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North Island rite of passage

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July 2023 Issue

Summit Plateau, Tongariro National Park. By Dylan Arthur

Climbing Mt Ruapehu is a rite of passage for many aspiring North Island mountaineers. And, its northern side provides an excellent training ground to consolidate mountaineering skills.

With good solid ice in the mornings, multiple routes can be undertaken depending on experience levels. There’s also access through the Whakapapa Ski Area, where a ride on the Sky Waka Gondola will shave an hour or more from the climb.

If the gondola’s not running, it’ll be the reverse of what’s known as the ‘Waterfall Descent’ following up the Rangatira Express, then a route with waratahs. In summer, there is a relatively well-tracked path that leads to the Summit Plateau, though it is easy to lose in places. In winter, the easiest path is to follow up the Knoll Ridge T-Bar, then head across towards Glacier Knob and into the Summit Plateau via Dome.

From Dome, there’s a great view of both the Crater Lake and the plateau, and climbers will be able to make a beeline towards an area to camp for the evening. DOC recommends not to enter a 700m radius of Crater Lake, nor camp overnight within a 1.5km radius, so best to head in the direction of Tukino Peak and Te Heuheu.

There are some potential hazards to be aware of, particularly in winter. The first is avalanches, the second is the volcanic alert hazard. Both work on level systems and are easy to check online. If you’re unsure, check with the local DOC office and Ski Patrol on the mountain for recommendations.

Total Ascent
2-4hr to Summit Plateau (if using the Gondola)
Bruce Road – Whakapapa Ski Area