The last few weeks have really felt like winter. While everybody else is lying on the beach, posting pictures of the sun, the sea and the sand, we were freezing down in Wellington. Well, that is not exactly true. Today for example feels like summer: hot sun, small wind, everybody in tee shirts having ice creams, going to Welly’s beach or doing outdoor activity. Though, it has been a while since it has been like this.
They were not kidding about the Welly winter. When the winds are coming from the south, it feels like a cold nest had settled over the city. It is nothing like the winter in Montreal because in Montreal, I was ready for winter. I had the right equipment. Here, in Wellington, I wasn’t expecting the wind to be so cold. It’s not -40°C, it’s only between 10 and -2°C but still. As I was not prepared, I didn’t have the right equipment and I was freezing.
So why not make the most of this winter? Let’s do what we always (or almost) do in winter. We are all the way around the world in the middle of winter, what else could we do? Of course we went on a ski trip!
With my ex co-worker we started planning our trip. Ski season in the North Island is short. At least if you want very good snow. August is usually the best month to go.
Saturday was honestly terrible. We couldn’t see anywhere, the snow was falling really fast, sometimes it was even tail. Even with all our rental equipment, I was cold. I hate skiing in those conditions. The only good thing was that is felt awesome to be back on skis. It has been quite a long time since I last went and I love it. I love snow and everything that comes with it (hum almost).
It was really strange to get on a ski field and not seeing any tree. As we were on a vulcano, there are no tree there, only rocks. We were scared we would be bothered by the rocks but not at all. The ski slopes were perfect with very good snow, not too icy or two fluffy (do people say that of snow?).
We had some sun coming up in the middle of the day that showed us how beautiful the vulcano was and where we were skiing. After that, the weather got worse and worse. Around 2PM, Information people from the ski station started telling everyone that if they had a two wheel drive, they should head back because the weather was going to get worth and they were affraid people would get stuck on the mountain. (Yes I WAS scared too of course!)
We headed back a little bit after that but the road was clear and the snow had stopped falling. We couldn’t wait for the french mountain meal we would eat. (Yeah, they don’t know about the cheese fondue or the tartiflette around here).
Sunday was the exact opposite of Saturday. What an AWESOME DAY. We should have gotten on the mountain earlier though because we arrived around 10ish and all the parkings were already full. We had to park on the fourth one (I was desperated yes, I didn’t want to walk up hill with my ski shoes and my skis on the back). Hopefully they had free shuttles to take us there (Ski fields opened around 9AM). Weather was perfect, sunny, not too much wind, not too hot to make the snow melt, not too cold to make it icy.
We could finally appreciate the slopes. They were not all that easy and we had enough fun for a week end! It was not as if we knew them by heart for having been there hundred of times.
The view was totally beautiful anywhere you were. We were above the clouds and we could see the top of the other vulcano: Taranaki. There were some people that stopped at the last lift up to hike in the snow to the very top of Ruapehu. On top you could see everywhere around, including the lake in the cracter. I doesn’t seem very far but in the snow you have to be equipped and ski shoes are definetely not the right equipment ahah.
The only trouble in paradise was the number of people as you can imagine. There is only one place where you can get a lift to the upper trails on the base of the station so when we arrived, we had to wait like half an hour before being able to go up. And each time we had to take one to go up again, it was almost the same.
Where to ski on the North Island?
There is only a few places where you can ski in the North Island. The South Island have the “Alpes”, as they call them too, where you can ski in many places, even be helitroyed on top of the mountain to go down. South is reputed for its extreme sports in general so whatever you can think of doing on snow, you might be able to find it there. In the South also, next to Wanaka, you can ski for free on a beginner area (Apparently you still can have some fun!).
Talking about Beginners, we heard a lot of stuff about ski in New Zealand where it was boring, the slopes where not interesting, not hard enough, too much rocks on the slopes, it was not worth it, too expensive…
Well, I don’t know about the South (but I am sure it is even better than in the North) but skiing in the Tongariro National Park was absolutely lovely. None of the above were true (See pictures).
So the North only has a few Vulcanos where you can (or not) ski. Most of them are inside the Tongariro National Park (where we went!).
Mount Ruapehu, Tongariro Nationnal Park.
Tukino, the cheapest one
A really cheap place with a few lifts is located east of the Tongariro National Park. It is called Tukino. There is a lodge where you can stay (When we were there in summer it was $20 per night). The only thing is that it is accessible only by a four wheel drive (even in summer). And I can tell you it is not a joke. The road is awful and I can’t imagine with the snow. Even Alexis said the road was hardcore, just sayin’. We might go back but in summer only. Though the place is really nice and has a beautiful view over the valley. You can totally recognize the universe of Lord of the Rings.
You can checkout details on their website <http://www.tukino.co.nz>.
Whakapapa, the one i don’t know much about
Whakapapa is located about the same distance from Okahune than Turoa. Though it has less difficult and less trails than Turoa. More over, we heard there was more rocks there. I don’t really know if it is true or what it looks like but mostly because of that and the fact that our friends knew better Turoa, we went to Turoa.
The price of the passes are the same for both stations.
You can find informations about Whakapapa here <http://www.mtruapehu.com/winter/whakapapa>
Turoa, the one we went to!
It is kind of strange when you arrive at your sleeping place and not be in a mountain of any kind or surrounded by snow. Most of the people that go skiing either at Whakapapa or Turoa stay around the town called Okahune. It is located almost equidistantly from the two ski fields. There is everything you expect from a ski village, restaurants, rental places, mountain atmosphere… Except that it is not on the mountain but at its feet. I guessed it was because it is not safe (at all) to construct houses or even a city on a vulcano that had a last eruption only fifteen years ago.
Information about the station to find here <http://www.mtruapehu.com/winter/Turoa> You can also find the trail maps for both Turoa and Whakapapa (interactive ones too) here: <http://www.mtruapehu.com/winter/trail-maps>
First thing about Accommodation is that you have to book very early. A lot of houses or hotels will not be available if you look for it only one week before going. That is what happened to us. We started looking two weeks before for a house that could host 8 people but a lot of them were already not available.
There is a few options for accommodation. Backpackers in Ohakune, Hotels, Motels, Lodges… There is the very well known AirBnB too (Know that sometimes they charge more if you are more than a certain number). Another famous one in New Zealand (Don’t be affraid of website you don’t know) <http://Bachcare.co.nz> and also <http://HolidayHouses.co.nz>. We got a house on Bachcare and it was very good for a very good price. We had a $280 deposit to get back at the end and we paid each $67 for two nights. Not bad huh? Big, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by sheeps, 30 minutes away from the ski field and 15 minutes away from Ohakune. If it had been sunny enough we could have seen Mount Ruapehu from there but the weather was not really with us on Saturday and Sunday morning.
You also have a few options for renting skis. You can rent them on the vulcano at the same place you can get your passes or you can rent them in Ohakune. We found a deal online where we had 20% discount on the first day if we booked online the skis, so we went with that one. It was the less expensive of all the others. If you are interested you can check it out [here], it is in Ohakune and it was a really place to rent skis, no trouble with them. For two days rental, skis were $50 and a snowboard was $60. It depended on how adapted you wanted your equipment to be.
The thing to know about rentals in New Zealand is that you can not only rent your skis, you can also rent everything else. We rented pants and goggles but you could also get jackets and helmet. It is not that expensive, it is between $5 and $15 per day. Goggles were $9, pants were $10 for example. No need to buy a $200 jacket or bring yours from overseas that you might not be able to bring back or that takes a lot of space.
Getting to the ski field
There is only one road going from Ohakune to Turoa so you can hardly get lost. When we first got on the road, we felt as if we were going into the jungle. The trees and the rain that was pourring on Saturday gave us that impression. We also didn’t really felt as if we were going up a mountain because the road does not really turn like it does in France.
There was no snow at all until we reached a point where a mountain helper was in the middle of the road stopping cars. They were checking if we had a 4 wheel drive or not. If we didn’t he would have asked us to put on snow chains. One other thing to know, they actually have snow chains you can rent if needed. Starting from the point where snow chains are needed, they have a truck with tons of chains and they rent them for around $20 or $30 per day if I am not mistaken, other wise you won’t be able to get any further on the road.
Judging by the weather still very bad and the heavy snow that was falling now, I was scared even our 4 wheel drive won’t make it to the top. We saw a big 4×4 in front of us starting to slide in zigzag. It was quite scary but we made it! Little Subaru is to thank for it (Ok, and Alexis).
Ski Pass Prices
**At the moment I am writing the article**, they might change! if you see differences, please tell me, I will update the article :) )
You can get a all season pass for around 400$/500$ if you get it before the start of the season. It might seem a lot but if you want to go at least 3 times there, it might be more interesting to get it. Same applies as if you want to stay a week or more than five days.
Here is the announcement of last year’s one, it was at the beginning of October.
Otherwise, you can find below the link to the current passes available:
On day is 95$ but if you take two consecutive days it will be ‘only’ 180$ if you want to stay one week it will be $540