Better than the beach…


As we near the end of the 2017 snow season, I took the opportunity for one last run on the free bus that has run from National Park Village to Whakapapa skifield this season.

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Signage is still non-existent: even with the special restrictions on signage in the Village, this is a little too minimalist. There was no indication where to go from SH4, and no sign that this was the right place to be for the bus – nice coffee and cake inside while waiting for the bus though…

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The car park still needs work. Even for a transport ‘experiment’, this is pretty rough – at least it’s not still covered in ice.

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The bus was a nice new 22-seater with rear bins for skis, poles and boards which otherwise might become hazardous inside – people have to be encouraged to use them though, otherwise it defeats the purpose.

It’s about a 20 minute drive from National Park Village up to the ski field – sit on the right side of the bus for great views of Ruapehu. One of the best things about catching the bus is that it drops you right at the top of the road and you don’t have to worry a. about navigating up from the car parks, b. getting skittled while navigating up from the car parks, or c. finding the car parks have filled and the road has been closed after you’ve departed National Park Village in the car.

Get the bus!should have been the RAL mantra this season. I’m not sold on the idea of the free (with caveats) bus although I’m most happy to use it while it’s there. It’s not clear what RAL was trying to achieve with this experiment when there is already an existing solid transport infrastructure  on the western side of the Mountain. If the problem it sought to address was inexperienced drivers on the approach roads, then reducing the number of car parks at the Top of the Bruce and allowing the existing transport operators to carry the load (literally) would have mitigated this hazard, especially if coupled with an effective information campaign.

Enough with the logistics though…a glorious bluebird day…and not too busy on a Friday, although everybody was bracing for a big weekend…!

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Lorenz cafe and Vertical Retail front, ticket sales and lost and found (more on this later!) on the right. getting a ticket was fast and painless – the big screens over each counter display most of the information you need…

The first lift up to Knoll Ridge cafe goes from the left of the shop/cafe building…an easy walk in the snow…regardless of the day, though, be warm for the lift…

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Looking back at the top of the first (Rangatira) lift…

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…and walking towards the Waterfall Express lift for the final leg up to Knoll Ridge…

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There’s a short slope from the top of the Waterfall Express down to Knoll Ridge cafe…this needs a little care if it’s icy and also being aware of skiers and boarders around you in various states of control…

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Coffee!! Yes!! And, contrary to much of the social media cry-babying, prices are reasonable…in fact, no much different from those at the Station cafe while I was waiting for the bus…

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Just plant a chair in the snow and enjoy the view north…

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…and over my right shoulder…I think I dropped my lift pass when I paid for my coffee – you don’t need one to get back down but you do need one for the bus home to stay free – no drama, the young lady at the counter just smiled and handed me another: I am probably neither the first nor the last…

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Starting back down on the Waterfall Express – an image cleverly cropped to eliminate the fingers that filled most of the frame: I may have been a little worried about dropping my phone…I could happily have stayed another hour but I had a mission to complete before heading home…

A fried had been skiing with a mate a few days earlier…”post-ski beers” had prevented her mate clearing his gear from his locker in Happy Valley…could I please see if I could recover it for him? Armed only with my wits and what might have been the locker number (it wasn’t), I set off…

Happy Valley is the big success story from the Whakapapa 2017 snow season. The beneficiary of a multi-million dollar investment, it was able to open a month earlier than the tradition first week of July (and that usually with crappy rock-studded snow). The enabler for this early opening was a new-tech snow-maker that’s able to operate effectively in temperatures up to 24 degrees C. Thus not only was snow guaranteed for Queen’s Birthday Weekend, it was guaranteed to be rock-free…

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Looking down into Happy Valley from the plaza area in front of Lorenz’ and Vertical…the new elevators on the left and a far sharper means of ingress and egress; rentals at the base on the left and the revitalised Bistro cafe on the right; in the left distance is one of the new magic carpets to bring punters back up to the top of the Valley, on the right is the old chair lift that will hopefully disappear over summer.

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The top ends of two of the carpets…very smooth, very slick…

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…looking back up the elevator tower…

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…and the outside dining area in front of the Bistro…

So…my mission…onwards…actually it was pretty simple. I explained my challenge to the nice staff at the rentals counter in Happy Valley – again, not the first time they’ve managed this issue – once they were satisfied with my bona fides, senior staff member bypassed the locking mechanism to open what we had determined was the actually locker in question. I was soon in possession (thankfully temporary) of a Hunting and Fishing top, and some stinky sox and runners…

Getting the bus back to National Park is a little more complex than getting to Whakapapa…there aren’t any more signs but the staff are really helpful and make sure everyone knows which bus to aim for…

The Transit bus back to National Park was packed, not even standing room only. With the weight of skis, boards, boots, etc on a busy day, I wonder how close they get to overloaded..? I also wasn’t too fussed about the number of people carrying their ski/boarding gear on the bus with them: untidy in the event of an accident…

Strangely after all the hype about needing a valid pass for the day for the return bus to be free, there were no checks at the ski field or the transit stop in Whakapapa Village. I’d heard that this was the case with some drivers and I wonder why a ticket check is a. hard and b. how much this added to the total loss generated by this season’s ‘free’ transport experiment…?

As days go, my day on the mountain was great…blue skies, no wind, good coffee and awesome views… #betterthanthebeach

(…in fact, so much better than the beach, I’m seriously considering a an early season ticket for 2018…at the current early bird price, it would pay for itself just coffeeing @ Knoll Ridge…)

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Winter Office 2018..?

 

 

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