What’s your happy place? Mine is sitting at the very top of Whakapapa Ski Field, looking down at the best playground Mother Nature ever built. During winter, this is my second home and I’m lucky to have a mother who skis as she passed this awesome sport on to all her children. At the age of five, I began carving up fresh tracks on Whakapapa, and by fourteen, I levelled up to snowboarding.
How to get to Whakapapa ski field
Whakapapa is New Zealand’s largest ski field, encompassing 550 hectares of terrain on Mount Ruapehu, a breathing, active volcano. Located in the middle of the North Island, it’s easily accessible from any of the major cities. You can take a great Kiwi road trip from either Auckland or Wellington and be there in just over four hours.
The scenic approach to the mountain will take you through Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage site. You’ll pass through ancient native forests and desert landscapes nestled between three impressive volcanoes; Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. For anyone who hasn’t been to the snow, it doesn’t get more epic than standing, sliding, skiing or boarding on a huge volcano.
Whakapapa trails and Happy Valley
Whakapapa offers amazing trails for all ability levels with wide open fields, steep drops, chutes and snow-filled basins, all available by lift access.
It is home to Happy Valley, New Zealand’s largest beginner ski and snow play area, with superb facilities to learn skiing and snowboarding.
Private or group lessons are available from qualified instructors who come from all over the world. They are some of the friendliest and most easy-going people you will meet. They teach not only the basics but can upskill you all the way to Jedi-Master level.
Once you have conquered Happy Valley, you can work your way up to the lower and upper mountain where a wide range of intermediate and advanced runs and terrains lovingly await you. There’s nothing quite like catching a chairlift all the way to the top of Whakapapa, with the incredible postcard views. The view of the dominating Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom for Lord of the Rings fans) is unbeatable.
Where to stay near Whakapapa ski field
There are many great accommodation options available nearby, whether you stay one night or settle in for longer. From budget-friendly dorms to cosy private rooms, there’s something to suit everyone’s wallet.
The closest points to stay at are Tongariro National Park (20 minutes’ drive away) and Turangi (40 minutes’ drive away). Taupo, the largest nearby city, is another popular option to overnight in as there’s a wider range of accommodation choices and it’s only a one-hour and 15-minute drive to Whakapapa. There are also regular shuttle and bus services to Whakapapa available from Taupo, Turangi and the National Park if you choose not to drive.
Whakapapa weather and ski season dates
World-class snowmaking facilities mean Happy Valley is open for business this winter on the 2nd of June. The opening date for the rest of the mountain is dependent on snowfall, but current projected dates are the 16th of June for the lower mountain and 23rd of June for the upper mountain.
Whakapapa boasts New Zealand’s longest ski season and is usually open until the end of October for the best spring skiing and riding in the country. The mountain is open daily from 9am to 4pm, weather dependent.
For those who use a dislike of the cold as an excuse to stay away from the snow, did you know it can be so warm on a sunny day that you can peel your layers off down to a t-shirt? The weather is unpredictable, however, and can often change quite quickly. It is wise to be prepared, even for those forecasted sunny days.
Whakapapa ski gear
A good snow uniform includes waterproof ski pants, a warm, waterproof jacket, warm layers underneath of thermals, merino, woollens etc, a warm hat, waterproof gloves and polarised sunglasses. Don’t forget to bring sunblock, the sun can be extra harsh from the reflection of the snow.
You can hire any gear you need from the well-equipped rental outlet at Whakapapa. This includes skis, snowboards, boots, helmets, warm and waterproof outerwear, all correctly fitted to your needs.
As a tip, if you can get there during the weekdays, it is a lot less crowded than going on a weekend. Better to avoid the school holidays too, unless of course, you’re bringing your own little ones.
On family excursions, we brought our own food from home to save money. In our daypacks, we each carried a thermos of hot soup, egg sandwiches, fruit and some chocolate to snack on. Nowadays I savour a mid-morning barista coffee from one of their three great cafes that offer unbeatable views. The Knoll Ridge Cafe is New Zealand’s highest cafe and an absolute must-do. The award-winning cafe has a wide range of food options with picture-perfect views and warm hospitality. It makes breaking for lunch an amazing experience.
The feeling of sitting on top of the world is a freeing experience you can’t put a price on. The pure joy of skiing and snowboarding on Whakapapa’s fresh powder amongst such stunning scenery is truly remarkable. It is worth the cost, it is worth getting up in the dark for the long drive, it is worth sore legs the next day. It is the best feeling!
If you’re heading to New Zealand this winter or are one of the many Kiwis who still haven’t been to the snow, make 2018 the year to come. It’s an experience you will never forget and one that will almost certainly hook you into coming back again and again. Hit the slopes at Whakapapa this year and come ride an epic volcano!
About the author
Krysti Jaims is a Kiwi travel blogger with a love for adventure, a passion for finding the best places to eat, soaking up new cultures and exploring hidden gems off the beaten track. She writes all about her globetrotting adventures on her blog and shares helpful guides and tips.