Ski Down from the Volcanic Crater Lake!
A serene volcanic lake on top of New Zealand’s largest volcano: how can you not want to find this place? Hiking to the Crater Lake when skiing or snowboarding on Mt Ruapehu is the ultimate challenge for those looking for some off-piste terrain and a super stunning location! Because there are no signs to the Crater Lake from its nearby ski fields, Whakapapa and Turoa, you’ll need to read this guide on how to get to Mt Ruapehu’s Crater Lake in winter. In summer, you would need a physical guide to show you the way to the top.
Hiking with your ski gear through snow isn’t exactly a walk in the park, so prepare for a tough hike! There are also a few safety precautions to take and the hike should not be attempted in bad weather conditions. There is the option to hike up to the crater lake without your ski gear on a guided hike with Adrift Tongariro (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).
Mt Ruapehu’s Crater Lake can be seen by hiking up from the Turoa ski field, on the southwestern side of the mountain, and the Whakapapa ski field on the northwestern side. Find out more about these ski fields in The 24 Ski Fields in New Zealand.
5 Things to Know Before You Hike to Mt Ruapehu’s Crater Lake
- Ask ski patrol if it is safe to hike up to the Crater Lake
- Only hike up with your skis/board if you are a confident skier/rider (to get back down again)
- The snow conditions at the top of the highest chairlift/t-bar will give you an indication of how soft/icy the snow is. Hiking is extremely difficult on the ice without crampons, ice axe, etc.
- The weather can change really quickly. It’s only worth hiking up on a bluebird day and when the forecast is set for a clear day. Otherwise, you may lose your bearings in the clouds!
- It kind of goes without saying but, don’t go jumping in the Crater Lake.
By the way, have you checked out the 10 Mind-Blowing Mt Ruapehu Walks for more awesome hikes?
How to Get to the Crater Lake from the Whakapapa Ski Field
The most popular and straightforward way to get to the Crater Lake from Whakapapa is from the top of the Far West T-bar.
If it’s a good weather day, you’re likely to have some footsteps to follow up to the crater. Otherwise, hike alongside the valley on the left side of the Far West T-bar (when looking up the mountain). Always using the valley as your reference. We suggest you hike on the right side of the valley and follow it up the mountain. Once you get to the top of this valley, you’ll see the dramatic view of the Crater Lake. (And now you will appreciate that if there was a volcanic eruption, you would be screwed).This Far West T-bar route has a steady gradient the whole way. Superfit people have been known to hike up in just 45 minutes, whereas others can take about 2 hours with plenty of rest stops.
If it’s not too icy, hike up the hill to the left of the valley you hiked up to reach the Dome Shelter. This has awesome views of the Summit Plateau and another great perspective of the Crater Lake.
Routes to Ski Down to Whakapapa from the Crater Lake
Now for the fun part: your off-piste ski! You have three options to get back down to the Whakapapa ski field from the Crater Lake:
- Back the way you came. Just follow the valley back down for the easiest terrain which emerges on the right side of the Far West T-bar (when you are looking down the mountain).
- To The Gut trail.
- To the Valley T-bar ski area.
To get back to The Gut and the Valley T-bar ski area, climb to the Dome Shelter on the left hill when facing the Crater Lake from the valley you just climbed. From the Dome Shelter, you’ll get a sweet view of the Summit Plateau and an opening along the left side of the Summit Plateau. That’s where you are heading. You can get enough speed and momentum by hugging the left slope on your way to the opening.
From the opening, you should be able to see part of the ski field, the trail called The Gut, straight down the valley ahead. That’s one fun route to take so follow the valley down to The Gut if you prefer. Then you are back on the ski field!
Alternatively, to get to the Valley T-bar ski area, bear as right as possible when looking down at the ski field from the Summit Plateau opening. You’ll see your entrance back onto the ski field on the Valley Traverse trail (no fun so keep going), or the trails just around the Valley T-bar, such as the Pinnacle Valley, Bilbo and Gollum trails.
There! You have made it back onto the ski field!
How to Get to the Crater Lake From Turoa
The hike from the Turoa ski field to the Crater Lake brings you on top of the crater wall looking down at the Crater Lake below. (Don’t fall off the edge).
Getting to the Crater Lake is pretty straightforward in good weather conditions. It’s just 500 metres (1,640 feet) above the High Noon Express chairlift, by hiking straight up! This is a tougher gradient to climb than on the Whakapapa side, usually taking about 1 hour to complete. Be aware that the conditions on the Turoa side tend to be icy, so only attempt the climb if you know the snow has softened.
Enjoy the view, then, because the ski field is insight, ski back down towards the ski field.
More Skiing and Snowboarding in New Zealand!
Check out these articles to make the most of winter in New Zealand.