Whakapapa, New Zealand – Guests of the Sky Waka Gondola in the Tongariro National Park have expressed frustration with Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) over the gondola’s no-refund policy. In response, RAL has updated its booking website to clarify that Sky Waka tickets are now “non-refundable under any circumstance.”
Unpredictable weather conditions are par for the course during a winter visit to Ruapehu. However, some visitors have found the refund terms equally challenging to navigate, leading to complaints and disappointment.
The Sky Waka, a 1.8 km cable car that transports visitors up to the Knoll Ridge Chalet at an altitude of 2020m, has been a popular attraction since its opening in 2019. Nevertheless, adverse weather conditions, including blizzards and high winds, have occasionally forced its closure, leaving visitors stranded.
RAL’s terms of service stipulate that no refunds will be issued because Sky Waka tickets are “open-dated,” allowing visitors to return on another day. While this flexibility suits some, it poses difficulties for others whose plans may not allow a return visit.
One such visitor, Doug Chetwynd, an Aucklander, recounted his experience. He and his friends purchased two adult tickets for $59 each on August 21, unsure if the gondola would be operational due to high winds. Upon arriving at the Sky Waka, they were informed that operations were closed, and refunds would not be issued. RAL staff cited the company’s financial situation as the reason for their inability to offer refunds.
Customer services stressed that the no-refund policy was not a result of malice but rather part of a broader company context. Chetwynd and his friends were advised to sell or reuse their tickets before mid-October.
Chetwynd’s frustration was echoed by another tourist who shared their experience on the New Zealand Travel Tips Facebook page. Their visit was cut short by a two-day blizzard, and they too were denied a refund for their Sky Waka tickets.
In response, RAL clarified that its no-refund policy for Sky Waka passes had been in place for many years. They updated their booking website to more explicitly state their ‘no-refunds’ policy and emphasized that the terms and conditions were transparent throughout the purchase process.
RAL explained, “Sky Waka passes are nonrefundable as they can be used throughout the season and are not sold for a specific date. This flexibility means that we cannot provide a refund.”
While the visitors from South Australia who had been unable to use their Sky Waka tickets would receive a refund, future refund requests would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, according to RAL.
Notably, despite being placed into liquidation earlier this year, RAL continued to operate the Whakapapa and Tūroa ski resorts for the 2023 season, thanks to a government grant.
This past weekend marked the 70th anniversary of North Island ski operators, celebrated with twilight skiing and reduced anniversary passes. Close to 14,000 skiers attended the anniversary events at both ski fields, and the $70 midweek passes were in high demand, according to an RAL spokesperson.