It's all downhill at Whakapapa

By Kristin Macfarlane

As a Kiwi, you can take New Zealand's scenic beauty for granted.

After living here for almost three decades and having never been to the snow - despite living just hours from Mt Ruapehu - it was about time I experienced a real winter and embraced the beauty of the white-covered mountains.

As I drove towards the Whakapapa ski area on the northwestern slopes of Mt Ruapehu, I couldn't help but be amazed by the scenery.

Despite the fog and icy roads, the snow scattered high and low was shining brightly.

Whakapapa is New Zealand's largest ski area, with more than 65 trails across 1050ha.

It is home to an expansive beginners' area, Happy Valley, which has its own cafe, rental complex and ski-school meeting area - it's also away from the faster skiers and snowboarders. However, it also caters for intermediate and more professional riders, too.

I was given a Discover Ultimate Package pass, which included a beginners' area lift pass, a full-day hire of boots, skis and poles or a snowboard, a 110-minute group snowboarding/ski lesson and a chairlift sightseeing ride.

All dressed for the snow and deciding I was more of a snowboarder than a skier, I headed to the ski field with my group - three adults and two children.

We hired a toboggan for the kids but, unfortunately, these children, aged 2 and 3, were not keen on the snow and preferred chairlift rides.

Having unhappy children on the trip also meant we missed our snowboarding lesson but - once the little ones were happy - the adults could enjoy themselves.

A good time is what you make of it and, being in such a beautiful place, you love every moment of it.

Despite not having a lesson, my group decided we would cope without it and had a great time sliding along the slopes at great speed, believing we were riding like professionals, having a good laugh at our own expense and meeting plenty of others at ability levels similar to our own.

I can confidently say I will be back on the slopes as soon as possible but, next time, it'll probably be an adults-only trip.

I plan to make my trip to the snow an annual tradition and I can now see why skiing/snowboarding is so popular - I don't know why I haven't tried it ooner.

If you haven't been to the Mt Ruapehu ski fields yet, I would recommend a visit to one - or all of them.

For more about Whakapapa, passes, rentals, ski reports, retail, lessons and packages, visit

Top tips


* Pack a lunch. Lines at the food outlets on Whakapapa can be packed  - having goodies will prevent hunger/thirst tantrums.

* Pack plenty of warm clothing. If you don't have snow clothing for children,  you can hire good-quality clothing at Whakapapa. However, make sure you have plenty of changes for the kids just in case clothes get wet or dirty.

* Hire a toboggan from Whakapapa. Hours of entertainment -  for just $20.

* Put your toddler in nappies. Even though they may be toilet-trained, nappies will prevent any messy accidents and provide an extra layer of padding if they take a tumble.

* Pack baby wipes.  In the cold, runny noses can be a bit of an issue.

* Make sure the children are well-rested. There is nothing worse than arriving at  the ski field with tired, grizzly kids.

- The Aucklander

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