© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

A Flashpacker’s Day at Mt Ruapehu

© NZPocketGuide.com

310 Days on the Road

If we are already blown away by watching the sunrise over the North Island from our room at the Skotel Hotel & Backpackers, which sits at the base of Mt Ruapehu, imagine what it’s going to be like when we take the chairlift up New Zealand’s largest volcano?! We can’t wait to get Day 311’s activity rolling!

It seems to be all about “the highest” here in Whakapapa. Here, we are getting in our car outside of New Zealand’s “highest” hotel in preparation to drive up to New Zealand’s “largest” ski field and take a chairlift up to New Zealand’s “highest” cafe. Ok, we get it Whakapapa! We are getting so high today!

Chairlift up New Zealand’s largest volcano

Luckily, we have a super clear morning to enjoy some epic views of Mt Ruapehu itself as we drive up the Bruce Road. The road is lined with rugged volcanic rock with various waterfalls in between. The smooth ride brings us to the base of the Whakapapa Ski Field, where selected chairlifts still operate in summer for sightseeing and hikers who want a bit of a boost up the mountain.

After grabbing our lift passes from the Vertical Store, we clumsily swipe our way onto the Rangatira Express and take the ride up on the cushioned quad chairlift. Already we are getting some awesome views, from the orange and black volcanic rock beneath our feet to breathtaking views of the cone-shaped Mt Ngauruhoe in the not-to-far distance.

The chairlift comes smoothly to the end where at least we are not too clumsy when getting off the lift, then we have one more quad lift to take. This one takes a pretty steep ascent over an area with so many dips and gaps between the rocks that it’s difficult to imagine this place as a ski area! It really helps you appreciate how much snow the mountain receives in winter!

Coffee on top of the world

Once we get over a particularly steep cliff, the huge Knoll Ridge Cafe is revealed. The highest cafe in New Zealand has won numerous awards for its architecture, making the huge tilted windowed exterior with the sunlight bouncing off it a pretty grand sight to behold. Just beside the Knoll Ridge Cafe is where we exit the chairlift and go get ourselves a coffee.

Although the interior of the cafe is an impressive sight in itself with views of an enormous jagged wall of rock known as The Pinnacles seen through floor to ceiling windows separated by grand wooden beams, we are more keen to get onto the decking area outside to soak in those mountain views. It’s definitely not a bad place to sip on a smooth caramel latte and treat ourselves to a caramel slice and zesty lemon slice.

Approaching the Knoll Ridge Cafe… Chairlift style!

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Chairlift into Mordor

From here, there is the option to stretch your legs on one of the walking tracks from an easy 20-minute walk to a six-hour guided hike to the volcano’s Crater Lake. With deep dark clouds heading in our direction, we opt for one of the shorter hikes actually starting from the base of the chairlifts, Meads Wall.

If taking the lifts up was a treat, we are definitely digging the ride down with new perspectives. We are spotting distant valleys covered in low cloud, outlines of mountain ranges in the distance, and of course, the elephant in the room which is the ever-impressive Mt Ngauruhoe. Not only did the volcano feature as Mt Doom in The Lord of the Rings, but where we are heading now also featured as part of Mordor!

Meandering to Meads Wall

The Mt Ruapehu staff point us in the right direction to Meads Wall, which isn’t exactly sign-posted but you just need to follow a beaten track from the base of the Rangatira Express until, well, you hit a wall!

Although it is said to take 30 minutes to reach Meads Wall, it is more like 15 minutes over volcanic rock and dust with a few determined alpine plants in between. We reach the wall-like feature of huge volcanic boulders that appear to be stacked on top of each other as if it were a man-made wall. Crazy! What’s more, the wall looks completely climbable!

From a high wall to high tea

We go for a bit of a clamber up the rocks, slow and steady as the drop into the valley on the other side is not one we’d like to fall down. Once we find a prime position, we face that awesome view once again of Ngauruhoe, just like Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings. Although we don’t have a ring to destroy to keep us moving, we certainly have a huge heap of clouds heading our way, so we take this as a sign to head back down the mountain to Whakapapa Village where the iconic Chateau Tongariro Hotel is serving high tea!

Flashpacking at the Chateau Tongariro

Although we can’t afford a night in the fancy hotel making its presence well and truly known as a huge yellow building at the base of Mt Ruapehu, we can certainly afford its renowned high tea within its historic walls! The Chateau’s reputation still clearly holds as the lounge and dining areas are cranking this afternoon. Although there are plenty of cosy spots to play flashpacker, we are lucky enough to be seated in the Ngauruhoe Window. As you may have guessed, we can’t get enough of that view today!

If food was art…

We choose our teas from a full tea menu, which is served with patterned teacups and saucers, then we are given a tiered set of plates full of beautiful-looking food. How can we destroy such art?! The waitress quickly runs through the food, from the sandwiches on the bottom plate, to the scones and creme brulee on the middle plate, and finally the bite-size treats on top. How posh do we feel right now?! We’re sure savouring this moment of dignity before we find ourselves huffing, puffing and sweating our way along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing tomorrow! Join us then!

Epic views from the top of Meads Wall!

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