New Zealand’s newest and most exciting on-mountain tourism experience has opened to sightseers today.
The new Sky Waka gondola travels 1.8 km through one of the North Island’s most rugged and spectacular landscapes, on the slopes of volcanic Mt Ruapehu. The ride, which passes waterfalls and snowtopped peaks, will be equally as spectacular in the summer months, providing a whole new gateway and accessibility to the UNESCO Dual World Heritage status of Tongariro National Park and the Whakapapa Ski Area.
The gondola travels from the Top of the Bruce base area directly to the Knoll Ridge Chalet (2020m above sea level) and, at peak times, is capable of transporting 2,400 people per hour over the 1.8 km in approximately 5 minutes.
Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) CEO Ross Copland says it’s a proud and exciting moment for the RAL team and the whole of New Zealand: “Sky Waka is one of a kind in New Zealand and will transform the mountain visitor experience lifting it to a whole new level.
“Sky Waka also brings with it a huge economic boost for the local economy through accommodation, restaurant and other sightseeing activities, and also opens up a lot of job opportunities for locals all year round."
Sky Waka has 50 gondola cabins with floor to ceiling glass for breathtaking views, internal ski racks, audio and lighting and individual leather seats.
Each cabin accommodates 10 passengers and even the tallest skiers will be able to stand upright in the cabin with more than 2m of internal clearance.
Until the upper mountain ski fields open for the 2019 winter ski season, Sky Waka will only be operating for sightseeing. Once riders reach Knoll Ridge Chalet, they can experience the magnificent views of the Pinnacles and valleys below while dining in three newly redeveloped hospitality areas which is "a breathtaking dining and sightseeing experience," Copland said.
The Sky Waka project has been made possible by a loan provided through the New Zealand Government's Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) which funds projects supporting regional economic development growth.
A bite to eat
The Pinnacles Restaurant (Ngā Tohu) boasts breathtaking views with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the Pinnacles and the valley below. The new buffet breakfast and dining options include afternoon tea.
Pātaka (The Larder) offers fantastic barista coffee and an à la carte menu offering classic New Zealand café style cuisine.
Four Peaks Alley has a selection of tasty dishes for a grab-and-go meal, foodtruck style. It is located downstairs in a newly refurbished area.