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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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