The Pinnacles Restaurant at the Knoll Ridge Chalet on the Whakapapa at Mt Ruapehu

Imagine gliding in air-conditioned comfort to the upper slopes of Mt Ruapehu - in just five minutes, any time of the year.

Now you can with the brand-new Sky Waka gondola at the Whakapapa resort on Mt Ruapehu - and having tried it, we can confirm it will truly transform the visitor experience on the mountain.

The $25 million gondola opened in July and is the longest in New Zealand travelling 1.8 km up the northern slopes of Mt Ruapehu from the base of the Whakapapa ski field to the Knoll Ridge Chalet.

With 50 cabins, the Sky Waka can transport 2,400 people an hour across Mt Ruapehu's rugged volcanic landscape. Along the way, passengers can enjoy spectacular views through floor-to-ceiling windows of steep valleys, snow-capped peaks in winter, waterfalls and even neighbouring volcanoes, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.

Each cabin accommodates 10 passengers comfortably with ease and features internal ski racks and leather seats.

For skiers and snowboarders, the Sky Waka provides fast and easy access to upper slopes of the ski area including the Delta and West Ridge chair lifts, and the Valley, Knoll Ridge and Far West T-Bars.

The gondola is also open year-round for sightseeing trips making the upper mountain accessible to a wider range of visitors than ever before.

Once at the top visitors can enjoy breath-taking views of Mt Ruapehu's awe-inspiring Pinnacles Ridge, the valley below and across the central North Island from the Knoll Ridge Chalet - New Zealand's highest eatery at 2020m above sea level.

The revamped Knoll Ridge Chalet boasts a range of dining options. The upscale Pinnacles (Ngā Tohu) Restaurant serves buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner along with afternoon tea, while Pātaka (The Larder) offers barista coffee and an à la carte menu of café style cuisine.

The Four Peaks Alley meanwhile has a selection of foodtruck-style grab-and-go meals, located in a brand new refurbished downstairs area of the Chalet.

The Sky Waka and Knoll Ridge Chalet are now open all-year round. 2019 season pricing for return sightseeing gondola rides are $49 for adults and $29 for children aged 5 to 17. Sledding and dining packages are also available. For more information visit: https://www.mtruapehu.com/sky-waka