The crater climb is only suitable for fit, experienced, and well equipped people who can make effective judgments about alpine and volcanic hazards. If you are unsure, travel with a guided party.
The unformed route up Ruapehu to the crater is not marked, and is in high altitude terrain - the crater lake lookout point is at 2672 m.
The terrain is rugged volcanic rock in summer, and snow and ice in winter. You must be confident finding your own safe route up and down the mountain.
The following descriptions are simplified route guides from Whakapapa Ski Area up to Dome Ridge, from where you can view the crater area. The descriptions are a guide only and not adequate as a navigational aid. Refer to Tongariro National Park map 273-04, or Topo50 map BJ34 Mount Ruapehu.
Option 1: Walk the whole way
Time: 7 hr return
Distance: 10 km
Begin at Iwikau Village, Whakapapa Ski Area at the top of Bruce Road, 6 km up from Whakapapa Village on SH48. Walk up through the ski area to the top of the Waterfall Express chairlift at Knoll Ridge. Return via the same route.
Option 2: Take the Sky Waka gondola part-way
Time: 5 hr return
Distance: 7 km
Take the Sky Waka gondola from Iwikau Village to Knoll Ridge (2020m above sea level). Begin the walk from there.
Dome Ridge In Summer
There are two standard unmarked routes from Knoll Ridge. The valleys between the ridges on these routes are lahar paths. If a siren sounds when you are in a valley, head for higher ground.
Via Knoll Ridge
The most commonly used early summer route, when there is snow still present in the valleys, follows up the left-hand side of the Knoll Ridge T-bar line, and continues up the valley above the last T-bar pylon. At the head of the valley climb up onto the ridge behind Glacier Knob. From this point follow the narrow foot track zigzagging up the side of and long Dome Ridge.
Via Restful Ridge
The second route is recommended when most of the snow has disappeared in summer. From the top of the Sky Waka gondola travel to your right past the Knoll Ridge T-bar pylons and over to Restful Ridge. Stay on Restful Ridge as you climb towards the crater area. You will go up a series of rises. At the top of Restful Ridge there is a more open face. From this point follow the narrow foot track zigzagging up the side of and along Dome Ridge.
In winter either route can be taken relative to current snow conditions and avalanche risk.
The area of Mt Ruapehu around the crater is a high risk zone.
Dome Ridge Caution
Dome Ridge is narrow and steep in places and can be very icy in winter conditions. Do not continue if you have to walk on ice and do not have an ice axe and crampons with you.
Venturing down into the crater area off of Dome Ridge is not recommended, as there is increased risk from both volcanic and alpine hazards.
Dome Shed houses seismic equipment used to monitor the volcano. It is NOT a hut or shelter for people to overnight in.
Returning down the mountain
It is recommended to backtrack on your way down, taking the same route as you took on the way up. This minimizes the chances of becoming lost.
If you are taking the gondola back down from Knoll Ridge, remember it stop running at 4pm daily and earlier if weather conditions deteriorate during the day.