Ever skied an active volcano? By Glenn Cullen.
Rising ruggedly from the plains of the Central Plateau, Mount Ruapehu offers the rare experience of skiing or snowboarding on an active volcano across two resort areas, Whakapapa and Turoa. There is serious terrain with hiking opportunities, and snow is often plentiful - more so this season with the launch of Whakapapa’s Snowfactory, which can manufacture snow well into spring. This all-weather facility means that on 3 June Whakapapa’s Happy Valley will be the first Australasian ski field to open and the last to close, on 23 October. Conditions at Ruapehu are sometimes variable, but when the weather settles there are few better ski fields in the Southern Hemisphere. You can stay at the town of Ohakune to access Turoa while the national park is the way to go for Whakapapa.
SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Ski Trip to Queenstown
No Delta Blues
Following a $100 million investment program, Ruapehu leads the way in ski-area development in the Southern Hemisphere. Among a raft of upgrades this season, the Delta Quad chairlift replaces the Waterfall T-bar in the Whakapapa area.
Hike to Crater Lake
A must-do for the adventurous with a medium level of fitness: after unloading from the Far West T-bar on the Whakapapa side, it's a 45-minute hike to the emerald green (though extremely acidic) waters of the lake. The view is something else – and then there's the return, a pinball ride over a 1100-metre vertical drop back to the base.
Peak to Powderkeg
Every other Australasian ski resort will have shut down then, but on 7 October Ruapehu will be hosting its 26th annual “quadathlon”. This iconic spring event comprises a 3.2-kilometre ski, followed by a 3.8-kilometre run and 12.5-kilometre bike ride, all finished off by downing a beer or lemonade. It’s a whole lot of fun.
Where to stay
Powderhorn is our pick on the Turoa side of the mountain. The decor involves more wood than a sawmill, but rest assured it's all tastefully done in European alpine lodge style. Accommodation options range from small rooms to a fully decked-out suite that has been enjoyed by the likes of movie director Peter Jackson. There’s also an excellent restaurant and a great bar for post-slope drinks.
194 Mangawhero Terrace, Ohakune
Chateau Tongariro Hotel
One of New Zealand's classic hotels, Chateau Tongariro Hotel is perched in the foothills of Ruapehu, just minutes from the ski fields. The Chateau looks more like a 1920s estate than a hotel – that’s a big part of the charm – and offers great views of the region’s three volcanoes, Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.
State Highway 48, Mount Ruapehu
Eating and drinking
A fun and funky diner, OCR is a little out of downtown Ohakune but it’s well worth the trip. The beautifully manicured gardens will lure you in and excellent coffee and hearty breakfasts will bring you back. It’s also open for lunch and dinner.
2 Tyne Street, Ohakune
Knoll Ridge Cafe
If you're here to ski or snowboard, chances are you'll be up the mountain at lunch-time – in which case Knoll Ridge Cafe is your best bet. The food is typical ski-fields fare but the real reason to come is here for the extraordinary views of the snow-capped Pinnacles.
The Cypress Tree
A great place where a few casual drinks can quickly turn into your evening meal, The Cypress Tree offers plump steaks, luscious lamb and a small but tasty selection of pizzas. There is also a handy selection of Kiwi wines and regional beers at this Ohakune favourite.
77 Clyde Street, Ohakune