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Mt Ruapehu

Thursday, September 25, 2008
Mt Ruapehu is an active stratovolcano at the southern end of New Zealand's Taupo volcanic zone. It is the highest point in the North Island and includes three major peaks: Tahurangi, Te Heuheu and Paretetaitonga.

It lies within Tongariro National Park, 23km north-east of Ohakune and 40km south-west of Lake Taupo. It is the North Island's major ski and snowboard field and its only glaciers are there. There are two commercial areas: Whakapapa on the northern side and Turoa on the southern.

Both are accessible by car chairlifts and have slopes for beginners and those more advanced. The season runs between July and October but its attractions are popular year round. The superb area has mountains, deserts, lakes, rivers, rich farmland and an abundance of flora and fauna.

The deep, active crater lies between the peaks and fills with a warm, acidic crater lake between eruptions. The active volcano — one of the world's busiest — experienced a lahar (mudflow/landslide) in March 2007 when the dam that had been holding the crater burst, sending around 1.4 million cubic metres of mud, rock and water thundering down the Whangaehu River.

That was followed in September 2007 with a hydrothermal eruption with no prior warning. The seven-minute 'quake measured 2.9 on the Richter scale.

Most people, however, don't take any of that into consideration when they pack their skis and boards for some of the best snowfields New Zealand has to offer. Both sides of the mountain have terrain for all levels of skier and boarder, so it's worth checking them both.

Whakapapa, on the north-western slopes, has 65 trails across 1050 hectares, filled with natural gullies formed by volcanic activity, which has left beautiful ski areas behind. It's home to the country's premier beginners area. Happy Valley is separate from the main area and beginners can progress without the worry of faster skiers putting them off. It has its own cafe, rental complex and ski school meeting area. It even has a slow-moving chairlift.

For others, there are 30 groomed trails and a huge variety of off-piste areas for intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders. The pinnacles backcountry is a lift-accessed, double-black diamond area and is used for the increasingly popular Extreme Competition each September.

Skotel is an alpine retreat, nestled in the tussock, on the edge of the Whakapapa village in the heart of the Tongariro National Park. It has accommodation ranging from superior and standard rooms with facilities in the hotel section, to twin or triple rooms in the backpacker wing. There are also five small cabins.

Skotel has a bar, games room, mezzanine lounge, restaurant and an all-important drying room. The restaurant serves breakfast and dinner, and those wanting lunch should place their orders the night before. There is also a mixed sauna, two spas and ski shop. The ski report is posted each morning.

For something totally different, each winter a few Kiwis get together to build an igloo half-way up Mt Ruapehu. Before it melts in October, it is the scene of a lot of fun. With a roof height of 2.5m, there is a foyer, two dining rooms (each with table and bench seat made of snow and ice) and three bedrooms. Guests sleep on camping mats on the ground in -18°C sleeping bags. Inside, the temperature is 0°C .

Turoa holds the title of Australasia's longest vertical drop at 722m and is New Zealand's highest lift at 2300m. As with Whakapapa, Turoa's beginner area is separate from the main area, providing a safe environment for learners. Experienced skiers and riders haven't been forgotten — for them there is a run that is 4km long!

Turoa has recently undergone an enormous upgrade with $19 million being spent on three major projects. A 1.4km-long, six-seat high-speed chairlift with padded seats and footrests was built and the snowmaking system was tripled in size.

Location

Mt Ruapehu is on New Zealand's North Island in Tongariro National Park.

Cost

Skotel Alpine Resort backpackers accommodation is $75 a night single/twin, $195 for three nights and $325 for five nights.

Hotel rooms are fully self-contained and cost $170 a night, room only. Three nights' accommodation, including breakfast, is $335 for singles, and $505 for five nights. Doubles for three nights is $380 and $595 for five nights, including breakfast.

Europcar has car hire starting at $35 a day.

Best Western is offering two nights' stay for the price of one at selected properties throughout New Zealand. This is valid for stays until December 21, 2008 and the first 100 callers will receive a bottle of wine and chocolates. Blackout days apply and this offer is subject to availability. Quote "Getaway New Zealand".

Air New Zealand has special fares to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin or Hamilton. You'll have to be quick — they are only available until 11.59pm September 27, 2008 AEST and conditions apply.

One-way fares from:

  • Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne $229
  • Adelaide $359
  • Perth $509

Prices correct at September 25, 2008.

For further information

Skotel Alpine Resort
Whakapapa Village
Tongariro World Heritage Park
Mt Ruapehu
New Zealand
Ph: +64 7 892 3719
www.skotel.co.nz
res@skotel.co.nz

Europcar
Ph: 1300 131 390
www.europcar.com.au

Best Western
Ph: 1300 WESTERN
www.bestwestern.co.nz

Tourism New Zealand
www.newzealand.com

Air New Zealand
www.airnewzealand.com.au

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