Māori input the missing ingredient for tourism in Ruapehu area

By Jessica Tyson

The Whakapapa ski field on Mount Ruapehu is open and chair of the Uenuku Charitable Trust Aiden Gilbert is hoping for more Māori involvement in the operations.

He says Māori involvement is the missing ingredient for tourism in this area, especially following the impact of Covid-19.

“At this stage, it’s very much the beginning and our lack of involvement in tourism actually shows out there.”

Gilbert says the key to getting more Māori and iwi involved would be by forming a stronger relationship with Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL). RAL operates the Whakapapa and Tūroa Ski Areas on the maunga.

“We’ve been watching for probably too long and to try toget Māori involved, in terms of operations, in terms of tourism, is what we’re most looking forward to at this stage.”

Residents in the central north island town of Raetihi have been struggling to cope with a diesel spill that's shut off their town water supply / Native Affairs - Raetihi

Gilbert says there was a relationship between Māori and RAL but that was tarnished after a diesel spill in 2013 when 19,000 litres of diesel flowed out of a storage tank on Turoa and into the Mākōtuku River, which supplies Raetihi's water.

RAL was prosecuted and fined $300,000 in the Environment Court after admitting charges including failing to notify WorkSafe of the spill.

“We’re still trying to build that relationship close again culturally, environmentally. There’s some responsibility of RAL with DoC as well,” says Gilbert.

Gilbert says his iwi Uenuku is also focusing on their Treaty settlement.

“On our radar is settlement going forward. There are a lot of things that need to be built with RAL. Our relationship is not quite there and we would like that, concerning the environment, concerning the maunga up there, concerning the operations.”

Gilbert says since the ski field has opened people have swarmed to get on the slopes.

“There’s crowds of about 5000 even 8000. Now that we don’t have the influx of overseas visitors I guess that number will settle on something between 5000 people.”

RAL says the booking system to both Mt Ruapehu’s Turoa and Whakapapa ski fields will be open to the public by Wednesday July 8 and in operation by Saturday July 11.

RAL has been approached for comment in this article and is yet to reply. More to come.