Ok, it’s technically not Mount Doom (aka Mount Ngauruhoe) but its volcano neighbour, Ruapehu. But doesn’t skiing Mt Ruapehu sound amazing? For me, as a skiing and volcano lover, being able to actually ski on an active volcano is the best thing that could happen to me.
We’re leaving Auckland at around 11am on a Thursday and make our way down south. It should take us about four hours but somehow we always manage to need a lot longer than what should. A viewpoint in Taumarunui, a coffee in Hamilton, and suddenly it’s four hours later and we’re still far away from our destination.
By 5pm we finally arrive at our backpackers in National Park Village and check in. We even have enough time to go and sort out the rental gear for Chris. Hot tip: Rent your skiing gear in the village and don’t wait till you’re at the base of the ski fields. Yes, it’s less comfortable since you have to pack it all into your car or carry it to the shuttle. But it’s also a whole lot cheaper!
As we walk back to the hostel with our skis and boots, the clouds around Mount Ruapehu magically clear and reveal its whole beauty. The volcano is covered in snow and looking absolutely magical. Walking in light shirts with spring all around us it looks like a mountain from another world, placed in a flat, green area and then forgotten. I’m getting all excited at the thought of going skiing there the next day.
Unfortuntely, the view only lasts for about 10 minutes and by the time I got my hands free and a good view, the mountain tops are back in the clouds already. Oh well.
We spend the evening at Schnapps Bar, just a stumble away from our Hostel. The place looks like you would expect from a mountain bar/restaurant, all wood, homey couches and a lovely warm fireplace. It’s crowded and quite loud around dinner time but becomes cozier later on. The food is yummy and arrives incredibly fast! And they have our favorite kiwi wine, bonus!
Last call is a little early for our taste. By 10pm they were already ready to close down. But it’s probably a good thing as most people probably have an early rise ahead, be it for skiing, biking or hiking, and could use the sleep.
As we look out of the window the next morning, my heart sinks a little. Grey, rainy, yucky! No mountain to be seen. During breakfast I keep checking the webcams of Whakapapa and Turoa skifields to figure out which one would be the least bad choice to go. In the end we decided to go to Turoa. As we learned later in the evening, this was a good choice as Whakapapa had to close most of their lifts over the day.
Turoa is a bit further away from National Park Village than Whakapapa. It takes us about half an hour to get to Ohuakune and stop for coffee. From Ohakune it’s another 20 minutes’ drive. The road first winds through beautiful native forest and as we climb up the green gives way to the typical volcanic scenery of black sand and red rocks. Unfortunately, it’s not just landscape that’s changing but also the weather. Starting off in rainy National Park Village, we drove into lovely warm sun in Ohakune and the further up the mountain we get, the darker and wetter it gets.
The shuttle bus brings us from the parking lot to the base of the chair lifts and after queuing for our tickets, we’re ready to hit the slopes!
The snow is…wet, to say it nicely. Down at the base there is hardly any snow next to the slopes. But hey, it’s spring and it was 15°C the day before, what do you expect. A little higher up, after the first chair lift, it doesn't look as bad anymore. The snow’s still wet but at least there is snow everywhere now.
Chris starts off on the beginners’ slope to get back into the whole skiing feeling and I decide to take the next chair lift. We arrange to meet up again in an hour and off we go.
The visibility gets worse by every meter I’m climbing on the chairlifts. And eventually it even started to rain. And not just a little bit. No, it pours down while I sit on my lift. No chance to escape the rain, I get pretty soaked through all my layers of clothes. Arriiving at the top of the lift, the snow is surprisingly good. I can’t ride with the goggles, though, as it’s still raining and wipers for goggles are still to be invented. So here I go, more or less blind-skiing on a skifield I’ve never been on before. I have no idea where I am and just follow the handy blue lines the Ruapehu team sprayed in the snow for orientation help. Luckily, I end up where I started, just in time to meet up with Chris for lunch.
After we finish eating, the visibility has dropped even more and the rain got even worse. But we still decide to go riding for another hour or two, since we’re already wet anyway. Might as well get some more rain. We now tackle the bigger slopes together and Chris is doing extremely well, despite the fact we don’t see where we’re going and him being a beginner skier.
Somewhere between three and four we decide that it’s a wrap for today and make our way down to the base. Back at the car we’re trying to get out of our wet stuff as good as possible. Thankfully, we were wise enough to bring more clothes. The skiing jacket and pants are dripping wet and we have to wring them out before we can store them in the car.
Back in National Park Village and after the shower we head back to Schnapps Bar for dinner and let the day pass through again. Even though the weather wasn’t nearly as good as we hoped it was so much fun to just be in the snow together. We’re tired and happy and more than keen to come back next season. And then hopefully even with sun and powder snow!
Where to stay in Tongariro national park village?
There is not much to see and do in the town itself, but it sure does have a lot of hotels and backpackers in National Park Village! Personally, I have stayed at two and can recommend them both:
The National Park Backpackers is a rustic hostel with a big kitchen, dorms, twins, double and single rooms. There is a TV room, a dry room and laundry and tumble dryer. The shared bathrooms and the kitchen are very clean. All the rooms are decent sized and have heaters. They might be a little dusty at times, but at this rate it doesn't really matter. The hostel rents out hiking and skiing clothes. And the backpackers even comes with its own climbing hall!
To make a booking at the National Park Backpackers, click here
The Park Hotel Ruapehu looks exactly like what you expect of a mountain hotel. It is wooden, rustic, has a lovely restaurant with bar and features a big log fire for those homely feelings. The rooms have a good size and come with their own bathroom. In the courtyard of the hotel is a little garden with two spa pools that can be used for free. Nothing soothes your muscles more than soaking in a hot pool after a strenuous day hiking or on skis.
To make a booking at The Park Hotel Ruapehu, click here
Getting to Whakapapa and Turoa ski field
From Tongariro National Park Village, it's about a 15 minutes' drive to Whakapapa Village and then another 15 minutes or so up the mountain on Bruce Road. It's a steep and curvy road through rough-looking volcanic terrain and there is limited parking at the top.
If Bruce Road is icy or snowy, only cars with 4 wheel drives or chains are permitted beyond Whakapapa Village. All others will have to take the shuttle bus.
Important information about the shuttle buses:
There are 2 different buses running up to Whakapapa ski fields. From Whakapapa Village the shuttle bus is run by a private company and costs an exagerated $20 return!
The other shuttle bus leaves from the train station at National Park Village. Parking and the bus cost only $6 return per person.
The shuttle buses run daily on an hourly schedule, no matter if the road is closed or open.
To avoid driving to Whakapapa and having to turn back to National Park village if Bruce Road is closed, check Mt Ruapehu's status report for Whakapapa in the morning and make your plans accordingly.
From Tongariro National Park Village, you'll have to drive to Ohakune for about 45 minutes. It takes another 20 minutes from the village to the ski field and there is ample parking. The road is equally steep and curvy as it is to Whakapapa.
If the road is icy or snowy, only cars with 4 wheel drive or chains are permitted to drive up and you'll have to take the shuttle bus. Please check Mt Ruapehu's status report for Turoa in the morning before to avoid unnecessary driving.
The shuttle buses run daily on an hourly schedule, no matter if the road is closed or open. The cost is $6 return per person.