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Ruapehu playground ready for visitors

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Mangawhero River Walkway Ohakune

Ruapehu is ready for a bumper year as visitors head for this North Island alpine playground

With Mother Nature adding a helping hand to Mt Ruapehu ski area operator Ruapehu Alpine Lift’s [RAL] new snow-making factory, the snow joy continues with good July & August snow dumps following this year’s early season opening of June 3. Happy Valley, NZ’s best learning area, has 3 new carpet lifts, 2 of which are covered with see-through tunnels, NZ’s only mountain access elevators and a newly transformed F & B bistro. Further up the slopes at Whakapapa there's a new quad chairlift, more beginner terrain and a new Schuss Haus Corona Bar to quench the thirst midway up the mountain.

RAL have this season introduced another innovation on the mountain – night skiing with the lower slopes of Whakapapa lighting up between 5-9pm on Friday and Saturday nights in a move CEO Ross Copland says will give people more time on the snow and bring back authentic après ski to the mountain. A new high-speed four seater chair lift, the Rangatira Express was installed last year and gives night skiers quicker access to runs on the Whakapapa lower mountain and quicker access to the upper mountain. Additional snow-making capacity is also operating on Turoa, RAL’s other ski area which boasts NZ’s highest lift.

These changes are part of a massive investment being pumped into the mountain and the wider Ruapehu district. RAL is putting $100 million into improvements at its ski areas, while the region’s tourist organisation, Visit Ruapehu, says millions more dollars are to be spent on other recreational attractions and services in coming years.

More than a million people are estimated to visit the region every year attracted not just by the snow, but a myriad of other activities including mountain biking, tramping, fishing and river adventures. RAL are also working on plans to install a massive $37 million, 80-seater gondola or aerial tramway: “It is really a large cable car that can take between 60 and 80 people and run in winds up to 54 knots,” says Copland. “It will be a game-changer not only for skiers but also for those wanting to go sight-seeing up the mountain in winter and in summer. It is part of a bigger project to make the mountain a year-round resort.”

Meanwhile other tourist attractions in the Ruapehu district are to receive an injection of funding. The Ruapehu District Council and the National Army Museum in Waiouru have signed-off on a project to spend $2.5m on the museum’s entrance way which will include an I-Site visitor information centre. An estimated 180,000 people visit the museum every year. Last month the government announced it was putting aside $1.5 million for tourism infrastructure projects in the region – a figure adding to the $2m the region has already received from the government to extend the Mountains-to-Sea cycle trail from Turoa to Ohakune.

Visit Ruapehu CEO Claire McKnight says while Ruapehu has been a popular destination for many years, there is potential for providing even better experiences for New Zealanders in the region.“It is a place where kiwis can come for a magical winter or spring holiday away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life,” she says. “You can experience a lot of excitement and adventure here – it is a wonderful place to come in winter including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with a guide.” McKnight says new free shuttle services from Ohakune & National Park Village to the ski areas are now running every operational day of the season through to October.

“This all adds to the enjoyment of a visit here,” she says. “We have a diverse range of accommodationdining and cafes but also many adventure activities; apart from skiing , tramping and biking we have rail carts, museums, scenic flights, mini golf, indoor rock climbing, jetboat tours, river rafting, hot pools – and Taupo is not far away.”

McKnight says the tourism industry and other partners are working on a Ruapehu Destination Development Plan looking at opportunities for growth in the attractions on offer.

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