Snow guide: Mt Ruapehu
By Rosalind Le Bas Walker
Mt Ruapehu is the jewel of the dual World Heritage listed Tongariro National Park, notable not only as an outstanding natural adventure playground for skiing, hiking, rafting and climbing, but also for its cultural significance. The sacred peaks of Tongariro were gifted to the nation in 1887 by the Maori tribe Ngati Tuwharetoa.
Although they’re an hour’s drive apart, Whakapapa and Turoa share the same ski passes so with a multi-day ski pass, you can ski at both.
The country’s largest, most developed ski area has big basins, steep chutes, drop-offs and powder stashes. During summer, guided walks will take you to the country’s largest active volcanic crater lake on the summit.
Famous for: warm, north facing slopes, high capacity lifts and fun snow-filled bowls!
- 14 lifts - 15,000 people per hour
- 500 hectares of skiing
- 675m vertical decent
- 161cm average annual snowbase
On Mt Ruapehu’s south-western side, Turoa is a wide open bowl. It caters for beginner to expert skier and boarder and boasts the largest vertical drop of 722m in the whole of Australasia. The ski area is accessed by a 17km scenic, sealed road from the bustling town of Ohakune.
Famous for: wide open slopes, longest vertical drop in Australasia, views of Mt Taranaki & walk to Dome Hut on a really good day!
- 10 lifts - 13,500 people per hour
- 500 hectares of skiing
- 722m vertical decent
- 183cm average annual snowbase
National Park village
You can hedge your bets when you base yourself at this compact alpine village at the junction of State Highway 47 and State Highway 4. It’s approx. 20 minutes’ drive to Whakapapa or approx. 55 minutes to Turoa, so before you leave for your day on the slopes, you can check the conditions and pick the best side of the mountain. There’s a general store, pub and ski hire but you’ll need to shop for food supplies before you arrive here.
The North Island’s alpine party town, Ohakune is the ultimate base if you’re hitting Turoa’s slopes. The rural town is also also home to summer outdoor pursuits such as mountain climbing and horse trekking.
Eleven kilometres along the farm-lined road from Ohakune, Raetihi is a good place to stay if you want to stay somewhere quieter than Ohakune.You’ll see utes parked in the wide main street with farm dogs on the back. All the basics can be purchased here with a supermarket and a range of shops. Stroll beside the Makotuku River or visit the glowworms. Raetihi is a base for white-water rafting and trout fishing.
Right on the 39° latitude line, Owhango is a little town with a store, pub and ski hire. It’s right on State Highway 4, north of National Park. Nestled amidst dairy, cattle, sheep and deer farms, Owhango is the home of New Zealand’s foremost mountain bike trail - the 42 Traverse and a launch point for kayakers, rainbow and brown trout fishers and trampers.
Forty minutes by road to Whakapapa ski area, tranquil Turangi is nestled on the banks of the Tongariro River, famous for its terrific trout fishing. There are plenty of adventure activities here when the mountain’s closed, including white water rafting, hiking and mountain biking.
Turangi has a good shopping centre with a supermarket - one of the few in the region - and Tokaanu hot pools are a few minutes away - perfect for relieving those tired muscles after a day on the slopes.