New $25 million gondola hoped to secure Whakapapa's future as tourist hotspot

A new $25 million gondola has opened on Whakapapa at Mount Ruapehu which can transport up to 2,500 visitors an hour to the top slopes.

As climate change brings uncertainty to skiing areas, it's hoped the gondola will secure the region's future as a tourist hot spot.

"It was awesome, it felt a lot safer," one person told Newshub. 

"I liked how we survived," a little girl said. 

Another visitor said it was nice to come go up and look around. 

Early and heavy snowfall last year saw 289,000 visitors to Whakapapa - but when you rely on mother nature, the ski business is an uncertain one. 

"It's a game changing piece of kit for us which will see a transition to being a 365-day a year business," Whakapapa General Manager Jono Dean told Newshub. 

"Its normally only winter." 

The gondolas also make for a smoother ride, taking just five minutes to get to the top slopes - compared to 18 minutes on the old lifts.

Only 13,000 people live in the Ruapehu District. Mayor Don Cameron says annual snowfall variations makes local businesses that rely on it very nervous.

"We were losing people, so we had to have a plan going forward," Mayor Cameron said. 

It's hoped by 2025 visitors to Whakapapa will rise to 500,000 people. 

"In the past tourism was in a triangle - Auckland, Rotorua, Waitomo - and then go to the South Island. Now that's been extended into a diamond, particularly to experience the gondola," Mayor Cameron said. 

There's been little snow so far this season, but the learners area is open. Lower slopes will open on Saturday with the help of snow machines.  


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