, and a more challenging park under the Waterfall Express chair. Snowboarders are in their element at Turoa, with a boardercross course and arguably the best terrain park in the country, off the Highflyer chair. There are also parks for beginners in the Alpine Meadow and Wintergarden areas.

Mount Ruapehu Mountain Restaurants

Whakapapa has three on-mountain cafes, and on fine days, people like to sit on the sun deck outside the Knoll Ridge Restaurant (New Zealand's highest licensed eaterie) and watch experts cope - or struggle - with the challenges high above on the Pinnacles.

At Turoa there's a cafeteria at the base area, another at the top of the Parklane chair, and another near the top of the Giant chair.

Mount Ruapehu Village

At Whakapapa Village, the large, elegant and expensive Château Tongariro is the focal hotel, with fine dining at the Ruapehu Room.

Whakapapa is served by a variety of hotels, motels, backpacker accommodation, taverns, and restaurants in Whakapapa Village, National Park Village, Tokaanu and Turangi.

Ohakune, the "après ski capital" of North Island, whose flagging fortunes were dramatically restored when Turoa was developed - is less than 10 miles away, with a wide range of accommodation, restaurants, bars, cafés and night-clubs.

Mount Ruapehu Bars & Restaurants

The numbers of bars and restaurants at Whakapapa Village is fairly limited, but there’s plenty more choice in Okahune.

Whakapapa Bars & Restaurants

The choice in Whakapapa Village is pretty straightforward. If you want true fine dining, it has to be the Ruapehu restaurant at the Chateau Tongariro. It's one of a kind, but there are other perfectly wholesome and tasty - if considerably less indulgent - choices.

Whakapapa Tavern Tel: +64 7 892 3809

Trails Bar

Lorenz's Bar and Cafe

Ruapehu  at Chateau Tongariro Tel: +64 7 892 3809

Ohakune Bars & Restaurants

In Okahune the range of bars and restaurants is considerably wider, but even there you will be hard pressed to find anywhere quite like the Ruapehu restaurant.

Powderkeg Bar at the Powderhorn Tel: +64 6 385 8925

Alpine Restaurant and Wine Bar Tel: +64 6 385 9183

Margaritas Ohakune Tel: +64 6 385 9060

The Hobbit Restaurant and Bar Tel: +64 6 385 8248

Matterhorn Restaurant at Powderhorn Tel: +64 6 385 8925

Turoa Lodge Tel: +64 6 385 8274

Altitude 585, Tel: +64 6 385 9292

Mount Ruapehu Other Activities

There's a dedicated sliding park at Meads Wall (five minutes from the Whakapapa base area), with its own cafeteria. Turoa also has a dedicated area for toboggans and sliding mats, which are available to rent.

Tourist Information Whakapapa, Tel: +64 7 892-3729
Tourist Information Ohakune, Tel: +64 6 385 8427

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