Mid 20’s sunny.
Taxi down to the station to catch the train to Tongariro National Park and Chateau Tongariro - our first (and only) posh hotel. There are others at the station, phew! After a long wait - delayed by an hour - sound familiar? We take our allotted seats and find ourselves sat next to an lovely elderly French couple, Frederick and Claire, escaping the Parisian winter. They speak perfect English but on finding we speak (a little) french, immediately revert to french as it is a rest for them. After discussing Brexit and Macron, and in the light of les gilets jaunes, they ask Graham what he would change about the French system. Oh heck, where do we start? Break the unions, decrease cost of employment, simplify the tax system, oh what a merry hour we passed. Carol looks out of the window.
We passed through a rural station where the employee of the week was allowed to greet us - or was it a punishment for the least performing employee? - either way this is what they looked like...
Views from the train were lovely, and then from the shuttle bus, the view of our hotel comes into view, with the majestic volcanic Mount Ruapehu ( 2,797 m, 9,174 ft ) in the background - thumbs up from Claire.
Chateau Tongariro was built in the 1920’s and has the air of a once very grand hotel which is in need of some renovation. However, it is very comfortable and the service is excellent. Sadly what looks to be an old grass bowling area and small golf course are now totally run down but do provide a nice walking area.
Views the other way showed Mount Tongariro (1,968m, 6,455 ft ) and Mount Ngauruhoe (2,291m, 7,514 ft )
Both Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe are active volcanos. Mount Ngauruhoe last erupted in 1996. There are signs on buildings with eruption escape guidance - thankfully the hotel is deemed a safe area.
Views of Ngauruhoe and Tongariro frim the hotel grounds.
It was 3pm, and because we had coffee and cake on the train we’d skipped lunch, so it was a nice surprise to have a complimentary cream tea.
Our room - a cut above what we’re used to.
Our room - a cut above what we’re used to.
A short walk and a stroll round the grounds followed by a sauna and a swim for Graham and a long soak in a full size bath for Carol and then dinner. Lovely old dining room with proper service. We choose monkfish in fish chowder with asparagus and squid ink gnocchi and a really nice bottle of wine, and then breadgate happens. Graham asks for a bread roll to mop up the chowder. Waitress scurries off... chef says no... How about some wholemeal bread then? more scurrying... chef says no, no wholemeal. White or focaccia. Focaccia then please. It is horrible. We eat some but only because we asked for it. Other people looked to be having nice bread which we later discover is a $15 extra on the a la carte menu (we’re on the table d’hote)
Tongariro National Park is a ski resort in winter, and a hiking destination in summer. There is a famous Tongariro Alpine Trail, an arduous 18.5kms (8+ hours) hike with spectacular views across volcanic craters. Often described as THE best one day hike in NZ. A whole industry of shuttle buses and hostels has developed to service the hikers. There are longer circular walks across all the summits which take days, hiker’s resting huts are scattered amongst the mountainsides.
Next day, lovely breakfast and then off for a nice walk - 6kms, through forest, turrock (scrub) and rock - about 2+hours round trip to a waterfall. ( Carol’s phone app says 9.3 kms and 16,000 steps at the end!)
The Taranaki Falls plunge over old lava flow from a previous eruption that occured thousands of years ago!
Mountain now obscured by clouds
Weather was very changeable - sunshine start, drizzle higher up, and then sunshine again when we got down. We decide to eat our packed lunch in a small nature walk close to the hotel by a stream. We had requested a packed lunch prepared by the hotel - it was enormous - 2 rounds of sandwiches each, 2 bananas each, a large bag of trail mix, 2 large bottles of water each, barley sugars and first aid plasters - we left 1 of the lunches in the room fridge - that’s our picnic lunch for tomorrow sorted. Obviously the hotel thought we were doing THE day trail!
The scenery is superb - not surprising to hear that scenes from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films were filmed in the National Park area.
Another sauna and swim and then time for dinner. This time we go for a cheaper white - Cloudy Falls, which is very nearly as good but $15 cheaper which allows Graham a glass of cab sauv with his steak. Tonight the dinner is stupendous, beetroot smoked salmon followed by beef fillet with beef cheek, cauliflower puree, potatoes. It was cooked to perfection. (Another review by GT bon viveur extraodinaire!)
Sat 19th Jan.
20 degrees, sunny.
Saturday we do a little shopping at the excellent tourist information centre before catching the shuttle to the station.
A fantastic mural outside the tourist centre.
There is a brilliant little cafe next to the platform, but independent of the station, which appeared to be used by locals as well as tourists, the meals and cake selections looked delicious. We enjoyed a proper coffee sitting in the sun overlooking the platform. Probably the nicest station cafe ever. We are really looking forward to the 5 hr scenic railway journey which we’ve been told is spectacular.
Rumour is it that the train is being replaced by a bus. Denied by our shuttle driver, but believable as Fred and Claire had earlier told us that their train ( due in 2 days) is now going to be a bus.
While we wait for the train due just after 1pm, Megan the shuttle bus driver (who also does the Alpine Trail shuttle), and is here to pick up arriving passengers, gets a call asking for advice. A hiker on the trail has twisted an ankle and cannot walk - telephone the police is her reply, and let the helicopter deal with it. The helicopter is a free service she tells us. You pay for ambulances but not for helicopters.
The train eventually rolls in, one carriage short. It seems that one carriage is broken and everyone catching the train after Auckland is going by bus, including us. Fantastic! - Six hours on a coach. Our longed for ( and paid for) scenic journey of a lifetime ruined. The train manager explained to us, a couple from Sheffield, a couple from Sweden and a young man from Manchester with a bike, that we would be refunded our money, apologising to us as we stood on the platform with our luggage, forlornly watching the train pull away with the lucky Auckland passengers crowding the observation carriage leaving about 30 empty seats through various carriages flaunting their luck!
What seemed like an age later a bus arrived - not the most modern of the fleet, to transport us to Wellington. The picnic lunch we had taken with us did not have the same appeal huddled on the worn bus. After a 30 mins regulatory stop for the driver en route we arrived in Wellington just after 7pm - the drizzly misty weather that greeted us matching our mood.
So we passed on walking the streets of Wellington and after checking in, headed for the hotel bar to drown our sorrows....bloody Kiwirail.
Tomorrow is another day and we’re flying to the South Island!