Mt Ruapehu Family Guide & Whakapapa Ski Field 3 Day Itinerary

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This winter, Whakapapa Ski Field – one of the largest ski fields in New Zealand is attracting even more snow lovers as our border gradually opens up to Australia, Cook Islands and hopefully more countries in the coming months. Mt Ruapehu once again becomes the go-to destination for Kiwis and travellers.

In this post, we’ll share our family’s fun-filled 3-days itinerary to Whakapapa Ski Field, Happy Valley, Ohakune and the surrounds, including riding the longest gondola in New Zealand – Sky Waka up to the mighty Mt Ruapehu.

You do not need to know how to ski, and you certainly don’t need to invest in snow gear. Our family itinerary is beginner-friendly, packed with the highlights of Mt Ruapehu.

As we’re travelling with a baby and a toddler, in this post, you can find our 3-day family itinerary to Whakapapa Ski Field, including the top things to do in Whakapapa Village & Ohakune, travel tips to the mountains with kids, our recommended family-friendly Ruapehu accommodation and our road trip vlogs.

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How to get to Mt Ruapehu

Scenic route from Lake Taupo to Mt Ruapehu to Whakapapa Ski Fields

Direct Route: If you’re travelling from Auckland, the most direct route to Mt Ruapehu and Whakapapa Ski Field is a 4.5 hrs drive via the state highways. That is a non-stop direct route to the mountains.

Scenic Route: However, most travellers make pitstops along the way and explore New Zealand’s other top destinations like Hamilton, Taupo or Tauranga and Rotorua. Depending on the time you have available for this trip, you may consider staying overnight at one of these destinations.

Where should your family base, Whakapapa or Ohakune?

Whakapapa Ski Field Mt Ruapehu Family Itinerary Whakapapa or Ohakune

Both Whakapapa Village and Ohakune have family-friendly accommodation and nature walks. Depending on the ski resort you plan to visit and your family itinerary, you might want to choose Whakapapa Village to be closer to Happy Valley or stay in Ohakune for its shops and restaurants and be closer to Turoa Ski Field. Either way, it’s a 45 minutes drive from Whakapapa Village to Ohakune, so you can get the best of both worlds if you have an extra day to spare.

Whakapapa Village is known as a popular base for Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the summer months and a short 10 minutes drive to Whakapapa Ski Field in the winter months. There are many family-friendly short hikes and nature walks around this area.

Ohakune Village is the closest to Turoa Ski Field, mostly for intermediate or advanced skiers. Ohakune is known for its Giant Carrot Adventure Park. There are a few short nature walks in Ohakune, and it’s more commercialized than Whakapapa Village.

Whakapapa Ski Field Itinerary Overview

As you can see, the location of your accommodation will greatly affect your itinerary to Whakapapa Ski Field. The overall idea is to have a whole day to play in the snow, and that’s usually on day 2.

If you’re here for 3 days as the itinerary suggests, you’ll most likely spend at least 2 out of the 3 days in Whakapapa. Therefore, it makes more sense to base in Whakapapa Village.

However, you may want to stay in Ohakune if you’re an intermediate or advanced skier and prefer Turoa Ski Field instead. Or if you just want to be somewhere new, perhaps you’ve been to Whakapapa Village in the summer months for the Tongariro Crossing.

Suggested Itinerary Option 1:

Day 1: Whakapapa nature walks
Day 2: Whakapapa Ski Field & Sky Waka
Day 3: Back to Whakapapa Ski Field, more nature walks or drive to Ohakune

Suggested Itinerary Option 2:

Day 1: Ohakune
Day 2: Whakapapa Ski Field & Sky Waka
Day 3: Whakapapa nature walks

Suggested Itinerary Option 3:

Day 1: Ohakune
Day 2: Turoa Ski Field
Day 3: Whakapapa Ski Field, Sky Waka & short nature walks

Once you’ve decided on where to base yourselves, jump to:

Mt Ruapehu Snow Alps Mountain Road Trip Whakapapa Ohakune Travel Guide
Top Winter Destination in New Zealand

© Photos by Kida

Snow & Ski Gear

We get all of our snow and ski gear from Mountain Warehouse. Mountain Warehouse offers the best value in products of its range, and it’s the most affordable place to shop for seasonal holidays or beginner skiers without sacrificing quality.

Whakapapa Accommodation

If you’re also travelling with kids and want to spend most of your time at Mt Ruapehu in Happy Valley, then Whakapapa Village is a great choice to base your family.

In the heart of Whakapapa Village, there’s only a handful of options to choose from, which makes it easy when it comes to travel planning. Depending on your family’s budget, we’ll cover 3 of the most popular accommodation in Whakapapa Village, ranging from the budget accommodation at Whakapapa Holiday Park (), to the mid-ranged 3-star Skotel Alpine Resort (), to the luxury and famous Chateau Tongariro Hotel (). Our family has stayed in all three accommodations over the years, so these are our firsthand experiences.

Whakapapa Holiday Park

Situated across the road from Whakapapa Visitor Centre, Whakapapa Holiday Park is the best place to rest your head if you’re on a budget. This holiday park has a range of accommodations including campsites in the summer months and family suites or cabins.

If you’re the type of travellers that are out the door at sunrise and only come back to rest at dawn, then Whakapapa Holiday Park is an affordable accommodation at the best possible location to Whakapapa Ski Field. You can read TripAdvisor reviews on Whakapapa Holiday Park here.

© Photos by Kida

Skotel Alpine Resort

Skotel Alpine Resort is our family’s favourite accommodation near Whakapapa Ski Field. It is an upgrade from the Whakapapa Holiday Park without breaking your bank.

Below is a video of the two room types we have stayed in previously, one is the superior queen + single and the other one is a family room. We highly recommend booking a family room for its spacious set up and comfortable bedding configuration.

What we love the most about staying at Skotel Alpine Resort is the expansive panoramic view of Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu, especially during the golden hours. Nothing beats waking up to the world-class glorious view of the mountains with a warm cup of coffee.

Amazing sunset view of Mt Tongariro from Skotel Alpine Resort
Sunset view of Mt Tongariro right from the backyard of Skotel Alpine Resort

© Photos by Kida

Chateau Tongariro Hotel

Chateau Tongariro Hotel is the most luxurious and one of the most well-known hotels in New Zealand. It is a classic historic hotel that hosts one of the best high tea experiences in the country.

In all honesty, Chateau Tongariro Hotel is a little too high-end for our two rowdy kids. We absolutely enjoyed the high tea experience with ceiling to floor window view of Mt Tongariro, but we didn’t enjoy the stressful moments of trying to keep the kids quiet in the elegant Ruapehu Lounge of Chateau Tongariro Hotel.

© Photos by Kida

That being said, if you’re travelling with older kids or without kids, Chateau Tongariro Hotel is a romantic and luxury accommodation for your trip to the mountains.

Chateau-Tongariro-Hotel-Whakapapa-Village-Luxury-Hotel-New-Zealand
Chateau Tongariro Hotel

© Photos by Kida

Quick links

Ohakune Accommodation

Ohakune has many more accommodation choices than Whakapapa Village. From Ohakune Top 10 Holiday Park to motels and lodges to chalets and chateaus, you can pick and choose based on your budget here. Here are our top picks.

Our family stayed at The Powderhorn Chateau, which was recommended by many of our traveller-friends. The Powderhorn Chateau really did stand out from the rest of the Ohakune accommodations. The chateau was heated and we had a comfortable 3-night stay here.

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The Powderhorn Chateau Ohakune

© Photos by Kida

The Powderhorn Chateau is a classic boutique alpine lodge blended with a bit of fairytale characteristics. It is a little far to walk to the Ohakune town centre, but that won’t be an issue if you have your own car.

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The Powderhorn Chateau Queen Suite

© Photos by Kida

Quick links

Day 1: Whakapapa Village & Nature Walks

Let’s assume that you’ve come far and finally make it to Whakapapa Village just before midday. We would recommend taking it slow for the rest of the day, recharge from the long road trip and do a few short nature walks in Whakapapa Village.

We’ll introduce you to the easiest short walks first, and if your kids are a little older or have more time, you can explore the longer walks in this region.

Whakapapa Nature Walk (15 minutes loop)

Whakapapa Nature Walk is the easiest walk near most of the accommodation in Whakapapa Village. We recommend using a baby carrier if you’re travelling with a baby as the paths, although easy but has steps.

Whakapapa-Nature-Walk-Things-To-Do Mt Ruapehu Tongariro
Whakapapa Nature Walk

© Photos by Kida

Tawhai Falls (20 minutes return)

Tawhai Falls is a must-do short walk in Whakapapa. It’s an easy walk to the falls and a great place to reconnect with nature.

© Photos by Kida

Other Great Walks near Whakapapa

You can find a full list of the great walks and hikes in Mt Ruapehu on its official website here.

  • Mounds Walk (20 minutes return)
  • Ridge Walking Track (40 minutes return)
  • Taranaki Falls (2 hours loop)
  • Whakapapanui Walk (2 hours return)
  • Silica Rapids Walking Track (2.5 hours return)
  • Tama Lakes Tramping Track (5-6 hours return)

Quick links

Day 1: Ohakune & Giant Carrot Park

If you choose to stay at an accommodation in Ohakune, chances are, you’ll only get to Ohakune around midday or early in the afternoon from a long road trip.

Depending on the time you have left in the day, you can explore Ohakune town centre, grab some brochures from Ohakune i-Site Visitor Centre, do the Rimu Walk, take the kids to the Giant Carrot Adventure Park and have a nice hearty dinner at one of the restaurants.

Ohakune Town Centre

Ohakune Town Centre is where you can hire your snow and ski gear, find nice restaurants with a fireplace and get information on Mt Ruapehu and the top things to do around here.

As mentioned previously, we bought some basic but necessary winter clothing from Mountain Warehouse and we highly recommend buying your own clothing if your family heads to the Alps every winter. Alternatively, you can hire snow and ski gear from a shop like Ski Shed in Ohakune.

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Ohakune Ski Shed

© Photos by Kida

The Rimu Walk

Not too far from The Powderhorn Chateau is the short Rimu Walk. You’ll find it on Google Maps as the Mangawhero Forest Walk. This little hidden gem is a really nice before-the-dinner walk among the giant rimu trees.

The track of Rimu Walk is stroller-friendly and only takes about 15 minutes return. If you have more time, keep going after crossing Mangawhero River and it will take you to the forest to continue with the Mangawhero Forest Walk for about an hour. You can find detailed information on the Mangawhero Forest Walk and Rimu Walk on the DOC website here.

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Rimu Walk

© Photos by Kida

Carrot Adventure Park

Did you know? Ohakune used to have a reputation as New Zealand’s Carrot Capital. Hence, the Ohakune Growers Association has placed this iconic giant carrot in Ohakune in the 80s, which has become an attraction as a unique vegetable-themed playground.

Carrot Adventure Park Ohakune Mt Ruapehu Family Guide
Carrot Adventure Park

© Photos by Kida

Go for a drive on Ohakune Mountain Road

Whether you plan to go to Turoa Ski Field or not, go for a drive on the scenic Ohakune Mountain Road. The starting point of Waitonga Falls Walk (1.5 hrs return) is along Ohakune Mountain Road.

Ohakune-Mountain-Road-Whakapapa-Turoa-Ski-Field-Mt-Ruapehu-Scenic-Drive-Road-Trip
Scenic Drive on Ohakune Mountain Road

© Photos by Kida

Mangawhero Falls – Gollum’s Pool & Ithilien

Just before reaching Turoa Ski Field, you’ll drive past Mangawhero Falls Walk. This is a 5-minute short stop for an expansive view of the mountains and Mangawhero Falls. This is also our family’s favourite walk around this side of the mountain because we love effortless walks with stunning views.

© Photos by Kida

Turoa Ski Field

Although Turoa Ski Field is recommended for intermediate to advanced skiers, you can always come for a visit and have a play in the snow with the kids.

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Turoa Ski Field

© Photos by Kida

As mentioned previously, our family didn’t come here to ski, so we had a beautiful lunch at the café at Turoa Ski Field watching advanced skiers coming down the steep slope.

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Turoa Ski Field Café

© Photos by Kida

Quick links

Day 2: Whakapapa Ski Field & Happy Valley

Today is the highlight of your trip. Dress warm, bring your gear and head up to Whakapapa Ski Field and Happy Valley. There are two major things to do in Whakapapa Ski Field today: skiing/sledding & Sky Waka.

Whakapapa Ski Field Happy Valley Mt Ruapehu Top Things To Do in Winter New Zealand
Whakapapa Ski Field

© Photos by Kida

Can I drive up to Whakapapa Ski Field?

Mt Ruapehu Snow Alps Mountain Road Trip Whakapapa Ohakune Travel Guide

Whakapapa Ski Field is only a short drive up the scenic Bruce Road, but be sure to check the weather conditions on the day, you can find detailed information under Report on Mt Ruapehu Website to see if there’s a restriction on 4WD or with chains only. Alternatively, shuttle buses are available from the village.

Happy Valley

We did see a father with a baby in a hiking carrier skiing down the mountain in Whakapapa Ski Resort, but that’s definitely out of our league, so we’ll cover more on Happy Valley rather than the ski field in this section.

When you get to Whakapapa Ski Resort, take the lift down to Happy Valley. It’s a self-contained area for beginners and families where you can purchase tickets and sledding passes. There’s a café to warm up and get your equipment rentals.

If you plan to do Sky Waka and of course you are, there’s a 1-hour Sledding + Sky Waka combo pass for $69. Sleds are included, and the carpet lift will bring you back up so you can enjoy sledding for the full hour.

© Photos by Kida

Hot Tips

  • We recommend going to Happy Valley early in the morning before it gets too crowded so you can spend more time sledding and less time waiting in line.
  • Leave your bags in the car, or store them at the ticket booth.
Happy-Valley-Whakapapa-Ski-Field-Resort-Family-Fun-Mt-Ruapehu-Winter-Snow-Ski
Happy Valley, Whakapapa Ski Resort

© Photos by Kida

Sky Waka

Warm up at the Happy Valley Café before taking Sky Waka gondola up the mountain for a spectacular view of Mt Ruapehu covered in snow. There is a restaurant up the top of the mountain with beautiful viewing decks. Walk carefully as it’s slippery walking on snow, but hey, this is the time to build a snowman, have a snowball fight with the family or have an ice cream among the snow!

© Photos by Kida

Quick links

Day 3: Flexible Day

Have you had enough of the snow yet? If not, day 3 is another day of fun on the snowy mountains. You can go back to Whakapapa Ski Field or visit Turoa Ski Field.

Whichever ski field you decide to go back to, stop and squeeze in a nature walk along the scenic roads leading up to the Ski Fields.

If you’re done with the ski fields, then explore Whakapapa Village or Ohakune and do the activities you didn’t get a chance to do on day 1.

Alternatively, start heading back and stop over at Lake Taupo and/or Hamilton.

© Photos by Kida

Wrapping Up

As you can see, Mt Ruapehu is the winter destination for many New Zealanders, Australians and travellers from the world. You can easily spend a week here enjoying the stunning scenery of Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu.

There are countless nature walks and trails that are family-friendly both near Whakapapa Village and in Ohakune. Depending on your itinerary, you have the luxury to pick and choose which walk suits your family the most.

Last but not least, Whakapapa Ski Field offers a full day of fun for the family. Kids don’t want to go home after sledding in Happy Valley and taking the longest gondola ride – Sky Waka up Mt Ruapehu is such an unforgettable experience the whole family will treasure.

Family of four at Mt Ruapehu Tongariro Whakapapa Ski Field Best Road Trip New Zealand
Whakapapa Ski Field Resort – The Best Winter Destination

© Photos by Kida

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