Seven Summer Must-Dos in Ruapehu

Far from crowds but as close to nature as you can get, summer in Ruapehu is all about finding your place in the world. From mountainside adventures to riverside fun, there are days to be spent lingering amidst alpine lakes, discovering lesser-known trails to bike or hike and evenings star gazing under dark open skies. Here are a few ideas on where to wander, catch epic sunrises and enjoy summer in full swing when in Ruapehu.

#1 Drive your own rail cart to explore hand-dug tunnels and beautiful bridges

Turn back the clock and travel back in time with Forgotten World Adventures– you’ll journey in style, comfort, and a dash of kiwi ingenuity on a self-drive rail cart adventure along a decommissioned railway line. A local guide will tell tales of yesteryears as you traverse through hand dug tunnels and historic bridges. If riding the rails isn’t enough, you can explore the Whanganui River – NZ’s longest navigable waterway on a cruisy Rhine of the Pacific tour.


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Family fun on rail carts

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Forgotten World Jet Boat

#2 Ride the Sky Waka gondola for an iconic alpine experience

Fly high this summer with an unforgettable gondola ride on the Sky Waka – NZ’s longest, most-advanced gondola ride that soars 2,020 m above sea level to the spectacular landscape of Tongariro National Park – a UNESCO Dual World Heritage site. It’s like floating through a painting with scenes that are a bit out of this world. Soak up all the views along this 1.8 km journey that will take you over hidden waterfalls and ancient lava flows to the award-winning Knoll Ridge Chalet where you can enjoy NZ’s highest dining experience for the ultimate summer’s day on Mt Ruapehu.


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View of the Sky Waka gondola ride

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Sky Waka gondola in the summer

#3 Paddle down the Whanganui River to where time stands still

When the summer season arrives, the Whanganui River is a really special place to be. Imagine paddling downstream with the sun on your back, listening to native birdsong and the gentle hum of the river flowing - you better believe it's even dreamier in real life. Go by canoe or kayak, guided or self-guided, and bring your favourite people along to spot hidden waterfalls, cruise at your own rhythm and camp along the river under starry skies. You can also tick this off as an official New Zealand Great Walk – a unique, multi-day NZ Great Walk on water known as the Whanganui Journey.


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#4 Find your favourite waterfalls

From Hollywood’s big screen to local gems, there are waterfalls galore in Ruapehu. Take your pick from short 20-minute return walks to half-day hikes and find a magical mix of enchanting waterfalls in and around Tongariro National Park. Lord of the Rings fans will recognise Tawhai Falls, also known as Gollum’s Pool– beautiful cascading waterfalls just outside National Park Village easily accessible from State Highway 48 as you head towards Whakapapa Village. Other wonderful waterfalls to chase include Taranaki Falls, Waitonga Falls (the highest waterfalls in Tongariro National Park at 39 metres high) and the lesser-known Tupapakurua Falls in the Erua Forest Conservation Area where you can also support a local initiative and carry a bucket of gravel to help maintain the track - forest bathing (like the popular Japanese concept of taking in the forest through our senses), chasing waterfalls and eco tourism all in one.

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#5 Guided sunrise or sunset hikes

For many, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or 'Tongariro Crossing’ for short, is a big bucket list item to experience in Ruapehu. But there's also a big range of otherworldly hikes to discover in and around Tongariro National Park– just as Instagram-worthy but slightly under the radar for keen explorers. Going guided also gives you a deeper understanding of the geological, historical, and cultural stories before you that you would otherwise not learn about. Think of it as upgrading your hike for a richer experience thanks to a local guide.

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Sunrise at Tongariro National Park

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Sunset hike with Adrift Tongariro

#6 Bike Ruapehu

Summer wouldn’t be complete without an epic bike ride so make sure you take the time to explore the over 400 kms of mountain bike trails in Ruapehu. This includes the incredible network of cycle trails known as Mountains to Sea Ngā Ara Tūhono connected pathways that sweeps from Mt Ruapehu to the Tasman Sea - just imagine the scenic lookouts along the way as well as the region’s rich history and unique stories that come to life before your eyes. Other fantastic rides include the Timber Trail and the 42 Traverse - reputed as one of NZ’s best adventure rides. With awesome local operators available for bike hire (including e-bikes) as well as shuttle transport, it’s super easy to get amongst it and enjoy a cycling holiday in Ruapehu.


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#7 Discover the beautiful Forgotten World gardens

When summer's in full bloom, there’s nothing like venturing off the beaten path for a roadie - especially if it's along hidden gems and tucked away places along the Forgotten World Highway. Take on mischievous mini golf at Bradley’s Garden and its sprawling 5-acre country garden complete with an Italian garden, olive groves, picturesque ponds, and gorgeous gazebo. Or discover a tranquil oasis at Omaka Lodge gardens as you meander through the Champagne Lawn, the Knoll, the Wilderness, and the Second Husband garden. For a touch of Provence in Ruapehu, experience the enchanting magic at Lauren's Lavender Farm – home to 8,000 lavender plants in full bloom between December and march with an on-site café and shop for all things lavender.

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Bradley's Garden

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Lauren's Lavender Farm

Need to find a relaxing spot to stay? Take your pick of unique accommodation in Ruapehu here.