Skiing New Zealand's North Island

Mary's ski holiday at Mt Ruapehu

Recently I took my three kids skiing for a few days as a school holiday treat. I’m an experienced skier and normally head to the South Island to play in the snow, but we had friends going to Mt Ruapehu, so thought we’d give that a try.

We drove pretty much straight down to the mountain as we were anxious to hit the snow! Mt Ruapehu is pretty much smack bang in the centre of the North Island, directly south of Auckland (about 4 hours’ drive) and about the same distance north of Wellington. There are a variety of routes you can take from Auckland. The most direct trip bypasses Hamilton to the west, heading through Otorohanga and Te Kuiti and, further south, Taumaranui (all good places to stop enroute if you need to stretch your legs and grab a bite to eat).

We hired our skis and boots when we arrived at National Park, just 15 minutes from the mountain. While there are hire outlets at the ski area, we find it easier to get our gear sorted the night before we hit the slopes. It’s a bit less expensive to hire off the mountain, plus it means we’ll get going on the slopes earlier the next day!

It had been a few years since we last skied at Mt Ruapehu and we were keen to see how much it had changed. There's a new high speed quad chair on the upper half of the mountain so once you get up higher, it does a great job moving people around the better tracks. The lower mountain runs were a little thin the few days we were there as there hadn't been much fresh snow, so we tried to stay further up the mountain.

One of the coolest things about Mt Ruapehu is that it’s a volcano. It hasn't erupted for a few years now, and sophisticated detection systems have been set up so if there's any concerning activity in the volcano you'll get plenty of warning. The views from the mountain are breathtaking - not only can you take in the neighbouring mountains, on a clear day you can see as far as Mt Taranaki several hundred miles away.

Mt Ruapehu is New Zealand’s largest ski area. There are more than 65 trails across 1050 hectares, including a good range of beginner and intermediate runs as well as a big advanced area for the experienced and adventurous. As it had been two years since the kids last went skiing, I sent them to ski school the first morning just to get their confidence back up. The ski lessons take place in Happy Valley, the learner’s area. It’s the perfect place to try skiing for the first time, or do a refresher course. It wasn’t long before the kids were confidently zooming around.

The holiday park at the base of the mountain is a great place to stay. They have plenty of powered sites, a large communal dining area if you want to mix with others (great way to meet the locals!), lots of hot showers plus a laundry and drying room (or you could higher a specific motorhome camper whch includes a drying room!). The park is just 10 minutes’ drive away from the ski area. Unlike many northern hemisphere ski fields, most people drive to the ski area rather than take a gondola or other resort transport. The access road is narrow, winding, and steep so if you're anxious at all, leave your vehicle at the base of the mountain and take the ski shuttle. This may also be the best option if you're in a motorhome that's more than 6m long or if you don't have snow chains.

There’s a New World supermarket in Ohakune for picking up supplies. You can take your own lunch or snacks up the mountain with you, or treat yourself at one of the three cafes.

Next time we will probably try the Turoa skifield on the other side of the mountain which has a few new lifts and some great runs. It will be good to check out the view to the south as well! Visiting the ski field's website before you go to get an update on weather and conditions is a must. The Mt Ruapehu website is a great source of information.

Wilderness HQ

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