Thursday, February 23, 2012

Heading north to Taupo and the Tongariro National Park

After another of Gerard’s big breakfasts, we pack up the car and hear north, towards Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. It’s actually a water-filled crater, and serves as our entrance to Tongariro National Park, which according to our Lonely Planet travel guide, played the role of “Mordor” in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. 

Like we’ve found throughout our travels in New Zealand, there’s no such thing as a straight road here. It’s up and down through winding mountain passes, and today, it’s raining a bit and quite misty, so the views of the peaks right in front of us are often obscured. 

The view from a scenic outlook along the highway towards Lake Taupo 

We miss the turn to our destination and travel a half-hour further until we realize our mistake. It’s not a big deal; we just backtrack and finally end up at the Bayview Chateau Tongariro, a grand old hotel that opened in 1929, and sits in the shadow of three active volcanos, including the towering Mount Ruapehu. 

The Chateau is vast and “old-worldly” – the huge lobby is filled with dozens of upholstered sofas and easy chairs, a grand piano, large maroon drapes, and a giant billiards table. It reminds me a cross between the stately mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, the Mount Washington Inn in New Hampshire, and the hotel featured in the movie “The Shining”. 

A quick visit to the “old” portion of the hotel, deep in the basement, leads us to the whirlpool and sauna facilities – low-ceilinged, dark, shadowy, and more than a little bit creepy. I was about to make some crack about how dank it was until I saw a gentleman sitting in the whirlpool. I wouldn’t get into that pool on a bet.

The Chateau sits in the middle of Tongariro National Park and there are lots of outdoor activities to keep guests busy. But today, it’s raining quite heavily, so the atmosphere is quite subdued. Mark, who’s been doing all the driving, decides to lay low, read his book, and catch a few winks before dinner (the dining room, just off the lobby, looks very fancy – “reservations are essential” a sign warns us). But Peter and I need to stretch our legs so we put on our slickers and go for a walk.

Just up the hill from the Chateau is the entrance to one of the area’s main hiking trails. We’re not on it long before the vistas open up and we get a sense of the park’s natural beauty.


  1. We were meant to stay in the Chateau once when I was a kid, for my parents' silver wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, that was when Mt Ruapehu chose to erupt and we got evacuated! 1994 I think that was. NZ is right on the Pacific Ring of Fire and it's considered only a matter of time before another big eruption. I think the one that created Lake Taupo was the biggest or one of the biggest in "modern" geological time.

  2. What a walk! I would have loved it. The thick vegetation is incredible, and I love being out in nature with so few people around, even if i am wet. Nice.

  3. The Chateau is a "classic", Gwan -- hope your get to experience it, sans volcano, at some point! Must have been scary being evacuated due to volcano eruption, is there really any way of knowing how far you have to get away to be safe? I was mindful of NZ's history and geological "issues", especially during our visit to Napier, where you are continually reminded of its devastation by earthquake 80 years ago.

    Joseph - so glad we did the walk! We had been in the car a long time that day, and it was pouring, but we absolutely needed some fresh air and to "blow the stink off" as my mom used to say when we were kids! Everything was so lush, even just a few short steps away from the hotel. The one thing Peter and I have decided is that WHEN (not "if") we go back to NZ, we need to schedule time for hikes, bike rides and trying our hand at fishing!

  4. It was a bit, although also quite an adventure - you know how kids are. It was erupting gases and lahars (mud flows) rather than fire, so perhaps not as dramatic as you're imagining :)

  5. Nice photos. A bit of adventure for you!



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