Kia ora koutou! Hello everyone!
So this blog post took me a minute because I had no idea it was even happening! Our recent Ruapehu trip was a complete birthday surprise planned by hubby, lucky māmā, right?! I had never been to Ruapehu, and it would be our boy’s very first time seeing snow. So our shared excitement for this trip was electric.
Snow in Ruapehu lasts well into Spring, so now is a good time if you want to catch the end of the Mt Ruapehu ski season. During this season, it’s particularly superb for families with young ones. The softened snow conditions are perfect for kids to learn and play. To help take the guesswork out of planning a short trip to Ruapehu, I’ve rounded up some of our favourite family-friendly spots we explored during our visit and included other popular activities.
Stay – Chateau Tongariro Hotel
Chateau Tongariro Hotel occupies a glorious spot in Tongariro National Park, surrounded by the pristine peaks of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro. It is the most terrifyingly beautiful Georgian structure I have seen in my travels. I would be lying if I didn’t admit the building resembled the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s movie ‘The Shinning‘. As a fan of the Horror genre, I was absolutely in my element. It’s a jaw-dropping location with a fascinating 90-year-old history, including a few spooky tales.
The Chateau’s communal areas are a classy affair. I would describe it as 1930’s elegance, like stepping into a bygone era (truly, our youngest even asked if we were in another country). Chandeliers, velvet furnishings, fanciful draperies, and magical crackling fires add to the opulence of the Ruapehu Lounge, where their famous High Tea is served.
No doubt you’ve seen the much-publicised ‘Instagram shot’ out front of the hotel. But did you know it has another? The Chateau’s stunning balcony facade makes for a great capture, only accessible to guests staying at the hotel. But, more importantly, the unobstructed views from the balcony is the kind of view that reminds us we’re all just a microscopic blip in the universe and that things exist much bigger and beyond ‘us’.
Eat & Drink – Chateau Tongariro Hotel
Hubby booked High Tea for my birthday, and we loved it! Even though the day was cloudy with rain, what they say about the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows is all true, impossible to beat! High Tea is a passed-down tradition in my family, which I have continued with my own. For us, High Tea is about taking a moment to be present with those at your table. It’s ceremonious. I’m not a fan of self-proclaimed High Tea connoisseurs criticizing high tea experiences. In short, how can you argue with hot tea, sweat-treats, million-dollar views, and great…no… THE BEST company!
TIP: Book your high Tea well in advance and request ‘Window Seating’ the best seats in the house. If you are booking online, be sure to request ‘Window Seating’ in additional notes.
We found our Heritage Family Room spacious, great for a family of 4, and the views of the Dual World Heritage Tongariro National Park outside the window, epic! The kids enjoyed exploring the hotel, catching a flick at the cute little in-house cinema, and playing tag in the indoor heated plunge pool. There’s also a large rustic sauna if you need to sweat it out after a day on the nearby mountains or walking trails.
TIP: If your kiddos have excess energy to burn, across from the hotel, the Whakapapa Community Playground offers casual fun with tennis, volleyball, basketball, and children’s play equipment.
Eat & Drink – Chateau Tongariro Hotel
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to meals at the Chateau. The menu includes a delightful selection of local, New Zealand, and international cuisine. We dined in the Ruapehu Room on both nights of our stay, and our meal choices were perfectly cooked and tasty. Kids menus are available.
TIP: Celebrating at the Chateau, let them know! I was greeted with a “Happy Birthday” everywhere I went, and the hotel made a special dessert for my birthday dinner – Thanks hubby!
Experience – Taranaki Falls
If you love to hike like our whānau, I have good news! There are lots of Ruapehu family-friendly walks to burn. One expedition is right at the doorstep of the Chateau called Taranaki Falls. A free and short easy 6km round trip that will take about 2 hours, located in the UNESCO dual World Heritage Tongariro National Park.
The walk is filled with dramatic scenery to adventure through. In such a short span of time, you are exposed to many landforms from sub-alpine scrub, forest, lush native bush, river streams and finally to the landing destination of Taranaki Falls. Here you’ll be greeted by a roaring waterfall cascading 20 metres over the edge of a large andesite lava flow that erupted from Ruapehu 15,000 years ago.
TIP: The less than ideal weather for our walk didn’t sway us. Taranaki Falls is a safe track almost all year round. Hiking in the rain is at times unavoidable, so ensure your family is prepared to keep warm and dry. Remember staying dry is easier than drying out after you’ve been rained on. So the first instance of rain – chuck on your rain-ready gears and protection. Pack extra snacks, not just for your little snack monsters, but because food is fuel and helps warm up the body. Never forget that the area is volcanic and active. Make sure you check current regional climate information before doing any hiking.
A spellbinding pay-off at journeys-end indeed, I was bought to tears watching my boys and Daddy high five yet another track tackled together. There are some great resting rocks to perch yourself on and picnic tables to take it all in and fuel up for the return. Packing a picnic to enjoy in better weather is not a bad idea.
Sadly during our trek, the usually visible snowcapped volcanoes of Mt Ruapehu (2797-metres) and Mt Ngauruhoe (2291-metres) chose to hide under thick mist, giving us the perfect excuse to return to visit them one day soon.
Fun Fact – Mt Ngauruhoe featured in Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, a.k.a Mt Doom.
We’ve put together a list of our other recommended short, family-friendly, achievable walks to help you with your Ruapehu Itinerary. Click through to links for more handy info.
- Lake Rotopounamu
- Te Porere Redoubt
- Whakapapa Short Walks – Mounds Walk, Tawhai Falls, Ridge Track
- Mangawhero Forest Walk
After several days of overcast weather, the sky opened up to the heavens, and we had sun on our faces. The perfect day for a trip to the snow. It just so happened that Isaac tentatively pencilled in Whakapapa Ski Fields on the itinerary, commonly known as the largest ski area in the country and home to Aotearoa’s longest gondola the Sky Waka. The space on Mt Ruapehu in which Whakapapa is found is of particular significance to Ngati Tuwharetoa. Since becoming a student of Māori studies, one of my favourite things to do is spend time deepening my knowledge of local iwi and the area’s Māori history.
It was my boys FIRST time to the snow! So naturally, I bounced around like a National Geographic Photographer, capturing every smile and twinkle in their eyes. Just look at their faces, so special!
Experience – Whakapapa Sight Seeing on the Sky Waka
We thoroughly enjoyed our ride on New Zealand’s longest gondola, the Sky Waka, quite a thrilling experience for the boys. Seeing snow at this height and volume absolutely blew their little minds. A lot of gasps and giggles! The Sky Waka has sensational views of the World Heritage National Park, and you’ll travel an impressive 2,020m above sea level to Aotearoa’s highest cafe experience, Knoll Ridge Chalet.
The award-winning superstructure has something for everyone. Dine-in and fuel-up at the eateries, take in the awe-inspiring backdrops of Mt Ruapehu with a hot chocolate in hand or capture the perfect photographs and memories to immortalise your trip.
Experience – Happy Valley & Family Sledding
Happy Valley is Mt Ruapehu’s premiere learners ski slope. It contains a mixture of helpful chairlifts and carpet lifts to make your snow experience as enjoyable as possible. Happy Valley has its own building, complete with a large cafe, toilets, public storage suite, and lesson ski rentals.
There’s nothing quite like jumping on a toboggan to start some snow-confidence building, and what better activity than sledging for the whole family to get amongst. Happy Valley has an epic sledging area with toboggans for hire. We had a ridiculous amount of fun racing one another down the snowy-clad slopes, like bats-outta-hell, super-fast! I highly recommend this activity on your Ruapehu itinerary.
Whakapapa doesn’t have dedicated area’s onsite for free-play. We were a bit sad about that initially as it was something we were really looking forward to. Who doesn’t want to have a snowball fight or build a snowman? Fortunately, Isaac has a family friend who works at Whakapapa who kindly pointed us toward a safe public area behind the ticketing building where we could play. It was full of beautiful fluffy snow, and we spent a good hour enjoying it.
TIP: When visiting snow, always plan ahead. Check the status reports for Mt Ruapehu here. At both Tūroa and Whakapapa, there is only a limited number of sledging spots available. Book online before your trip here. I follow Kathmandu’s famous and clever layering rule for dressing my family for snow. Check it out here.
Stay – Powderhorn Chateau
Isaac has been talking about this spot for quite some time. Powderhorn Chateau is a boutique accommodation in the heart of Ruapehu and is considered the—spot for Après-Ski, a term loosely defined to me as “after skiing” and “the social activities and entertainment following a day’s skiing.” I love it!
We enjoyed two relaxing days here as part of my birthday surprise, staying in a twin suite. The rustic and rural style at Powderhorn Chateau is timeless, cosy and in touch with the natural elements, truly bringing out the magic of its alpine setting. The staff were super welcoming and friendly and always accommodated our requests with great enthusiasm. We enjoyed each and every minute of our stay.
Eat & Drink – Powderhorn Chateau
The food at Powderhorn Chateau can only be explained as EXACTLY what you need after a day out at the ski fields. Generously portioned, delicious and comforting meals with excellent options for kids.
Staying at a hotel with a pool or a spa has become an absolute non-negotiable for the boys. The indoor pool here was an absolute highlight during our stay. The aesthetic echoes the rustic-chic interior of the hotel and has an overall relaxing feel. The best part is that you can order drinks that will be delivered poolside to enjoy, heavenly!
Experience – Ohakune Carrot Adventure Park
Not a park you can avoid even if you wanted to with an impossibly giant 7.5m Carrot on your horizon at almost every angle of Ohakune. I am happy to report that the park is actually pretty awesome, not only a ‘cool’ Instagram photo op. We noted park features such as a multi-level slide, BMX track, pump track, outdoor gym, picnic spots, walkways, swings, and a confidence course during our visit. We highly recommend you pencil in time on the itinerary to enjoy the playground.
Fun Fact: Ohakune folk are crazy over carrots, mainly because carrots were first grown in the area during the 1920s by Chinese settlers, and Ohakune now grows two-thirds of the North Island’s total crop.
Eat – Johnny Nations Chocolate Eclair Shop
The Chocolate Eclair Shop is a down-to-earth family-run bakery that sells legendary chocolate eclairs, and our big-boy RL is the sole reason we popped in to visit. It’s a sweet treat favourite of his, and boy did he get more than his fix. They are huge! Images don’t do them justice!
We saw lots of locals walking out of the shop with trays full of baked goods and, what do ya know, bags of fresh carrots! (No, not joking, and at a bargain too!)
We’ve compiled a list of some of our recommended family-friendly Ruapheu experiences, to help you with your own Ruapehu itinerary. Click through to links for more handy info.
- Nevalea Alpaca Farm
- Family-Friendly Rides
- Horse Trekking
- Vertigo Climbing – Indoor Rock Climbing
- Forgotten World Adventures – Rail Carts
- Bradleys Garden
- Dinosaur House
- White Water Rafting
- Mini Golf at Schnapps
- Quad Buggy
- Tokaanu Thermal Springs
We do hope you enjoyed travelling along with us to Ruapehu. We are excited to return soon! And lastly, we highly recommend you look at the region’s official tourism site, Visit Ruapehu.
Mā te wā! – Hope to see you back soon for another adventure.