Tongariro National Park is home to the most stunning scenery in New Zealand’s North Island. It contains three major volcanoes, Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, which, come winter, are adorned with snow. Nestled at the foot of Ruapehu is a gorgeous 1920s hotel, the Chateau Tongariro. From the outside, it looks almost like a cake with delicate layers of sponge, pastel blue, pink and yellow. On the inside, it’s all red velvet and golden chandeliers, far too opulent for the likes of us, peering sheepishly around in our damp anoraks and hiking boots.
Like many tourists before us, we gaze longingly at the menu of the Ruapehu Room before deciding it’s too expensive. Besides, they won’t let us pass beyond the ornate panes of glass with their gilded letters dressed as we are. We opt instead for High Tea overlooking Ngauruhoe, a friendly alternative for the riffraff, it seems. We book a table for the next day when, hopefully, the weather will be better. So far, the national park has been entirely shrouded in white, which, while pretty in its own way, rather defeats the purpose of coming here.
The next day arrives and we are seated directly in front of the grand Ngauruhoe Window. And we can’t see a bloody thing. This is what Ngauruhoe is supposed to look like:
This is what we see:
Despite the weather, I’m very happy with our High Tea. It is, in fact, the best High Tea I have ever had. Firstly, the tea selection is divine. I can barely decide what to have and when it arrives, it’s with a couple of absolutely beautiful cups. By coincidence, I’m wearing a top with a similar pattern to my cup! My partner can’t resist taking a photo:
The food component of the High Tea is presented wonderfully. Each one of the miniature sandwiches is a taste sensation – fresh salmon, chicken and truffle pâté, etc. – and the morsels of sweets look too good to eat. There’s even a couple of tiny cups containing green tea crème brûlée. I’m in my element. Even the consistency of the miniature scones is perfect.
When I’ve finished eating, I have a snoop around every corner of the lounge. There’s a billiards table and piano; a cosy fireplace and a bookcase. I want nothing more than to curl up with my Alan Bennett book and an endless supply of that posh tea, but I can’t. We’ve got a walk to do. Not the famous Tongariro Crossing, as it’s a tad dangerous to do in winter and, besides, it’d be a waste to do it without the views. Instead, we’re heading out to Taranaki Falls.
Wish us luck.