Whakapapa is the largest skifield in New Zealand, with more than 65 runs covering 1050 hectares. Situated in the middle of the North Island it is centrally located between Auckland and Wellington, being approximately four and a half hours' drive from either city.
Whakapapa is situated on the north-western slopes of Mt Ruapehu in the Tongariro National Park. The park was the first established in New Zealand, gifted to the people of New Zealand in 1887 by the Maori chief Te Heuheu Takino IV. It is one of the country's only two World Heritage Areas (the other is by Mt. cook). Another ski field - Turoa - is on the southern side of the same mountain.
Mt Ruapehu is one of a cluster of three mountain peaks that form the heart of the park; the other two are Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe. Both Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are active volcanoes and are often known to "let off steam". In fact the entire park is renowned for its volcanic and thermal activity, being part of a "Ring of Fire" that also encompasses Rotorua and Taupo.
Season: The ski season generally lasts from winter until late spring, opening from around the end of June until late October.
Skiing and Snowboarding at Whakapapa
The ski and snowboard runs at Whakapapa cater for all levels of ability, from beginner to expert off-piste. There are three distinct areas.
Happy Valley is probably the best facility for beginners of any ski resort in New Zealand. It is wide and well separated from the rest of the run areas. It has a long, gentle slope and plenty of width so there is good room even on crowded days. The Valley also has its own cafe and ski rental area and a beginner-friendly chairlift.
The intermediate areas contain more than 30 trails with a huge variety of terrains and slopes.
For advanced skiers and snowboarders there are 24 runs. There is also a backcountry area called Black Magic and enough off-piste challenge to excite even the best. In fact, this is the venue for the renowned Extreme Competition, held each September and attracting an ever increasing number of international participants.
A children's program operates during New Zealand school holiday periods. These last for five days, and provide the opportunity to stay with the same instructor and group for the entire period. There are full day and half day options.
Also in the school holidays is the Mountain Host service this is an excellent idea if you are alone or unfamiliar with the mountain. If you are advanced intermediate or above you can join a group for a free guided tour of some of the best and most interesting slopes.
Facilities at Whakapapa
Whakapapa is well served with cafes and eateries. In addition to the Happy Valley cafe, there is a cafe near the entrance to the resort which serves meals, takeaways and drinks. There are also two cafes higher up the mountain which offer stunning views as well as decent food. One is accessible only by chair lift, the other only by ski or snowboard.
Equipment can be hired from two hire centers, one at the resort entrance and one near the start of Happy Valley. Ski and snowboard rental is also available from shops in the nearby ski towns of Ohakune, National Park and Turangi.
Getting to Whakapapa
As mentioned, driving to Whakapapa from Auckland or Wellington takes about 4 ½ hours. The closest major town is Taupo, approximately 1 ½ hours away. If driving, follow the signs to National Park. There are regular coach services from the main centers of the North Island as well.
There is no public accommodation at Whakapapa itself. The nearest places to stay are at Whakapapa Village (15 minutes drive), National Park Village (20 minutes), Turangi (one hour) and Taupo (one and a half hours).
The imposing Chateau Tongariro (formerly the Grand Chateau) is a large and impressive landmark at Whakapapa Village, and one of New Zealand's best known hotels; built in 1929 it has been restored to its former glory and is a luxurious place to unwind after a day on the slopes.
Other Points of Interest
Whakapapa and the rest of the Tongariro National Park is not just a great place for snow sports. At other times of the year there are a huge variety of outdoor activities and places to explore. Hunting, tramping and fishing are all world class. Nevertheless it is the snow that Whakapapa is best known for and it is certainly one of the best ski resorts in New Zealand.