While driving down the North Island of New Zealand, I was really keen to visit Tongariro National Park. Unfortunately we didn’t have time this trip to go hiking across it, apparently one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. Turns out it didn’t matter anyways, because most of the tracks were closed since one of the nearby volcanos had erupted only a few weeks ago, and it was still smoking pretty strongly.
We took the road up to nearby Mt. Ruapehu which is an active ski resort in the winter. Of course, being summer, there was only snow right at the top and the houses and ski chalets were all nestled amongst the black volcanic rocks making it look a bit like a movie set for a star wars or other intergalactic movie. At the end of the road there was a car park and a little coffee shop and we went in thinking we would get a hot chocolate there. We quickly realized that the ski lifts that bring skiers up the mountain in the winter also operate all summer long. Not only that, but the highest café in New Zealand is almost at the top of the mountain (at 2020m). So we paid the 30 dollars each and took the two chair lifts to the top.
The ski lodge at the top of the chair lifts is big enough to welcome the winter skiers but a small part of it is open all year around including a little coffee shop with sandwiches, drinks and treats and of course an incredible outdoor terrace . We ordered lunch and drinks and sat on the terrace outside. From here we had the most incredible view. We could see the other mountains in this area, which is all part of a World Natural Heritage Site. We watched the smoke coming out of the nearby active volcano, and could even see as far as Lake Taupo and beyond. My hot chocolate was exactly what you’d expect after a day of skiing on the mountains. It was hot and sweet and kind of perfect for a ski resort, even in the middle of summer.
Verdict: Can’t beat the view, plus the café here has one of the best paninis I have ever had anywhere!! Knoll Ridge Chalet, Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand