Sky Waka and Skyline Walk

One of the best short walks in Tongariro National Park, the Skyline Walk is a relatively straightforward if steep way to get spectacular views of the park, including the iconic Mt Ngauruhoe.

The track starts from the top of the Sky Waka gondola, which is part of the Whakapapa ski field area. Driving through Whakapapa village the landscape soon changes heading up the side of Mt Ruapehu. This is New Zealand’s largest volcano, and remains active.

A ski village without any snow on the side of an active volcano is quite a surreal sight. There are many ski lodges scattered around the rocky landscape, some relatively new, others not. The majority are owned by various skiing, tramping, and mountaineering clubs from around the country.

The Sky Waka opened in 2019, and takes about ten minutes to travel up to the restaurant complex, 2,020m above sea level. It was easy to get a ten person gondola to yourself, even over Easter weekend.

The restaurant had huge windows to make the most of the huge views.

The Skyline Walk takes 1.5-2.5 hours, climbing up 280m up the steep and rocky landscape. Where it started wasn’t entirely obvious, head to the left out the back of the gondola.

The track is marked with wooden poles, though as they’re unpainted they’re not that visible in the landscape.

It’s a pretty crazy landscape to walk through, with colourful rocks, ski infrastructure, and big views behind.

Climbing up toward the ridge the wind really hit. Even though it’s a short and accessible walk you need to be prepared with layers, and poles were helpful on the way down.

The views from the 2,300m Skyline Ridge were well worth the effort and cold wind. Below was the epic landscape of Tongariro National Park, with Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro prominent.

There would have been hundreds, if not thousands of people walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing below. On the Skyline I saw about 25 people in two hours walking over Easter.

In the distance I could clearly see Mt Taranaki, some 250km away.

Couple of views from the return to the gondola. If you have the time and energy the Waterfalls Descent walk runs underneath the path of the gondola, taking 1-2 hours back down. I suspect if you wanted to save money you could walk up as well, though it’d be a decent walk from there to the Skyline Ridge and back.

Author: jontycrane

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