Mike Yardley: Mountain frolics at Ruapehu
The wonderful Ruapehu region never ceases to amaze me with its ability to stimulate all the senses, with its sumptuous leisure buffet. After calling in old devotees, Chateau Tongariro, for morning tea and some window time to connect with the plum-duff perfection of Ngauruhoe, I had a hot date with Ruapehu Adventure Rides. I was about to lose my virginity on a quad bike – and to be honest, I was a little thoughtful. Karl and Maria Splitt were my effervescent hosts, who organize the quad tours from their equally attractive accommodation base, Mountain Heights Lodge, at the National Park Village. They have lived in the area for almost 20 years and behind the lodge the quad playground includes 230 acres of rolling farmland and native bush. Fully outfitted by Maria with a helmet, pants and rain jacket, gloves and rubber boots – I had visions of a mud bath, although luckily I remained remarkably mud free.
Knowing my trusty Honda quad, Karl walked me through my steps with a basic safety lesson and skills training course, before letting us go on the wider off-road course. As a newbie to quad biking, I was neurotic about dishonoring myself as a quad, but I wasn’t as useless on four big wheels as I initially feared. Karl is an exceptional guide and there’s no denying the exhilaration of the experience – even as you traverse menacing mud pools and climb ridiculously steep banks. With the backdrop of Tongariro National Park offering moving scenery, I couldn’t think of a better place to go to the off-road adventure of a quad bike tour. What a thrilling adventure – and you’ll be rewarded with a library of action photos, taken by Karl, to capture the experience. It’s an ideal experience for family, friends, groups and corporate events, at great rates. Do it! www.ruapehuadventurerides.co.nz
In the heart of Tongariro National Park, taking a ride to the top of Ruapehu from the village of Whakapapa, on the radiant new Sky Waka gondola, quickly ascended like a signature Kiwi experience. I’ve always been impressed by the Swiss Alpine engineering prowess – and the Sky Waka lives up to its thorny prowess. As you illuminate 1.8 km from the base station on New Zealand’s longest gondola ride, Whakapapa’s impossibly stunning volcanic scenery sweeps you away, as you gaze in wonder out of the greenhouse-shaped cabin , soothingly appointed with heated leather seats! At an altitude of 2,020m, the icing on the cake is the Knoll Ridge Chalet in the Whakapapa Ski Area, which is New Zealand’s tallest cafe.
As you squirt superlatives over the sights in search of the horizon, this is the perfect place to enjoy a Pātaka coffee, a drink at the Back Bar, or have a delicious snack or lunch and admire the line of sight. skyline from the giant floor-to-ceiling windows of Knoll Ridge overlooking The Pinnacles. On either side of the ski season, half of Knoll Ridge is transformed into The Pinnacles restaurant, serving an elegantly executed and indulgent buffet lunch, which I luckily was able to sip into in May, before the winter stint. But nothing beats drinking and meditating with this magnificent alpine view. Ready for a cool change, snow bunnies? Make traces towards the majestic Mt. Ruapehu snow-capped skifields, which open fully for the season in the first week of July, until the end of October.
You can drive to the Ruapehu ski areas or opt for a reliable shuttle to do the legwork, connecting the slopes to Ohakune and the national park. The Whakapapa Ski Area is New Zealand’s largest ski area with over 65 runs to explore, but if you are a beginner, Happy Valley will be your happy place, which
opens early June. This is New Zealand’s largest beginner ski and snow playground, where you can spend the day experiencing the best of family winter vacations with ski and snowboard lessons, tobogganing. , throw snowballs and build snowmen! In the neighboring area, the Tūroa Ski Area, even in the height of the season you will have ample room to stroll around, reveling in the space and freedom of its large open bowls and waterfalls.
Tūroa has the longest vertical drop in the country at 722m, which is reached by the High Noon Express which takes you up the highest point in the country, with a terrifyingly massive view of the North Island. Tear through numerous ravines, waterfalls, natural strokes, wide trails and world-class snow parks. You will be fascinated by how much the landscape looks like frozen waves. Meanwhile, the Tūroa Alpine Meadow is tailor-made for beginners. You will find your feet in no time. www.mtruapehu.com
The charismatic mountain town of Ohukune is a tailor-made base for winter wonderland adventure. Just minutes from the Tūroa slopes, when the day is done on the ski slopes, the after-fun kicks in at Powder Keg, a sparkling place in Powderhorn Castle. It is considered the original home of après-ski fun, with a family atmosphere. Powderhorn Castle is not only a sublime European Alpine lodge, offering a waste of comfort, but it is a precious social bond in Ohakune. The Powderkeg Bar & Restaurant is celebrated for its sparkling service, warm and friendly atmosphere and roaring fire during the colder months.
Open from early morning to late at night, I gorged myself on delicious food, from fabulous Egg in a Hole bagels for breakfast to their gourmet pizzas and pork chops for dinner. The Powderkeg is complemented by the equally impressive Matterhorn Grill. For over thirty years, Powderhorn Chateau’s commitment to exceptional service and excellent quality outdoor food has ensured its stature as an eternal favorite. The heated indoor pool with bar service on demand is my kind of indulgence. My suite was a warm cocoon of comfort in warm woods, with high-end linens and fabrics, a large bathroom and a desk. www.powderhorn.co.nz
Also in Ohakune, another family favorite for resting is Rocky Mountain Chalets. Each chalet has comfortable bedding, a warm and intimate living space, fresh linens and stylish decor, SKT TV, free wifi, and you can treat yourself to the two hot thermal pools and a sauna on site. The interior of each chalet is completely unique in terms of decor, design and layout – whether you are looking for a couples retreat or a relaxing dormitory for the extended family. Located just past the iconic Carrot, it’s only a short walk through built-in walkways to Main Street restaurants and retail stores. www.rockymountainchalets.com
For breakfast on the go, enter Thorne, a devilishly popular food container on Main Street next to i-SITE. They specialize in feeding your morning fix with organic Hawthorne coffee beans and organic milk.
Their gourmet grilled sandwiches and daily homemade pastries are divine. Muffins with inventive flavors are a must. Synonymous with winter in Ohakune, the famous Chocolate Éclair boutique on Johnny Nation’s Main Street is gearing up for the seasonal rush. Usually open in tandem with the ski season, be sure to dip your teeth into one of their famous jumbo baked goods topped with cream and chocolate.
For an unforgettable dinner, reserve a table at Cypress Tree in Ohakune. Established 14 years ago, this mainstay of Ohakune is universally hailed for its warm hospitality in a small town, under the command of Leah Stuckey. Local foods are the focus, while their list of craft beers is extensive.
An open fire and comfortable sofas are a warm touch in winter. Offering a selection of drool-worthy small and large platters, for dinner I chose the Southern Fried Chicken with Chipotle Mayo and the Spicy Lamb Roti with Coleslaw, Riata and Mint Chutney. Exceptional service and super reasonable prices seal the deal. https://cyprustree.co.nz/
I stumbled across the North Island in an Avis rental car. In addition to great deals, take advantage of digital check-in to minimize physical contact with rental staff and risk-free bookings allowing you to change or cancel bookings, free of charge, for rentals due to start before December 19 2021. www.avis.co.nz
The drama, diversity and grandeur of Ruapehu District sets the stage for spectacular outdoor adventures year round, with experiences that cater to all age groups and skill levels. Blessed by two national parks – Whanganui National Park in the west and the world heritage wonder of Tongariro National Park on its eastern flank, make your first stop at the region’s official website. www.visitruapehu.com
Mike Yardley is our resident traveler on Jack Tame Saturday morning.