After a four hour drive from Wellington, when Chateau Tongariro emerged from the mist it was as if we had somehow driven to the middle of Europe. Nestled on its own amongst the mountains the Hotel is a remarkable piece of New Zealand's history and a jewel in the country's tourism crown.
Accommodation and facilities
On the way to our room we passed through the opulent open plan lounge bar. Furnished in rich reds and greens, heavy felt curtains and chandeliers this area was well populated throughout the day. The open fire and large windows with views across the mountains make it an excellent place to enjoy your beverage of choice. The area also has a full-sized snooker table and a grand piano with live pianist.
Our room was in the new wing. Although a little smaller than I might have expected it was nicely styled with dark-stained wooden furnishings and a king-sized bed. The bathroom was modern and functional and the heat pump kept the room blissfully warm. The only real complaint was the small screen TV.
Downstairs in the basement there is a small gymnasium, a games room, a sauna and a plunge pool. The gymnasium is quite small with just a few pieces of equipment but would probably suffice if you were desperate for a work-out. We thoroughly enjoyed our game of Air Hockey in the games room. The sauna was large and well-maintained with beautiful hot scented steam. The plunge pool on the other hand was quite strange and not very appealing. It had a very low ceiling and was swarming with kids. But the worst part of this area was the temperature in the changing rooms which seemed to have no heating at all.
The Dining Room was also a bit cold. The bathrooms were located out in the Lounge Bar and quite a walk from the table. They were quite dilapidated with harsh lighting, cheap fixtures and chipped paint work.
The Hotel has an on site cinema with about 3 screenings a day. There are plenty of old favourites like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Sword in the Stone”. We managed to catch “The Desolation of Smaug” and got to watch it sitting on a large comfy sofa, drinking sparkling wine and eating pate and fish roe that we had brought from home.
We spent a pleasant hour or two before dinner in the Ngaurahoe Room, a little reading room off the Lounge Bar. Reminiscent of a gentleman's club this area had big leather chairs an open fire and an eclectic collection of reading material including old Encyclopedia Brittanica and New Zealand Year Book. I chose a 1966 volume entitled “Expert Skiing” in preparation for my first trip to a ski-field the next day.
We were picked up by a Roam shuttle in the morning for the trip up the mountain and were able to hire all the gear once we got to the slopes. I did think we should have been able to wait for the shuttle in the Hotel lobby instead of being made to stand outside at the end of the drive.
Food and wine
We had purchased a package deal which included breakfast and dinner. Unfortunately this meant we got to have the same cut-down “Celebration” menu on both nights. Because there were only three entrées and two deserts on the menu we ended up having to repeat one entrée and choosing not to eat desert on the second night. I would expect that the menus would rotate to give guests a better variety of dining options.
The food was for the most part tasty, well-cooked fine-dining. We particularly enjoyed the Macadamia encrusted Lamb with Sweetbreads, the Mushroom and Whiskey Chicken and the Apricot Melba for desert. We did find that the food got cold quite quickly and wondered if the plates had been heated long enough.
The pre-dinner and after drink specials were well worth looking out for. The cocktails were well priced and the Martini particularly well made. Unfortunately our first two choices of wine were unavailable with no comparable alternative. This meant there was no Cabernet Sauvignon on the menu to go with the Steak and Duck Liver Pate.
Breakfast was buffet style with all the usual suspects. Fruits, breads, meats, spreads, scrambled eggs, bacon, beans, pastries etc. The Porridge was excellent and the fresh juice extractor was a nice touch. They did need to get the cooked food out quicker during busy periods.
The initial email correspondence about travel to and from the mountain were quite unhelpful. We were essentially told to google information. Not what I expect from a luxury hotel after I've just paid for a booking.
The service once we arrived was very professional and friendly. Although some staff were trainees there were enough more experienced hands to answer difficult questions such as “What is an Apricot Melba?” or “What time is the last bus back from the mountain?”
I have heard that some guests say The Chateau is a bit dated and slightly dilapidated. To me this is what makes it so quintessentially New Zealand. The Chateau wears it's history with pride. It's a place where people can take their kids and they can run bare-foot over the sofas - and they do. It's a laid back, kiwi-batch, four-wheel drive, designer jeans and an expensive checked shirt kind of comfort and opulence. Just go with it.