Snowshoeing adventure on Mt Ruapehu
A snowy winter wonderland! It’s been a while since I last had the chance to walk in one, before I moved to New Zealand. But here we are, trudging slowly through the snow with snowshoes on our feet, past frozen waterfalls. Rocks sticking out of snow, little back spots, creating outer-worldly patterns on their lee-side. Clouds and visibility come and go, but one thing is consistent: Our absolute blissfulness.
In the morning, we meet our guide Pete in Turangi. He’s an outdoor and survival guide for Chris Jolly Outdoors who are based in Taupo. Apart from Chris and I, there’s one other couple who signed up for the snowshoeing adventure. Four guests are currently the maximum number of people hosted on the snowshoeing North Island tour, as this is how many fit into the 4WD ute that’s needed to get to the snow.
We leave our car in Turangi and as we’re driving towards the Central Plateau, Pete tells us a bit about himself. At 17 years, he used to be a bouncer at a night club, the resident band was Duran Duran. Later, he went on tour with them as the band’s bodyguard, together with two ex-SAS soldiers who taught him some army survival tricks during work breaks.
Fast-forward a few years, Pete and his wife had moved to Queenstown and started their own business, offering guided walks. During winter, they added snowshoeing to their portfolio.
After selling their Queenstown business, they moved to Taupo, where Chris Jolly Outdoors knocked at Pete’s door and he became their Operations Manager. With him, he brought two new products, an interactive survival walk and the only snowshoe tour on the North Island, the one we are about to experience.
There are multiple North Island ski fields and all of them can be found on Mount Ruapehu. The snowshoe tour takes you to the private Tukino ski field, which only allows up to 120 skiers per day and is only accessible with a 4WD vehicle. It can get quite adventurous in the rain and New Zealand winter and I’m quite glad we didn’t have to drive there ourselves. The other advantage is that we get to enjoy the views rather than having to focus on driving. And the view is just amazing! The black and red volcanic terrain reminds me a lot of the Icelandic highlands.
Once up at the base of the Tukino ski field, no one is there. The ski field is closed due to bad weather and apart from our chatter, complete silence envelops us.
Pete takes out the snowshoes and walking poles and explains how to put on the snowshoes. I’m the only one in the group who did snowshoe walking before, so we first took a few steps to get used to walking slightly wider.
Back in the old days, snowshoes were not much more than a tennis racket strapped to hiking boots, but today they’re a lot more high-techy. You still strap them to your boots, though, and they help to walk on icy snow like we had, as well as preventing the walker from sinking into the deep, soft snow.
We slowly walk over undulated hills through the rugged winter wonderland, stopping occasionally to listen to Pete’s stories and to chat. There is no hurry. The goal of snowshoeing New Zealand is not to get as far as possible as fast as possible but just to walk in the snow and enjoy the winter wonderland that surrounds us.
As we’re approaching the frozen waterfall, we try to get as close to it as possible. It proves quite tricky as it becomes rather steep. Halfway up it starts to rain, which increases the avalanche risk, so we abandon mission waterfall to get out of the danger zone.
After about an hour of walking, we take a break. Pete unpacks tea, coffee and delicious homemade cookies and gives us a small rubber mat so we can sit in the snow without getting a wet bum. Even though it’s not overly cold that day, a hot drink is very welcome.
We then make our way a little bit further up to what on sunny days would be a lovely viewpoint. With the weather today, though, Pete has to paint us a picture of what we would see if we could. After this, we slowly walk back towards the car.
Verdict of the snowshoeing tour
Chris and I loved trudging through the snow! Me because I just love anything that has to do with snow. Being Swiss, I sometimes miss a ‘real’ winter. And Chris found it great to be able to peacefully walk in the snow because he mostly knows snow in connection with action-packed skiing days. Being able to just be and take it all in was soothing and rejuvenating.
We also liked that with a group of only 4 people, we never felt like we were pressured for time.
That being said, as a hiker and having previous snowshoe walking experience, I was kind of hoping to walk a little further than what we did. And that we could either walk a little more silently to really become one with the mountains, or to learn more about the Central Plateau, the volcanoes in the area and maybe even some local Maori stories.
Those minor points aside, we absolutely loved the snowshoeing North Island experience and would recommend it to anyone visiting New Zealand in Winter.
Snowshoeing New Zealand with Chris Jolly Outdoors - a little FAQ
Is snowshoeing New Zealand right for me?
Yes! It’s not technical like skiing, everyone who is ok to walk for a couple of hours can do snowshoeing with Chris Jolly Outdoors. The walking pace is generally slow for everyone to enjoy the scenery and can be adjusted to every ability.
If there is enough snow and the ski field is open, you even get a ride on the snow cat to the top of the Tukino skifield.
What do I need to wear for snowshoeing?
Wear layers! You might feel cold at first, but as you start walking you’ll get warm and then back to cold when taking a break.
Ideal is thermal clothing, such as Merino wool or polypropylene shirt. As a second layer, I suggest a fleece jacket or similar. Pants can either be hiking pants or skiing pants if you have.
Don’t wear jeans and cotton shirts, as they take forever to dry again once they get wet.
For footwear, the best bet is to wear hiking boots or similar with warm socks. Good walking shoes might work as well, but the sturdier the shoes, the better. Also, bring sunglasses, you’ll need them even if the sun doesn’t shine to avoid snow-blindness.
What is included in the tour?
Your transfer to the Tukino ski field from either the Taupo or Turangi i-Site, depending on where you stay for the night. Snowshoes and walking poles. Tea, coffee and cookies. If you don’t have winter clothing, they will provide you with a jacket, overpants and gloves. Even sunglasses, if you forgot yours.
What else should I bring?
Sunscreen. Snow reflects the sun similarly to white sand so there’s a double risk to get a nasty sunburn. Apart from cookies, no food is included in the tour, so make sure you bring some snacks or a sandwich along.
How long does the snowshoe tour take?
From Taupo, the tour will take about 6 hours, including the return transfers. From Turangi it’s about 5 hours and total time spent in the snow is usually just over two hours.
Where can I book the Snowshoe tour on Mt Ruapehu?
Either you book directly at Chris Jolly Outdoors or simply visit your nearest Flight Centre shop.
Are you in the Tongariro / Mt Ruapehu area in summer or wonder what else to experience there? Check out my post on things to to do in Tongariro National Park!
Got a question about snowshoeing New Zealand? Message me or drop a line into the comments!
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