All students at Ruapehu College are assigned to a whanau group upon their arrival in year 9. Siblings are usually placed in the same Whanau, and students who have had previous family connections with one of the whanau will be placed there.
The 4 whanau, named after native New Zealand birds, are: KIWI, TUI, WEKA and HUIA. Throughout the year students are encouraged to take place in a range of inter-whanau events and competitions that range from the tug of war to Kapa Haka to debating to Squash.
Students gain points for their whanau by participating in events as well as by placing and the whole sytem is set up to encourage students getting involved and trying new things.