Situated within the UNESCO dual world heritage Tongariro National Park, the Sky Waka travels 1.8kms through one of the North Island’s most rugged and spectacular landscapes on Whakapapa, Mt Ruapehu.
The Sky Waka is one of New Zealand’s most unique gondola experiences. On a return trip (one ride up, one ride down), journey through the clouds, over waterfalls, and ancient lava flows, up to 2020m above sea level. The Mt Ruapehu scenery is majestic, with views to neighbouring volcanoes, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro.
The waka, celebrated by name in song and story by Māori poets and orators, we know it to be more than a voyaging canoe, more than a carrier of people – the waka carries whanau (family). All Māori, after all, have lineal ties with the chiefs of the great waka.
As the highest and longest gondola upon Te Ika a Maui (North Island), this is more than a machine. It is a vessel to bring people together, to elevate them, together, upon this great maunga (mountain). It is a thread, weaving earth and sky.
We celebrate the waka and its symbolism of interconnectedness between the past, the present and future. For this is surely a symbol of the future, ascending this ancient maunga.
Established in 1887, Tongariro is New Zealand's oldest national park and a dual World Heritage area. Situated in the middle of the North Island, the park is centred upon three volcanoes: Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. The dual World Heritage status recognises its Māori cultural significance as well as its outstanding volcanic features.
The expansive 80,000-hectare park has a diverse range of ecosystems and some of New Zealand’s most dramatic landscapes, showcasing waterfalls, emerald lakes, old lava flows, and colourful silica terraces. From volcanic peaks to lush native bush and rivers, it’s truly a natural wonder.
Inside the Knoll Ridge Chalet at the top of Sky Waka, you will find our pou - Paretetaitonga. Pou is a way to remember things of significance: events, people, ancestors. Here’s one of the carvers, Hayz, with his korero about the origin stories of these mountains and this pou.
Short walks, varying from just 15 minutes to up to four hours, from both the base of the Sky Waka gondola and from the Knoll Ridge Chalet, also give guests the opportunity to explore the unique volcanic terrain, on foot.
The Knoll Ridge Chalet, the highest dining experience in New Zealand, is an architecturally awarded, two-story eatery, which in summer caters both an extensive buffet dining experience, and a café style offering. The large, laminated pine structure, perched on the edge of the mountain, sits amongst a breath-taking setting, with views out to the Pinnacles, Ngā Tohu, range.
Just three hours from Hamilton, four from Wellington and five hours from Auckland, getting far away, exploring unique volcanic terrain, and dining at New Zealand’s highest restaurant, is closer than you think.
Savour your meal alongside breath-taking views through floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Pinnacles and the valley below. The à la carte lunch comprises a variety of dishes, locally sourced where possible.
Lunch is available everyday through the summer season between 11am and 2pm. Booking is recommended, and operations are weather dependent (in terms of Sky Waka operation to ascent to the Knoll Ridge Chalet).
Soak in the views with fantastic barista coffee and a tasty grab & go snack or light lunch from Pātaka Café.
A selection of tasty dishes for the perfect quick meal, food truck style. Find the Four Peaks Alley downstairs, an area newly opened to the public. (Peak summer days only)
Mt Ruapehu is an easy drive from New Zealand’s main centres of Auckland and Wellington, with Ohakune being roughly four hours’ drive from either city. Taupō is the closest domestic airport, a scenic one hour 30 drive to Whakapapa or two hours drive to Tūroa. Tourist hotspots of Tauranga and Rotorua are also not far away.
Ohakune and National Park are both main stops on the Northern Explorer train journey which adds another dimension to an exciting adventure. Sit back and relax while you take in the panoramic views along the way.
Mt Ruapehu gets busier on weekends with city visitors and driving up the mountain roads can be intimidating for the inexperienced driver. Luckily there are plenty of local businesses that provide shuttle services or ride shares up the ski field.