Looking for an adventure? Skiing on an active volcano in New Zealand sound like it might scratch the itch? Mount Ruapehu, located in Tongariro National Park, is one of New Zealand’s greatest outdoor playgrounds. It’s home to two ski areas, Tūroa and Whakapapa, with Whakapapa taking the title for the largest ski area in the North Island, and offering a second-to-none view from its high point above the clouds.
Come winter, when the slopes are covered in powder and everyone in New Zealand wants to be in the snow, this volcano is the place to be. With two ski fields to choose from, a central location and the best views in the world across New Zealand’s crazy volcanic region, this place answers even the hungriest search for adventure. Mount Ruapehu is also an easy weekend trip from anywhere in the North Island, which means it’s buzzing all winter long.
The mountain is known for its winter alpine happenings, but it’s actually a great summer activity zone, too. The newly built Sky Waka gondola takes visitors up to the Knoll Ridge Chalet, 2,020 metres above sea level. At the top, there’s the choice of two restaurants for high flying dining, and a bunch of incredible walking tracks through rockscapes and along magnificent ridges. See across to the striking Mt Ngauruhoe, set against the Mars-like volcanic plains of the region.
On that note, yes, Mount Ruapehu is an active volcano, and its name literally means ‘exploding pit’ in Maori, which it has lived up to several times over the years. It’s been erupting regularly since 1969, the last times being in 1995 and 1996. The volcano and its lake are regularly monitored to make sure people get plenty of warning if things are looking wobbly.
Mount Ruapehu also holds strong spiritual significance and heritage for local iwi (tribes), who often refer to the mountain (or maunga) as Koro (grandad) Ruapehu.
Is Mt Ruapehu open for skiing?
Heck yeah, it’s the highest mountain within the North Island, and in winter, it’s New Zealand’s most varied playground. For beginners, Whakapapa provides the perfect mellow terrain to learn and practice on, that won’t scare the ski pants off you. The aptly named Happy Valley is a wide gentle bowl – it’s probably the best place in the country to learn to ski. And, because the rest of the mountain offers more than enough for everyone else, you can learn sans the terrifying experience of experts roaring past at breakneck speed.
For the rest, the rugged volcanic landscape of Mount Ruapehu provides some awesome varied terrain across both Whakapapa and Tūroa, especially on a fresh snow day. Tūroa, with 25 black and black diamond runs, is especially epic for the confident, adventure-hungry skier or rider. Think chutes, drops and plenty of space to cut a fresh line, especially if you get up there for first chair. Whether you’re here to ski from open to close or more of a two-runs-then-stop-for-a-mulled-wine kinda person, there’s something for everyone at Ruapehu. Family weekend away? Done. Looking for a hot date idea? Sorted.
In winter, the little alpine village of Ohakune is a great base. It’s just 25 minutes from Tūroa and 45 minutes from Whakapapa on the main mountain road, and has heaps of accommodation, restaurants and gear hire. Most importantly, though, it’s the perfect place to share the vibes with your fellow powder hounds, with mulled wine on the menu for apres wherever you go. Plenty of New Zealanders travel from all over to enjoy the ski season, so the place is alive all winter.
When is Mt Ruapehu open?
Since the opening of the Sky Waka, almost all year round; spend the day soaking in some of the best views in the world, whether your pins are in skis, a snowboard or firmly planted on the warm summer earth. The ski season is generally from June until October.
When the snow’s gone, take a ride up into the clouds with the Sky Waka from December to May, with friendly staff available on the mountain between the hours of 09:30 – 16:00. For more information on hikes and the weather, the Mt Ruapehu web page has both phone numbers and a contact email address, as well.
Can you swim in Mt Ruapehu Crater Lake?
Mt Ruapehu is full of popular hiking trails, from easy to difficult, with the most challenging in the area being the Crater Climb. This one is for experienced mountaineers only. The water in the lake may seem warm and inviting, but it’s really acidic, and definitely not safe for swimming.
Can you drive up Mt Ruapehu?
Yep, you can take the mountain road up from Ohakune, which takes 25 minutes to Tūroa and 45 minutes to Whakapapa. If you don’t have a car or don’t fancy the drive, don’t sweat it – share the journey by taking one of the shuttles from Ohakune, or a bus from Taupo or Rotorua.
What do you wear to Mt Ruapehu?
In winter, we’d recommend ski gear. It’s cold. It can be an expensive exercise, so a life hack is to buy half price ski gear for next year at the end of the season. In summer, if you’re simply sightseeing, bring extra layers even if it’s warm down the bottom – remembering it’s a prime time to get good gram content, too. For hitting the hiking trails, make sure to pack a waterproof layer, warm clothes and plenty of snacks.
Is Mt Ruapehu dangerous?
As a volcano, there is a certain amount of risk involved. Mt Ruapehu is the most active of the volcanos in the Tongariro National Park, but that also means it’s really well monitored. Plus, the risk factor adds to the experience, right?
If it’s a playground you’re after, you’ve found it at Mt Ruapehu.