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
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.