A PEAK IN THE DESERT
There is no gentle introduction to Mount Ruapehu. It’s more of an abrupt interruption to the central North Island of New Zealand.
Surrounded by the barren Rangipo Desert, this giant of the North Island Volcanic Plateau stands at 2797 metres.
Jutting out from tussock-covered flats, it’s the highest peak in the North Island; seemingly all the more impressive from its desolate surroundings.
New Zealand is covered with volcanoes – some extinct, some simply dormant, and some which like to remind everyone they are very much still alive.
Here, you can go snowboarding and skiing on an active volcano.
skiing on an active volcano
Turoa and Whakapapa offer excellent snowsport opportunities and of course the thrill of snowboarding or skiing on an active volcano.
Both ski fields cater for all levels of skiers and snowboarders, from beginners to advanced and expert. On the eastern side of the mountain is a smaller club skifield, Tukino with more limited facilities.
Out of the two main areas, which ski field is better – Whakapapa or Turoa?
Some say Whakapapa is best for skiers while snowboarders prefer Turoa. John snowboards & I ski – but we both tend to prefer Turoa.
Turoa typically has more ski days each season. The top lift point sits every so slightly higher at 2322m, compared to Whakapapa’s 2300m.
However, there’s a more extensive beginners area at Whakapapa’s Happy Valley and more groomed trails.
Here are the terrain details:
Beginner 25% 20%
Intermediate 50% 55%
Advanced 25% 25%
Groomed 30% 22%
I’m an intermediate skier who tends to stick to the trails while John is an advanced snowboarder who loves heading out to untouched areas on the mountain.
We usually always chose Turoa over Whakapapa. It’s worth nothing that Whakapapa has more T-bars.
Having said that, Whakapapa’s newest lift, the Rangitara Express, opened in 2016 – the season we missed because we were in Fiji – so we’ll have to test that out in 2017.
WHERE TO STAY TO SKI MT RUAPEHU
Ohakune is the ski town at the base of the Turoa ski field and has plenty of accommodation options, a supermarket and of course the highly important après-ski!
You can’t beat heading down to the Powderkeg for a post-ski beverage and bowl of hot chips. The Powderkeg, at the Powderhorn Chateau, is an iconic and buzzing spot in Ohakune after a day on the slopes, with beautiful wooden furniture, cosy interiors and good food and drink to warm the belly.
A little further out, in Raetihi, are the Tongariro Suites, a modern and comfortable stay not far from Turoa.
If you’re skiing Whakapapa then chances are you might be staying at Whakapapa Village. The village is just a 10 minutes drive from the Whakapapa ski field base. One of the most famous places here is the historic Chateau Tongariro Hotel, built in 1929. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, or dining under the chandeliers at the restaurant, it’s a beautiful old building to visit, with spectacular views of the mountain.
We’ve often stayed at the Whakapapa Holiday Park in one of their cabins, just 6km from the ski field. It’s an affordable option with cabins snuggled among native trees and bush.
Of course there are plenty more options on both sides of the mountain, so check out Agoda for some excellent hotel deals.
Alternatively, you can try one of our favourite tricks – Airbnb! If you’re not already a member of Airbnb, if you sign up through this link, you’ll get $30NZD credit towards your next stay!
As with any ski town, accommodation books out quickly during the winter, especially during school holidays, so don’t muck about with your bookings. In New Zealand, that’s mid July for two weeks and another two weeks at the end of the ski season in September/October.
The last eruption on Mt Ruapehu was in 2007, which lasted about 7 minutes. GeoNet, New Zealand’s geological hazard monitoring system says the explosion spread ash and rocks spread over the summit and lahars in two valleys – including one in the Whakapapa ski field.
In early 2016 the volcanic alert level at Mt Ruapehu was raised due to an increase in volcanic tremors and gas output while the crater lake temperature rose from 25°C to 46°C. However as of July 2016 the alert was lowered after activity on the mountain settled.
Most of the time, there’s nothing much to worry about if you’re heading up the mountain but it is important to remember Mt Ruapehu is one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes. Rest assured, there’s plenty of monitoring at all times and consequently there are sufficient warning systems should it start to rumble.
GNS Science has produced a hazard map for both ski fields which outlines safe areas and advice in the event of an eruption.
There’s quite a thrill knowing you are going skiing on active volcano. But for the most part it is a quiet giant with only the occasional hissy fit – and an outstanding place to ski and snowboard in New Zealand.
DISCUSS: Have you been snowboarding or skiing on an active volcano?
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