Snow shoeing. Once upon a time that would’ve conjured up images of tennis raquets strapped to sturdy boots. But not any more because today it’s a much more sophisticated business, as my son and I discovered during the recent school holidays. Keen to experience this brand new tourism offering first-hand, Theo and I joined guide Pete Hitchman from Chris Jolly Outdoors. After driving to Tukino Ski Field, climbing through low alpine scrub, we parked just below the ice line to begin our adventure. Following a safety briefing, Theo and I strapped on our spaceage footwear. Made of plastic and metal alloy with rubber straps, snowshoes are reminiscent of old fashioned roller skates, and moving in them is as easy as walking. With their sharp steel-toothed crampons, the traction they provide is astonishing and, once we got going, I felt I could scale tall buildings - if they were covered in snow.
Although, rather than satisfy our appetite for snow, our snowshoe adventure merely made us hungry for more. And because Theo and I have only ever skied on an indoor slope, the next day we decided to give skiing a whirl. Arriving at the top of Whakapapa’s Bruce Road, we hired gear from a veritable United Nations of young snow workers before being taken under the wing of instructor Jasmine from Switzerland. Skiing since the age of two, Jasmine is also a chocolatier and she couldn’t have been a sweeter teacher to her enthusiastic students. It’s fair to say we were pretty excited. Skiing in the actual wild, it was like snorkeling in the tropics for the first time, having only ever swum in a pool.
Starting at Happy Valley, we learnt Rule Number 1 - when stopped on snow, keep skis parallel to the bottom of the slope, so you don’t slide down without meaning to. Rule Number 2, be the pilot, not the passenger - easier said than done - and then we were off, following Jasmine like obedient ducklings. Unleashing ourselves on the powdery whiteness, the day passed fast. Up and down we flew and fell, trying the various trails like Goldilicks, even giving the Valley T-Bar a go. Although with limited visibility due to low cloud, I was tempted to crawl down that section, while Theo declared it his favourite run.
Time for a break, we boarded the brand new Sky Waka. At 1.8km this is New Zealand’s longest gondola ride. Travelling at a smooth six metres per second, aside from astonishing views, it also provides wheelchair access to the highest dining facilities on Knoll Ridge. Snug inside the elegant capsule, my tired thighs were grateful to sit down and enjoy the ride. Not wanting to waste too much snow time though, after a quick circuit of the buffet, we carried on skiing as long our legs would carry us. Winding up at Happy Valley for one last run – a literal happy ending - the ‘Snoobs’ delivered their verdict: Everything about snow is cool.
An insider's guide to Mt Ruapehu:
Best Tour: Adventure HQ provides no-stress shuttles straight to the top of the Bruce Rd.
Hot tip: The hot pools at DeBretts are epic, hydroslides and soothing waters.
Best photo op: On a clear day, the views from the Sky Waka, New Zealand’s longest and newest gondola, are breathtaking.
As seen on New Zealand Woman's Weekly - September 2019 edition.