From exploring the Tongariro National Park to venturing up the majestic maunga, there are plenty of activities to enjoy in the Ruapehu region.
1. Ski Tūroa
Mount Ruapehu’s Tūroa ski field has the longest vertical drop of any ski area in New Zealand. At 722 metres, the High Noon Express chairlift takes you to the highest point of any commercial ski area in the country. It also provides spectacular views across the North Island – if the weather is playing ball.
But even if it’s not the picture-perfect ski day you’ve been dreaming of, Tūroa’s wide, open valleys and long runs with cleverly marked trail routes painted onto the snow make skiing or snowboarding a breeze in all but the very worst conditions. If you’re up for a challenge, the terrain parks will let you get some air time, and beginners are well catered for with easy slopes and patient instructors. Tūroa is worth a visit for non-skiers, too. The road from Ōhakune junction is a swooping, scenic treat in itself, winding through thick native forest before popping out into the rugged alpine environment. Dress warmly and venture up the hill, even just for some snow fun and a coffee.
2. Silica Rapids Walk
Accessed from the road that takes you to the Whakapapa ski field, the Silica Rapids Walk is a 7km, 2 1/2 hour loop that takes in some of Tongariro National Parks most curious and colourful natural attractions. Multi-coloured streams run through alpine tussock and burble alongside the well-formed track. And deeper, in the heart of the beech forest, you’ll find cascading waterfalls that are so bright with mineral deposits they’re almost lurid.
The colours here are caused by various trace elements emerging from the depths of the volcanic earth. Aluminum makes for pale, creamy colours below the rushing water, while deposits of iron turn to bright orange rust.
The walk is easiest when tackled from the top of the road and winding back down to the Whakapapa Village, but to do that, it’s best to have a vehicle parked at either end.
3. Ride the Sky Waka at Whakapapa
Mount Ruapehu’s newest attraction is the seriously impressive Sky Waka gondola. Ferrying both skiers and sightseers from Whakapapa’s main base at Top of the Bruce to the freshly revamped café and restaurant at Knoll Ridge Chalet, the Sky Waka replaces both of Whakapapa’s main first and second chairlifts for a fast and weatherproof ride to the top. Travelling 1.8km up the mountain in just five minutes, the Sky Waka is capable of transporting 2,400 people every hour.
Each gondola cabin can hold ten people, with inbuilt ski racks, seats and full glass panels to appreciate dazzling views of the slopes as you ascend the mountain in comfort.
Outside ski season, the gondola will be slowed down so sightseers can admire mountain vistas both up and down Mount Ruapehu and across the Central Plateau. Once you reach the Knoll Ridge Chalet you can choose between a range of dining options, whether you’re after a casual coffee, a quick bite at Pātaka Café, a grab-and-go option from the food truck-style Four Peaks Alley, or linger over a leisurely lunch or weekend dinner at The Pinnacles buffet restaurant.
4. Take High Tea at the Chateau
High Tea in the opulent Ruapehu Lounge of the Chateau Tongariro is a must-do experience. Feast on an array of petit sandwiches and sweet treats served with your choice from a selection of specialty teas or a glass of bubbles if you’re celebrating something special. Though, really, any visit to the Chateau takes on the air of a special occasion.
The historic hotel first opened in 1929, and while it has been sympathetically modernised it retains the unmistakable air of old-world glamour.
Inside, starched white napkins and plush armchairs are accompanied by the crackle of the open fire and the muted click of billiard balls. Outside, you can gaze at the perfectly framed peaks of Mount Ngāuruhoe and Mount Tongariro between velvet drapes at the enormous picture window – just as guests have been doing for 90 years.
5. Taranaki Falls Walk
Taranaki Falls are one of the Tongariro National Park’s most impressive and accessible waterfalls.
The track to the falls begins right in Whakapapa Village and, depending on which end of the 6km, two-hour loop you begin at, meanders through open alpine tussock or beautiful beech forest.
Walk alongside the gorgeous Wairere Stream with its cascading waterfalls skimming over smooth, ice-worn rocks. While the clear blue pools might look inviting, they’re frigid year round, being fed largely from snow melt.
The Taranaki Falls themselves are an impressive 20-metre-high waterfall that plunges over the edge of an ancient lava flow – the remnants of Mount Ruapehu’s eruption 15,000 years ago.
Keep an eye out for the many types of native flora and fauna along the track – from a large variety of hebes in differing shapes and sizes, to towering mountain beech trees filled with the fluttering song of whiteheads, grey warblers and rifleman.