While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
If you want scenic grandeur, then the Central Plateau of the North Island delivers the goods. This area is home to Tongariro National Park and has three active volcanoes: Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.
The park was sacred to the Māori people until chief Te Heuheu Tukino IV gifted it to the nation in the 1880s. It now has a dual World Heritage status and is enjoyed year round by locals and visitors.
Lord of the Rings enthusiasts will also enjoy a visit here, as some of the locations from the films, including Mordor, Mount Doom and the Plains of Gorgoroth, were shot on and around the mountains.
During winter, Mt Ruapehu’s superior skiing and snowboarding runs extend its popularity. During summer, Mt Ruapehu is popular for its cafés, chairlift rides, volcanic hikes and scenic views.
To experience the various landscapes and mountain scenery that inspired Peter Jackson to shoot part of his popular trilogy here, head out on the Volcanic Loop Highway. From Turangi, drive either west to the towns of National Park and Ohakune around the back of the mountains, or south via the Desert Road. Both roads eventually meet up at the southern end of the park at Waiouru.
Photo opportunities abound in either direction, but the more scenic route is arguably the Desert Road. The road takes you through wild tussock lands and semi-desert, with lookout points to Mt Ruapehu dotted along the way. On a clear day after a fresh snowfall, the mountain really steals the show.
The best, but not the cheapest, way to get a sense of the true majesty of Mt Ruapehu and Tongariro National Park is to take a scenic flight. From the air you’ll be able to see the craters of the live volcanoes – possibly steaming – emerald and blue crater lakes, as well as the unique mix of desert, valleys and wetlands.
Another unique fact about this place is the number of activities available on Mt Ruapehu. It’s one of the most popular destinations in New Zealand for snow sports and hiking, or simply having lunch with a view.
There are two cafés on Mt Ruapehu, Lorenz’s Bar & Café and Knoll Ridge Chalet, which boasts being one of New Zealand’s highest cafés. Knoll Ridge Chalet can be reached by taking the Waterfall Express chairlift ride to the top, and on a clear day, there are breathtaking views of the summit, Mt Ngauruhoe and Lake Taupo.
If retail therapy is on your mind, check out The Vertical Retail Store at the base of the Whakapapa ski field. This store has a good range of outdoor gear whether you want to ski, hike or just buy something warm for a souvenir.
It also has rental gear if you’re planning on doing any hikes, and doubles as an information center if you want to make bookings or learn more about the history of the area.
Volcanic Walks and Other Hikes
Although the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and its Emerald Lakes tops the list of the most popular hikes to do in the district, at eight hours it isn’t the shortest – or easiest – of walks available. If you prefer something slightly less taxing, there are other options.
Mt Ruapehu has some short volcanic walks you can do in the warmer months including:
- Meads Wall, a 30 minute stroll on a well-marked path; and
- Skyline Ridge, a one and a half to two-hour walk from Knoll Ridge Café.
Off the mountain you’ll find a range of walks from 20 minutes to 2 hours, encompassing everything from native flora and fauna, lava flows, hidden springs, waterfalls and lakes.
If you’ve worked up a good appetite after all this, don’t worry. The towns in the Ruapehu district can definitely cater for you.
Built in 1929, the iconic Chateau Tongariro in Whakapapa Village is a grand old hotel with a long history of elegant dining.
Its à la carte menu features Pacific Rim cuisine, and if you like dressing up for dinner, this is the place to go.
The Powderhorn Chateau in Ohakune is built with the style of a very large Swiss chalet, and is a favourite après-ski spot in winter and popular for its alfresco dining in summer. Here you can order hearty fare and relax by the fire in winter, or sit outside in classy comfort in summer. If you happen to be there in June, look out for the annual Ohakune Winter Fashion Show.
The Station Café & Restaurant in National Park is slightly more rustic but equally delicious. Open both summer and winter, it serves three course meals in a fine dining atmosphere.
Whether you’re after fine dining, fabulous outdoor activities – snow sports or volcanic hikes – or photo opportunities, Ruapehu is both a winter retreat and a summer getaway to keep you spellbound.