A must read first-timers guide to Mt Ruapehu, Whakapapa and Turoa

June 10, 2022 8 min read


A must read first-timers guide to Mt Ruapehu, Whakapapa and Turoa

We have had a lot of customers visiting us who are new to the snow - and are struggling to find basic information about how the mountain operates and the processes of actually getting up the mountain and organized for a great day

So for your convenience, we have put together an article for anyone who plans of visiting one of the ski fields to either snow-play, ski or snowboard and to make sure your day runs as faultless as possible. If you're familiar with everything in this article - you're good to go!

 *** 2023 UPDATE ***    as at 24 July 2023

The company that runs Whakapapa and Turoa ski areas will continue to operate AS IS for the 2023 season!

Therefore all of the information below still applies. We will endeavour to keep this page updated if new information comes to hand.

Hope to see you in store soon!



If this is your first time to Mt Ruapehu, Whakapapa, or Turoa please read become familiar with what we list out below. It will make your trip so much better!

Gone are the days of just driving to the mountain and expecting to drive up the road and park…to avoid disappointment you NEED to PLAN your visit in advance, whether you are skiing and boarding or just playing or sightseeing.

First of all CHECK the mountain conditions and weather 

https://www.mtruapehu.com/whakapapa/report and https://www.mtruapehu.com/turoa/report is the BEST and ONLY place to get the snow, lifts, and road updates. The first update is at 6:30am daily, updated regularly during the day as conditions change.

https://www.metservice.com/mountains-and-parks/national-parks/tongariro the official NZ Govt weather agency with the most accurate weather information.



The Bruce Road [Whakapapa Skifield] and the Ohakune Mountain Road [Turoa Skifield] are controlled by the skifield operator Ruapehu Alpine Lifts [RAL] during the winter.

RAL is the only body that determines whether the road will be -

  • OPEN [to all traffic], or
  • RESTRICTED [to 4WD vehicles or 2WD vehicles with chains, or both 4WD and 2WD vehicles with chains],or,
  • CLOSED [to all traffic].

If the road conditions are icy and dangerous they may make it RESTRICTED in which case they will enforce the use of 4WD vehicles, or 2WD vehicles with chains, or both 4WD and 2WD vehicles with chains.

They may CLOSE the road if it it very severe conditions such as a blizzard or gale force winds or both, or it is forecasted to deteriorate.

Restrictions and closures are particularly common during June, July & August

The only place to find out the road status [open, closed, restricted] is here:

https://www.mtruapehu.com/whakapapa/report and https://www.mtruapehu.com/turoa/report

Both are updated very regularly throughout the day.

The first update is at 6:30am every day.


In previous seasons, car park spaces would have to be booked online prior to your arrival. 

For 2023, there is no need to book a carpark space at Mt Ruapehu

Carparking is now First in - First serve. Simply drive up to either Whakapapa or Turoa, and find yourself a car park space.

TIP: Whakapapa is being inundated with sightseers every weekend. Skiers and boarders - make sure you get on the road early Sat/Sun [arrive top of whakapapa or Turoa at 9am at the latest] so you at least get up the road and get a carpark. Get your gear from us the day before for no extra charge. Late night Fridays until 9pm.

Extra information:

  • There is only limited carparking spaces at both Whakapapa and Turoa. During peak season (July School Holidays and July, Aug and Sept Weekends), these carparks may reach capacity quite early in the morning.

  • From our past experiences, carparks don't tend to reach capacity in June or during the week days (excl July school holidays). October also does not tend to reach capacity

  • To avoid missing out on a carpark, we recommend aiming to arrive at the top of Whakapapa or Turoa by 9am - 10am (the earlier the better)

  • If the carparks reach capacity, a one car in - one car out system will be implemented. Alternatively, you can use a shuttle to get to the top of the mountain. Read our full list of shuttle operators here

There is NO day parking available at Whakapapa Village [where the Chateau Tongariro is]. You will be fined for leaving your car in the parking spaces for longer than 3 hours. This area is administered by The Department of Conservation [DOC] so would pay to not flout these rules.


Your Vehicle:

At the same time make sure you have the correct vehicle for the road conditions.

This means if the road is restricted you will need either a 4WD vehicle or have a 2WD vehicle with a set of snow chains.

Sometimes 4WD are required to use snow chains.

Check the road conditions and weather before departure. Check the status of the road regularly on a daily basis so you get a feel for what you could be in for.


If you need snow chains you can buy them here at Snowscene – 357 Puanga St Tokaanu. Check availability first on our website www.snowscene.co.nz.

Car chains are $179, Ute and larger SUVs and wagons, and large commercial chains only $325. Don’t scramble around on the day looking for chains – they may not be available in the district.

We also stock the Isse Textile Snow Chains - a great alternative to metal chains and great for the sealed roads of Whakapapa and Turoa. They are approved by Waka Kotahi and accepted as a form of snow chains by the mountain company.

Check them out here ISSE Snow Chains. Use the calculator to determine what size you need and come in store to purchase.

Snow chain rental – we don't hire chains and there is NO snow chain rental availability anywhere in the district – you need to plan your visit and ensure you have snow chains organized before your visit. 

Parking around Tongariro National Park

There is NO shuttle service available from Whakapapa Village [where the Chateau Tongariro is] to the skifield.

The only all-day parking for Whakapapa Skifield [if all parking spaces are booked out] is at National Park Village PARK n RIDE carpark a further 15km away from the skifield.

If the carparks are full the only option is to go to National Park Village PARK n RIDE carpark and try and get a shuttle to the skifield, however, this may be difficult on a busy day due to demand so to avoid disappointment and queues, you need to PLAN and BOOK in advance.


Shuttle and bus options:

The skifield operator RAL is not running a shuttle service from National Park Village PARK n RIDE carpark for 2023.

There are some private shuttle operators that operate skifield shuttles from the National Park Village PARK n RIDE carpark – Click here for options. Most charge around $30 pp return.

Shuttles will be at very peak demand during weekends and school holidays – PLAN and BOOK your shuttle early to avoid disappointment.

The National Park Village "Park n Ride" facility is a public carpark developed by RAL as the alternative to parking up on the mountain. It is on the corner of Findlay St and Station Road at National Park Village [next to the Railway Station]. RALs shuttles and most private shuttles operate from here.

For a complete list of all bookable shuttles, please read our shuttles article




The best and quickest option is to buy your pass online HERE. Once you have purchased your pass you will get an email confirmation via email. Embedded in the email will be a QR code. Once you get to the base area of the skifield you go to any one of the self-service kiosks, scan your QR code, and your plastic card pass will be produced from the machine. You use this card pass to then use the lifts for the rest of the day. Keep this card for future use...you can top it up online at anytime and just go straight to the lifts.


2023 UPDATE:
You now need to book Mt Ruapehu's sledding facility online, prior to your arrival. We would advise booking a few days in advance to make sure you don't miss out. Visit mtruapehu.com to purchase sledding tickets

Mt Ruapehu is but one part of the Tongariro National Park and so you are able to play in the snow anywhere away from the skifield and ski runs – you can play and sled around the carparks or non ski areas. Anywhere you can find a slope or hill go for it – lots of family fun.

We have sleds here at Snowscene for this purpose for only $10. Pop in and grab a couple before heading up.

RAL have a dedicated sledding area at Happy Valley which has a return elevator. The price to use the RAL sledding area is $29 per hour per adult or $15 per hour for children. You will be given an RAL sled to use.

You cannot take our sleds to the Happy Valley sledding area.

The public are not allowed on the Happy Valley ski runs for play or sightseeing.

You cannot take our sleds on the Sky Waka Gondola.



As described above, sightseeing and wandering is all ok so long as you are not on any of the dedicated ski runs or lifts. It is a National Park and the public are allowed to explore and sightsee at most places.

A must-do is the Sky Waka Gondola which takes you to NZs highest restaurant. It is about a 10min trip one way. Once at the top you can take in the views and/or have lunch or a snack in one of two eateries. Highly recommended. Adults $59, Youth + Child $34, Infants 0-4 Free.

You cannot take a sled on the gondola so you will need to take it back to your car.



Remember, you are on a mountain and it is 1600m above sea level at the base area. NZ weather conditions can change very quickly from a beautiful bluebird day to closed in and windy conditions within a few hours. BE PREPARED.

Layers is the key. Warm undergarments to start, then say a shirt, jersey, and jacket. Extras include scarf, beanie and gloves. Good walking or snow boots are a must…nothing worse than wet feet after playing in the snow.

Eye protection is essential – make sure you have good quality glasses or goggles and always use sunscreen – the UV rays are harsh – they reflect off the snow and can cause skin damage where you least expect it.

It can also get quite warm some days, especially from September onwards.

Being prepared is the key.

Snowscene has a great range of rental clothing and boots – perfect for your sightseeing or playing trip to the mountain.

Pick up your clothing, boots, and sleds before heading up, so you are warm and cozy as soon as you get out the car into the mountain air. 


Saturdays are always overcrowded! Why not plan for a Sunday trip? It seems everyone wants to go up to Mt Ruapehu on a Saturday for reasons unknown! Sunday is always less crowded and a better snow experience.

Even better – do your skiing, boarding and sightseeing etc midweek. Much less crowds AND lift passes are cheaper! You still need to be prepared for adverse road conditions, but way less stress.

If you are really keen on skiing then the best time to buy a pass is in October every year when RAL release their first lot of season passes at a very discounted rate. Keep an eye out on mtruapehu.com every October for these early bird deals. Better still, sign up for their newsletter.


and so to summarise…

  • PLAN – your trip…at least a few days in advance
  • CHECK – weather, snow conditions/level, road conditions – do this daily so you get a feel for the conditions and the restrictions required
  • DECIDE – 4WD or snow chains [buy chains if required, or we can hold a set for you on request]. If the weather has been good for a few days then the road could well be OPEN to ALL traffic in which case you don't need chains or 4WD. CHECK the road status regularly.
  • BOOK – shuttle/transportation if needed.
  • RENT / HIRE – ski gear, snowboard gear, clothing, helmets, goggles, gloves, walk boots, sleds - Snowscene has the best prices and excellent service.
  • PAY – for skiing / boarding, sightseeing, sledding.
Most of all - ENJOY our beautiful Tongariro National Park!


Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer

4 Responses


April 12, 2022

Great and the most completed information on the internet.
Just wondering which ski field has better view at the top when the weather is clear ? Whakapapa or Turoa ?


April 12, 2022

With the mountain so popular now, formulating our parking and access options can be very difficult Thanks for the tips on parking and ski days. This will really help with our planning as its been many years since I was up the mountain and things are constantly changing.


June 06, 2021

Thanks heaps. Great to be able to read all this helpful information before getting to the mountain with children. Have a great season looking forward to visiting your ski shop soon. Regards Susan


July 31, 2020

Awesome piece of information put together – nice and easy to refer. Thanks :)

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