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As the upper reaches of the planet warm up and northern ski resorts start winding down for the season, things are just beginning to grind into gear down here on our southern mountains.
Mt Ruapehu sits proudly as the dominant feature of the Central North Island, towering over the lowlands and bearing the brunt of the early winter storms that roll in from Antarctica. This mountain is an active volcano, part of a World Heritage National Park and home to New Zealand’s largest ski area, Whakapapa.
If you’ve never skied on a volcano, active or otherwise, you’re in for a treat. The volcanic landscape of Whakapapa Ski Area lends itself to brilliant terrain features for skiers and snowboarders. Think natural halfpipes, chutes, bowls and drops over the edge of centuries-old lava flows. It’s little wonder some of the southern hemisphere’s best extreme skiing comps are held in this part of the country.
Whakapapa Ski Area really is a wonderland for experienced riders of all disciplines. Long, continuous runs full of natural terrain features are heaven for the big mountain skier. The big bowls of the Black Magic backcountry area draw snowboarders and adventurous skiers to their depths, and The Pinnacles provide steep chutes and drops for adrenalin seekers.
Much of the ski area can be viewed from the deck of the gob-smackingly gorgeous Knoll Ridge Café, meaning if you don’t want to venture onto the slopes or you’re giving those legs a rest, you can watch the action with a grandstand view. It could well be one of the most memorable moments of your trip, sitting on the deck or at one of the floor-to-ceiling picture windows with your tipple of choice in hand, watching brave snow-goers tackle the challenges of the Pinnacles above.
Getting to Whakapapa Ski Area is a breeze. Fly direct to Auckland, then join a domestic flight to Taupo or hire a car from Auckland Airport and take the 3.5 hour drive south.
Whakapapa lies 1 hour 15 minutes south of Taupo so is an easy day trip from the lakeside town. In any event, it pays to have your own transport in this region so you can get around and discover the huge range of off-mountain activities (skydiving, bungy jumping and jet boating are just some of the thrills on offer), geothermal hot pools for soaking tired ski legs and the grandiose landscapes that are just begging to be photographed.
Winter deals can be found at www.greatlaketaupo.com/winter