|Summer at The Chateau.|
With the New Zealand Herald publishing my article on what is arguably the most famous hotel in New Zealand – The Chateau in Tongariro National Park – I thought I’d head on back. Why not! Only this time it was with the idea of doing a Summer At The Chateau photo essay to see what this alpine setting is like in the warmer months.
Click here to read my Herald article based on my couple of days there in early September. The article is about how I’d always wanted to visit The Chateau since I was a kid.
Here’s the opening paragraph:
“A fluoro-blue swimming pool housed in an underground wartime infirmary, a location without peer, rumours of hauntings, secret passageways, a cinema, a place the Queen once stayed and for decades, New Zealand’s most luxurious hotel. How could you not love The Chateau?”
I’ve long been a fan of its architecture (Georgian, built 1929) and how the hotel sits amidst snowy mountains, rainforest and semi-desert landscapes. At 1100m above sea level it has a real fairytale feel and I had to scratch the itch of what it would be like to stay there.
Turns out The Chateau is far more interesting and even eccentric than I imagined and if you go with the right frame of mind it’s terrific fun.
Returning to The Chateau in December and this time around I could actually see out of the Ruapehu Lounge’s huge floor-to-ceiling windows. The lounge itself is quintessential 1920s opulence with the chandeliers, open fires, grand piano and draped crimson curtains. It doesn’t matter if the weather is rough because inside is so ambient.
That said, seeing Mt Ngarahoe (2291m) for the first time filling the windows out one side of the lounge was some sight. I’d done the acclaimed Taranaki Falls walk that heads out in the direction of Ngarahoe in September but hadn’t realised the mountain was right there as I couldn’t see more than a few dozen metres in the mist. Even then the walk was outrageously beautiful.
For Summer At The Chateau I did the Taranaki Falls walk but as it’s a loop I did it the opposite way as from what I’d done before. Unlike September I didn’t need several layers with just jeans and T-shirt perfect, though you’d be foolish not to have a backpack with a jacket just in case.
Roughly two hours and either way on the loop is grand with its mix of enchanted-feeling rainforest, tussock and snowcapped mountains. And with good weather the clear views down the gentle slope towards Taupo were so varied in colour, whether it’s shades of yellow and rust for the tussock or different shades of green for the fields and trees. This really is one of my favourite short walks in New Zealand and the waterfall / midway point isn’t underwhelming as so many bush walk waterfalls can be.
Making use of the mild weather I also did the two and half hour Silica Rapids walk which is on the Mt Ruapehu (2797m) side of The Chateau. This takes in similarly remarkable landscapes to the Taranaki Falls walk but substitutes a caramel-coloured silica terrace instead of a waterfall.
After a lunch I hopped in the car and did the short drive + bush walk to the Tawhai Falls (15 minutes from the carpark, surrounded by rainforest, very pretty) before feeling the pull back to the hotel that got me here in the first place.
If you click below you can watch my YouTube video tour of the McLaren Suite – the second top room at The Chateau after the spectacular Te Hue Hue Suite. This is where I stayed once again for my two nights and I never tire of the pointless joy a private living room in a hotel suite seems to give me.
Pulling myself away from my suite it was down to the 460 square metre Ruapehu Lounge to dine, enjoy a glass of wine and listen to the pianist play songs next to the Christmas tree.
So what is Summer At The Chateau like? Well when the weather behaves it’s mild enough to be occasionally hot. Still make sure a coat is close by, but be prepared for short-sleeves too which is a contrast to winter when the entire hotel can be blanketed in snow. And whether it’s hot or cold, the open fires still burn in the grand lounge to create the atmosphere most customers expect.
Even in summer it’s still worth driving up to the Whakapapa ski-field just south of The Chateau to see patches of snow amidst an almost apocalyptic rock terrain. From here you can further marvel at the incredible mix of vegetation (or lack thereof) in such a relatively small area.
For a non-skier or snowboarder like me but as someone who loves bush walks, a good view and hotels with a story to tell, Summer At The Chateau is quite wonderful. Once again, thanks to Gareth and the team for looking after me so well. Click here to visit The Chateau’s official website. Here are my top 50 Summer At The Chateau photos:
Summer At The Chateau