Mt Ruapehu visitors asked to 'be courteous' after 'circus' last weekend saw Kiwis turned away

Skifield operators are reminding Kiwis of the capacity requirements ahead of a busy weekend.
Skifield operators are reminding Kiwis of the capacity requirements ahead of a busy weekend. Photo credit: Getty

Tourism operators are urging Kiwis heading to Mt Ruapehu to plan ahead and be "courteous" after mountain restrictions caused chaos last weekend.

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts's CEO Jono Dean and the Department of Conservation (DOC) said they are expecting a busy weekend at Whakapapa and Turoa ski fields.

"With spring skiing on the doorstep, Mt Ruapehu is expecting an increase in visitors over the coming weeks – as long as Mother Nature obliges with snow that is," Dean said.

"This weekend looks set to bring a mix of rain and some cloud to welcome the 2020 spring skiing season."

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts is also encouraging visitors to "stay safe", follow the guidelines set out by the Ministry of Health, and wear a face-covering when using the lifts.

It's also the first weekend for Aucklanders out of alert level 3 lockdown, which is expected to add to the busyness. 

But on Mt Ruapehu, many restrictions still remain in place.

"We are still under COVID-19 alert level 2 which puts a cap on the number of people on the Whakapapa ski-field at 1800, rather than the 5500 it would usually have," a DOC spokesperson told Newshub.

"Shuttle services are limited to 300 people in total. Turoa is also operating at a reduced capacity of 1000."

The restrictions brought havoc last weekend with many tourists missing the capacity cut-off and shuttle buses were forced to turn around at the bottom of the mountain.

One angry woman jumped off a shuttle bus at the Bruce Road barrier arms and verbally abused the road controller.

As a result of the incident, DOC confirmed the bus driver who allowed the passenger off had been trespassed.

"The incident allegedly involved intimidation of roading contractors and staff for access to the ski area and is now subject to a full investigation. Police have also been notified," the spokesperson said.

DOC's urging visitors this weekend to plan ahead and "be courteous".

Colin Baker of Ruapehu Scenic Shuttles told Newshub he expects this weekend to be very busy.

"My phone hasn't stopped ringing," he said on Wednesday. "I've looked at my own website and it's overloaded."

Dean says visitors should pre-book car parking before the weekend.

"Without a car park booked, there are limited alternatives to get to the ski fields," he said.

But the high demand and reduced capacity means many Kiwis have missed out on car parks and shuttle services.

"I have tried for the last three weeks to book a car park for Saturday and Sunday," one disgruntled traveller told Newshub.

"Every time I tried I either could not access the booking system at all or it timed out halfway through and told me there were no more car parks available."

Another customer told Newshub they had already booked and paid for accommodation and planned to drive down from Auckland.

"But we can't get a parking space or shuttle for Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. It's a nightmare."

To add to the stress of bookings, the website for Ruapehu Alpine Lifts crashed on Wednesday morning after a cyber-attack.

"The good news is this attack ultimately failed as our parking system was back online within a few minutes however we can see that this did cause some disruption to your booking journey," the Mt Ruapehu team posted to Facebook.

"For those of you who experienced the downtime during the booking session, we would like to apologise."

They confirmed their cybersecurity team is following up on the attack, and the booking system should now be back to normal.

"We are just halfway through the season and remain optimistic that conditions and access will continue to improve across this time- please remain patient with our teams while this occurs."

Jo Kennedy, the general manager for Visit Ruapehu, is encouraging Kiwis who miss out on mountain parking and shuttles to still visit the area and discover other tourism options.

"We certainly are in strange times and we are grateful that we can welcome visitors under level 2, albeit there have been some teething problems in accessing the mountain due to the restrictions and resulting limitation on numbers," she said.

"We are reliant on tourism for a good chunk of our economy and local employment...Many of our operators are hurting and we very much appreciate New Zealanders' support."

She said there are plenty of things to do in the area including walks and hikes, biking, river canoe & jet boat trips, 4WD adventures, horse trekking experiences, golf, fishing, museums and more. 

"Most importantly there's heaps of delicious places to eat and special places to stay."