Mt Ruapehu Delivers Best Value Big Area Skiing Downunder

Mt Ruapehu boasts by far the best value lift passes of any of the 12 ‘big’ ski areas in Australia or New Zealand.

Midweek all season you pay just $NZD 74 daily. Which equates to better than 2 for 1 versus the big 5 Aussie resorts. If you got in earlier the Mt Ruapehu early bird midweek season pass deal was a sensational $299.

A day pass at Thredbo will set you back $AUD 169, Buller are currently offering a 2 day pass minimum from $298 in main season, while Vail Resorts pricing is still pending for 1 – 7 day lift pass offerings at Perisher, Falls Creek and Hotham. But those will not be much lower than the competition, if at all. As we mentioned many times, the Epic Australia Pass was/is the go for them if you are going to ski/ride 6 days or more.

No great surprise Aussie lift rates are higher than NZ, but more than double is a lot higher – 4 or 5 days difference would pay a one way air ticket, ski 8-10 days and you’ve covered your return air ticket for example. Of course if you live too far to drive to the Aussie snow then the numbers get even more attractive.

Sunset skiing at Whakapapa Mt Ruapehu with view to Ngaurahoe
Last line of the day at Whakapapa © RAL

But Mt Ruapehu’s twin ski areas of Turoa and Whakapapa (tickets are valid at both) also stack up really well in the value stakes against their New Zealand competition in the South Island.

At the 3 NZSki.com areas – Mt Hutt, The Remarkables and Coronet Peak – the cost is $NZD 129 for single days, $129 daily x 2 days, or $99 daily x 3 days or more. These are interchangeable for each of the 3 areas, or creditable towards other activities if you can’t/don’t want to ski on a given day.

The other two major Kiwi areas, also jointly owned with an interchangeable lift pass, are Cardrona and Treble Cone. You’ll pay $NZD 140 for 1 day, $135 daily x 2 days, and $100 a day for 3 – 6 days.

Hiking to ski off piste at Whakapapa, Mt Ruapehu
There is plenty of easily accessible side country – taking a hike at Whakapapa © RAL

So OK, you say, Ruapehu is great value. But what’s the skiing and boarding like?

Snow Action Features Editor and top ski travel writer for the past 30 years, Bronwen Gora rated it her number #1 in our Editor’s Choice Best Kiwi Ski Areas, so who better to supply the downlow on that.

In terms of exciting skiing the North Island ski fields of Whakapapa and Turoa have it sewn up. What else would you expect from ski fields located on the sides of a volcano – and a fairly active one at that. 

Between the pair’s combined 1500ha they comprise the largest ski area in New Zealand. Blessed with terrain shapes like no other formed by eons-worth of solidified lava, both Whakapapa and Turoa offer up natural halfpipes galore, snowy avenues slinking past bizarre rock formations and a vast number of cliffs and drop-offs.

This is definitely one of those places where it pays to keep in mind the adage uttered by many a ski guide: “If you can’t see over it don’t ski over it”. 

The drama of the place is accentuated by Mt Ruapehu’s visual impact. The mountain rises from the North island’s central plains to stand amid tussock-dotted fields, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe in the distance.

Ruapehu is topped by three peaks with the volcanic crater nestling among them. Most of the time (ie when not erupting) the crater is filled with water. Adventurous skiers can hike then skate-ski over to view the lake from the top of either Whakapapa or Turoa. Once atop the mountain, it’s possible to skate across the flat wide open spaces and gaze down the sides of Crater Lake’s to the sulphurous hissing, steaming surface. Be wary though of skiing down into this natural cauldron: a few who have tried have ended up in its hot dangerously acidic waters, a most unpleasant experience to say the least.

Skiing beneath the Sky Whaka at Mt Ruapehu
The Sky Whaka is arguably NZ’s best ski lift © RAL

But back to the ski slopes.

Whakapapa sits on Ruapehu’s northwestern side and is accessed by State Highway 48 while Turoa lies on the southwest side reached from the town of Ohakune just over 20km away. Both ski fields are operated by Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL). Another smaller club field Tukino, filled with rope tows and run by locals, is cradled on the mountain’s eastern flanks.  

A dozen ski lifts criss-cross Whakapapa’s slopes, including that of its stand-alone beginner field Happy Valley. The latest to be installed here is arguably NZ’s best lift and the area’s first gondola, the Sky Waka, travelling from 1630m to 2020m.

The Sky Waka has been a much-welcome addition in a place notorious for wild winter storms. The flipside of being a weather magnet of course is that there is generally plenty of snow. You rarely go wrong choosing to ski either here or Turoa. It gets better the longer the season goes, which is great for Aussie visitors who can confidently book October school holidays trips here.

You can stay in the magnificent Grand Chateau at the bast of the Whakapapa access road or a cluster of options around the village of National Park to be close to the slopes here.

Skiing the wide opened piste at Turoa, Mt Ruapehu
Wide open groomer at Turoa © RAL

Turoa is slightly smaller than Whakapapa but with a bigger vertical at 720m off the 8 lifts. Especially in spring, the hike to the peak at 2797m supplies an incredible 1200m+ vertical run back down to the base, including a glacier option!

Turoa has more of a wide-open feel to it, plenty of satisfying runs where you can truly bank your turns and ride those edges whether on snowboard or skis. 

The resorts’ feeder town Ohakune has diversion aplenty during winter. Sure it’s not Queenstown, but the apres is good – more extensive than Wanaka or Methven. Small enough to get around easily, restaurants and bars are concentrated in an area named The Junction, from it’s origins as a rail junction on the main north-south line. Many old buildings have been converted into funky restaurants and bars.

Local produce is especially luscious given the rich volcanic soil. The place is also the carrot capital of New Zealand and as such sports the world’s largest model carrot, unmissable on the drive into town. 

For 2021, Whakapapa’s opening date is slated as June 4, Turoa’s as July 2, and both have a closing date of October 25.

Mt Ruapehu Ticket Deals

Check the website for the full details of pricing and options. Generally for visiting Aussies the midweek deal is best – as NZ’s biggest ski areas they get busy on weekends so that’s a good time for you to do other stuff in the region.

Turoa trail map
Turoa’s sprawling trail network

Access To Mt Ruapehu

Fly into Auckland or Wellington (or into one out of the other).

Wellington Airport is slightly closer – 295km to Ohakune, around 4 hours, vs 347km from Auckland Airport to Ohakune via the most direct route, around 4:15 hours. The more scenic route past Lake Taupo is a beautiful trip and only 30 minutes or so drive time further.

Ruapehu gets busier on weekends with city visitors, but there is plenty to see and do in the region instead. Plan a trip to include Rotorua, Taupo, Waitomo Caves, Hawkes Bay wineries etc.

Accommodation Options for Mt Ruapehu

Ohakune/Ohakune Junction is by far the liveliest option, this is one of NZ’s best ski towns.

Otherwise National Park Village is close to Whakapapa with several super budget options, or the Grand Chateau there for old school style, great for couples. Check deals for your preferred dates here for the whole area:

Booking.com