Resort Review: Turoa on Mt. Ruapehu
Committing to travelling 38 hours to the under-side of the world and choosing to spend 10 weeks in one place takes a lot of decision making, internet research and pros and cons list on deciding “where in New Zealand?!”.
The South Island usually takes the limelight of the best known resorts, living in beautiful and idyllic locations such as Queenstown and Lake Wanaka. My search took a turn, finding Mt. Ruapehu. The geography is relatively flat (for ski resort locations) but Ruapehu, home to Turoa and Whakapapa (and a lesser known Tukino) is an active stratovolcano that sits centrally on the North Island. The more I read about it, the more I was intrigued, weird and wonderful geology, longest ski season in the Southern Hemisphere and giant carrots (all will be explained)…
Ohakune is where you will be staying if you are spending any amount of time skiing and snowboarding at Turoa. With a 20 - 30 minute drive up the mountain road, you travel through thick forest, tall trees, to tropic palms. As you reach the ski area there is no flora. If it’s a clear day, you’ll be able to scope the impressive, exposed mountain to the peak, which on top lies a bubbling sulphuric crater lake. You may feel tremors, you’ll most definitely smell sulphur from time-to-time and fascinate over the “Eruption Evacuation Plan” on the toilet doors.
The base at the bottom has everything you need, ski school, canteen, skiwear shop and rentals. Alpine Meadow is the beginners area and you’ll take the Movenpick chair for more intermediate terrain. The top of the highest lift, the High Noon Express sits at 2,322 m, where the more advanced terrain is situated.
Off the mountain, the town of Ohakune has great places to eat (King’s Wings) and drink (The PowderKeg) and boasts it’s great homage to the humble root vegetable with a giant fibreglass carrot.
Geology plays a big part of shaping Turoa’s skiable terrain, lava streams over the years have formed gullies, cliffs and natural halfpipes - a freeriders paradise! Within the ski boundary there are so many options to get creative - the so called “Organ Pipes” to the west, is exactly how it sounds. To the east, Triangle and the Muzza with lots of drop offs, bowls and natural lips. Turoa has 2 or 3 terrain parks from an expert line to a medium size park to the left and a mini beginner line next to the Winter Garden. There are no trees here, so in whiteout conditions (which the volcano is prone to), you won’t see jack. Good resort awareness in need to venture to the outer limits when the weather is variable. Snow conditions are generally quite hard-pack with the exception of spring time.
What we love about Turoa…
The wild terrain, the ‘variable’ snow conditions (trust me on this one…). Spending a prolonged amount of time here makes you a better rider. Ice, whiteouts and mush do not phase me anymore and I feel like I’ve experienced every snow and weather combination possible. When you get the snowfall, you’ll have one of your best mountain days of you’re life. Hikes to the crater on a bluebird day are not to be missed. The locals and staff are the friendliest I’ve ever met.
What we dislike about Turoa…
Adverse weather can sometimes keep the mountain closed for periods of a few days at a time. If there’s winds exceeding 60km you’ll have a down day, however Whakapapa will likely be open on the bottom lifts, which is about a 45 minute drive away and has a bit more shelter. Vulcanised sediment in the snowpack means you go through a great deal of base grinds and edge tuning throughout the season.
Crater hikes are not really a hidden gem, but you can score the best turns because of the elevation you reach. It’s an hour hike for the moderately fit, but enjoy the hike - the views are stunning. From here you can push out either East or West to get some untouched lines.
Travel to resort
A scenic drive (think Wales on steroids) from Auckland is about 4 hours. A bit less from Wellington. The InterCity bus from Auckland Sky Tower runs through Ohakune so it’s very straight forward to get to.
There’s options for whatever budget you are on. I stayed at the LKNZ lodge. Awesome breakfast toasties, nachos, ice cream and friendly staff.
We would recommend this place for…
Someone looking for an alternative, yet authentic New Zealand experience. If you like varied freeride terrain and decent parks it could be your ‘wild card’ resort.
Find out more at www.mtruapehu.com