Whakapapa Ski Field 

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Whakapapa Ski Field 

Readers Ratings


Whakapapa3 out of 5 based on 12 reviews
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit

Ruapehu – Whakapapa New Zealand

NB Ruapehu Alpine Lifts went into voluntary administration in 2022. Whilst lift passes are being sold for the 2023 season, it remains unclear as to whether the ski area will operate.

Whakapapa Ski Field (pronounced fukka puppa – yes you read that correctly!) is one of only two commercial ski resorts on the North Island of New Zealand. Whakapapa New Zealand sits on the north-western side of Mount Ruapehu, the country’s largest active volcano, and the North Island’s highest peak at 2,797 metres.

Whakapapa Ski Field, with its gorgeous views and ample snow, is complemented by Turoa, the other commercial resort which is situated on the south-western slopes of Mount Ruapehu. Both resorts are run by Ruapehu Alpine Lifts.

Whakapapa along with Turoa are ideal if you live on the north island of New Zealand. Considering the frequent bad weather, you wouldn’t travel there from abroad solely to ski or snowboard as you’d need to supplement your holiday with other activities for the many down days.

Pros and Cons of Whakapapa

  • The Whakapapa Ski Field offers phenomenally stunning views on fine days.
  • It’s a good sized ski resort, and a couple of the lifts are very modern relative to most other New Zealand ski resorts.
  • It has a dedicated and protected novice area which is fantastic.
  • The access road is the easiest of all the New Zealand ski fields.
  • The Whakapapa ski season is rather long.
  • There is some on-mountain lodging at club lodges, which is somewhat unique for a commercial ski resort in New Zealand.
  • The Whakapapa accommodation in the area is much cheaper than what you’d find in Queenstown or Wanaka.
  • The weather is incredibly fickle, so often part or all of the Whakapapa Ski Resort is closed, and lifts can remain closed because they take significant time to be de-rimed. Also the timely reporting from RAL regarding when lifts might open is not good.
  • The snow quality is incredibly variable and it’s often not that attractive for off-piste skiing (which is common to most NZ ski resorts).
  • The Whakapapa Ski Field is ridiculously busy on weekends, not just with skiers and snowboarders, but sightseers going on the gondola.  
  • The mid-zone of the ski resort has no specific lift so if you want to ski the mid-mountain you have to exit via congested green runs to join the queues at the gondola again.
  • The number of car parking spots is inadequate which has been made worse by the influx of sightseeing tourists.
  • There is no substantial sized town nearby, so nightlife is absent or negligible.
Pro or Con Depending On Your Perspective
  • This is a ski resort (ie for skiing and snowboarding), yet there are a lot of snow play folk that complain that there are no free snow play areas inside the ski resort boundaries (even though there is plenty of free snow nearby). They simultaneously complain that the toilets are busy, the indoor areas to have a BYO picnic are full, and the car park is full, even though they haven’t paid a cent to be there.

Mount Ruapehu Whakapapa Ski and Snowboard Terrain

Whakapapa offers some of New Zealand’s best ski and snowboard terrain, and by New Zealand standards, the size of the terrain is impressive at 550 hectares. The base elevation is 1,630 metres and well above the tree line, whilst the highest lifted point is 2,320 metres. There are 12 lifts which includes a gondola (that’s also used for sightseeing and access to the Knoll Ridge Café with its amazing views) and 1 high speed quad chair lift.

Whakapapa has a fantastic beginner zone that’s dedicated for novices only and is protected from the elements, and there’s also sledding there (for a fee). Other beginner runs are at the base of the mountain, but they are situated in a choke point that’s shared with intermediate and advanced riders. Most of the intermediate runs are located on the upper mountain so they require good weather, whilst the advanced runs are concentrated mid-mountain.

Considering the terrain is treeless, there are lots of off-piste options including bowls, chutes, and drops. At Whakapapa you can have a hucking good time!

On the East side there is really diverse terrain thanks to volcanic eruptions and the subsequent lava rivers, and the area has spectacular views. The West side has more open ski terrain and access to the pinnacles “Black Magic” sidecountry area.

Whakapapa Snow

Mount Ruapehu is very exposed and the mountain is often subject to major wind and ice, and sometimes it rains. The Whakapapa snow quality is incredibly variable and dry powder days are very rare. Spring can be a nice time to visit when the weather is more settled and the melt freeze cycles create some lovely corn. Even though the weather gods at Mount Ruapehu are often not kind, when the weather is fine the views are stupendous.

Where is Whakapapa Ski Field?

Whakapapa Ski Field is located at the top of the Bruce Highway on the northwest flank of Mount Ruapehu in the Tongariro National Park on the north island of New Zealand. Whakapapa is 346km south of Auckland and 342 km northeast of Wellington. The little Whakapapa Village is 7km down the road from the ski area, whilst the village of National Park is out on Highway 4, 22km from Whakapapa Ski Area. The Turoa Ski Field is 75km away by road.

Having a car is ideal and the access road up to the ski field is a breeze, and by New Zealand ski field standards it’s like an autobahn. You’ll want to get there early to get a car park before the ridiculous numbers of sightseers turn up.

Whakapapa Accommodation

There are club ski lodges at the base of the Whakapapa ski area. Otherwise the closest place to stay is Whakapapa village which is 10 minutes down the Bruce Highway, or down in National Park.

Both villages offer a range of options from budget holiday parks to fancy pants accommodation. The jewel is the Chateau Tongariro at Whakapapa Village. This luxurious hotel oozes history and tradition, with a pinch of class. It’s one of New Zealand’s most historic hotels, with unsurpassed views of the National Park’s three volcanic peaks – Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe.

All Whakapapa accommodation areas are serviced by a shuttle service to transport skiers and boarders to and from the ski area.

Ski Resort Facilities

This Mount Ruapehu ski resort has modern on-mountain facilities and services which include ski school, a medical centre, ski and snowboard hire, and eateries.

The highlight of the facilities is a restaurant located at Knoll Ridge. Sitting on the terrace, sipping a coffee, admiring The Pinnacles (an impressive rock ridge) and watching the world go by, one could be forgiven for thinking that a ski resort can’t possibly come much better than this
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