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Skiing at Mount Ruapehu

New Zealand has always been famous for its natural beauty. That fame was brought to fever pitch by The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, which was shot at multiple locations in New Zealand. I had been asked by many LOTR fans if I had seen those locations here. My answer was always a 'No', probably because I had passed those locations many times but hadn't actually visited any of them.
The route covered.
To add to this, there was this desperate feeling within me to see snow in New Zealand. I have been here for almost 2 years now and never had got a chance to touch snow here. I don't know if it is only me or everyone else who thinks that a foreign country = snow and snow clad white mountains. Anyway, this To-Do item was pending for a long time now.

One day I read in the NZ herald that there was first snowfall of the season at Mt Ruapehu. The very next moment I was searching the internet for information about it and how to visit that place. I came to know that there were 2 ski fields at that location namely Whakapapa Skifield and Turoa Skifield. I compiled as much information as I could from the internet and also my colleagues and friends who had been to those places in the past.
Piriaka Lookout.
After a lot of planning and discussions, some abandoned plans, some additions and subtractions to the plan, we finally made our mind that we would visit it on the weekend. Earlier there were only me, Yogi and Saurabh who were interested in going there. They both were keen on skiing but I was just keen to have a good time in snow. As we finalized our plans, Sandeep and our friend Sushil also agreed and we thought it would be really fun to have 5 people in a group.

The weather predictions are quite accurate here and as I have mentioned in some of my earlier posts, people generally use the metservice website as a vital reference for every outing they make. So did we. I learned that Saturday 28 July would be a perfectly sunny day at Whakapapa and it would be great to be there at that time. It would eventually turn out to be even better.
Mt Ruapehu.
We decided to go to Hamilton on Friday evening after finishing work and start from there for the ski field the next day. So we reached there at around 8 in the evening. We unequivocally although after some resistance, finalized that we would start at 5 am in the morning and reach there ASAP and start having some fun. To be precise it was 220+ kms drive one side so we all agreed to get up on time and start early.

We prepared some food for the next day (courtesy Poonam Bhabhi) and bought some usual picnic snacks, drinks etc. for the day ahead. I knew we would not be able to get adequate sleep for the next day's excursion, however it didn't matter keeping in view the fact that I was going to see snow for the first time in NZ. So we slept after a day's hard work of office in Auckland, travel to Hamilton, planning and organizing for the day ahead.
Road to Whakapapa, Mt Ruapehu on the right.
The next morning, as planned, we were up and ready by around 5 am. Sandeep and Sushil came in Sushil's car in another half an hour. After keeping all the stuff in the car, we were completely ready to hit the road. As usual I was the navigator for the trip and revised the route map and main towns and places which we would cross.

After seeing NZ for quite some time now, I have realized that it is a good idea to actually see a map or keep a GPS navigator always, as there are stretches where no human life is found. The only thing seen are hills and cattle & lambs grazing. We Indians do have a bad habit of just asking anyone about the route by stopping on the side of the road, which is not at all possible here.
Chateau Tongariro.
Anyway, we started while it was still dark and started covering distance quickly. I saw the sun rise amidst the hills after about an hour of driving. The weather was clear apart from occasional fog and mist at some places. It was really cold outside and we were also sufficiently packed in more than 3 clothing layers. We continued chatting and driving and reached a beautiful lookout named Piriaka.

We were feeling a bit hungry and decided to have a tea break at that lookout. After coming out of the car we saw sun shining and clear skies. There was a valley in front of the lookout point, with a river flowing across it and a train line beside that, a perfect photo location. I could see the snow capped mountains in the background of the valley hills.

After having breakfast at the lookout, we continued towards National Park village which is the entry point to the Whakapapa village and skifield ahead. After crossing the small hills, we could see Mt Ruapehu and it was brilliant with its snow glistening against the sun shine. The best thing was there was not a single cloud in the sky, which is not very common in NZ.
View on the way to ski field.
We crossed National Park and started driving towards Whakapapa village. While driving on the road towards Whakapapa, we could see Mt Ngauruhoe on the left hand side and Mt Ruapehu on the right hand side. It was so beautiful that we couldn't stop ourselves from stopping on the side and clicking some pics of those mighty volcanoes.

At that moment I recalled about the famous LOTR trilogy and Mount Doom as shown in it. We reached the Chateau Tongariro just before driving uphill to the ski field. It was a beautiful mansion like building with a large front lawn almost as big as 2 soccer fields. We again got down and clicked some pics with Mt Ruapehu in the background. It was a marvelous sight.

We were about 10 kms away from the ski field and as we climbed, I noticed that all the vegetation has disappeared. It was because of the igneous origin of the rocks of the mountain. I joked that we were going to an active volcano and should be a bit careful. After reaching the ski-field we parked our car, put our warm jackets, sunglasses, scarves etc. and started moving towards the ski shops.
View on the way to ski field.
We went to the ski shop and decided to buy the discover package as it covered all the activities there along with the ski equipment and also included some beginner classes as well. After getting the passes we went to the Happy Valley ski area which is a low gradient ski area for beginners. We collected the ski equipment from the outlet there.

While getting dressed up I realized that it was really a difficult job to wear those ski boots . Each one weighed around 3-4 kgs in weight, was not very flexible but extremely warm from inside. Then we got the skis and the ski poles. It was really a tough job walking after wearing those boots as they covered the ankles as well and we couldn't move our legs in the first place.

We then enrolled ourselves for the lessons there and were assigned to a trainer named Miroslav from Croatia. I joked that he shared his name with Miroslav Klose, the German footballer and also talked about Goran Ivanisevic winning the Wimbledon as a wild card entry. He was impressed with my knowledge about his country and acknowledged it too.
Ski field guide map.
We started the lessons, which included simple sliding down, braking, turning to either side, gaining speed and reducing speed. Although I fell and tumbled around many times, I slowly started getting hold of it and started skiing at a very slow speed at which I could control myself. Many a times it happened that I just rammed into some other person who was also a beginner and we both couldn't do any thing other that saying sorry to each other.

Many beginners would similarly collide with me and we would end up laughing. The collisions and tumbling didn't hurt as I was wearing good pair of gloves and thick clothing layers. We were supposed to get on to a moving rail which would transport us to the top of the incline and from there we would ski down. First time I tried getting on the rail, I fell and my ski came off the boot. Again it didn't hurt a bit.
Ready to roll. :)
Slowly I even got hold of that too and went to the top of the incline 3-4 times and came down successfully. Everyone of us enjoyed ourselves, tumbling, skiing, sliding and braking. After an hour and a half, the trainer Miroslav left us on our own to ski and experiment.

I continued skiing for another 2 hours and enjoyed it. After getting completely exhausted and feeling hungry, I returned my equipment to the store and thought it was enough for the day. After some time I saw Sushil coming up and he was also tired. We then decided to go to the car, have some meal and go to the lifts to explore that area. The lifts were supposed to be closed at 4 PM so we thought we should better hurry.

We came back to the ski area and boarded the Centennial Chairlift to go up. We started gaining quickly in altitude and learned that it would be some 150 m higher at the exit point. I could see the mountain as we went up and also was a bit careful not to do something silly in excitement. It was a beautiful view from the chairlift while going up.
View from cafe.
We we got down from it, we saw entry to another chairlift named Waterfall Express Chairlift. I could see Mt Ngauruhoe in the background clearly and quickly clicked some pics there. We asked the operator if we were entitled to use that and she said of course. This was a 4 seater chair lift and moved very fast as compared to the previous one. The exit altitude of this one was even higher, almost 250+ m. I was thrilled to learn that.

The moment we sat in the chairlift, I could feel the kick which was very unusual as compared to what I felt in the other ones. It was like a speeding car on a motorway and I could see the top of the mountain and a cafe on the side. There was a thin but high waterfall on the right side, but wasn't visible easily as everything in the background was also white.
View from cafe. Lake Taupo in the top right corner.
We got down the lift and went to the cafe, it was called Knoll ridge cafe. It had an open balcony which offered breath taking views to the mountain up and down. I was simply mesmerized to see the view from that place. The thing which startled me was that the skiers were present there also and even on the higher reaches of the mountain from where they could only ski down, there was no other way to come down. I was completely in dis-belief to see that.

In addition to that I then saw the T-Bar lifts which were used by skiers to go upto the mountain and then come down skiing. It was simply unbelievable to see them do that. We called others to come to the cafe and they also came there and were amazed to find themselves almost at the top of the mountain and enjoy the view. For me this lift was the best thing of the day and the whole experience coming up was simply out of the world. I got more than I had initially expected.
A skier going up using a T-Bar.
We had some coffee and food at the cafe, clicked some pics inside the cafe and outside too. As it was soon going to be 4 PM we decided to go down otherwise we would be stuck at the cafe. We then boarded the waterfall express chairlift and started for the base ski field. I was completely in awe of the surroundings and beauty of the place. The clear day added to the beauty too. We could see the great lake taupo in the distance and at that moment I realized how high we had gone up the mountain.

By the time we came down to the base ski field using 2 chairlifts, we were completely tired however the place was so breath taking, we still had the energy to explore it again. We then made our way to the parking where most people had starting leaving. We had some snacks and rested for some time to get recharged for the drive back to home.
Mt Ruapehu and the moon in the sky.
At around 5 pm we were again on the road towards home. The night fell quickly and in an hour and a half it was completely dark. Despite being tired, we didn't stop anywhere and drove by taking turns. This helped a lot as the day had been very tiring for all of us.

At around 9 we reached Hamilton and were very pleased to know dinner was ready for us. I could feel each muscle in the legs aching because of skiing. But I was very happy and satisfied as I had seen snow for the first time in NZ and also because we had experienced skiing, a completely new thing which I would have never thought of doing. After dinner I went to bed and have no idea when I fell asleep.
Mt Ngauruhoe & Mt Tongariro behind it.
Recently Mt Tongariro erupted for the first time in 100 years. I read this news item and thought we were lucky to have not been there at that time. Since it is an active volcanic zone, the activity is always there and alerts are also issued promptly if some thing of that sort happens.

These mountains are held sacred by the local Maori people and have quite similar fables as we Indians have associated with almost every place, mountain etc. in India. This is quite interesting and local Maoris still believe in these rituals and follow them. There are different versions of the story about these mounts.
Waterfall Express Chairlift. While going down.
Here are some references and external links for the same :-

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