Chateau Tongariro

Having passed Chateau Tongariro as we arrived at Whakapapa village, we were eager for a peek inside. The neo-Georgian structure was completed in 1929, constructed of reinforced concrete but designed to resemble a traditional Georgian brick building. With the onset of the Depression, the anticipated tourism boom failed to arrive and in 1932, ownership was transferred to the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts which ran the hotel for the next 26 years. When the numbers of skiing tourists declined during World War II, the Chateau was commandeered as an asylum in 1942 until, three years later, Mount Ruapehu erupted and the patients were evacuated to Auckland. It then served as a rest and recuperation centre for returning Air Force personnel and eventually reopened to tourists in 1948.

The resort now has a nine hole golf course, fitness centre and spa as well as magnificent mountain views.

Despite extensive refurbishment over the years, the 1930’s style had been retained.

We settled into the comfortable chairs in the Ruapehu Lounge and ordered coffee, marvelling at the impeccable décor and wishing we were having cocktails instead.

Had we planned ahead, we could have indulged in High Tea in the adjoining  Ngauruhoe Room with another spectacular perspective of Mount Ngauruhoe.

Mead’s Wall

Having returned to the base of Mount Ruapehu on Sky Waka, we followed the signs to explore Mead’s Wall, named for William Perrett Mead, the first to reconnoitre the Whakapapa valley and subsequently form the Ruapehu Ski Club in 1913. The wall didn’t look particularly impressive from a distance but the 25 metre high west face has eight rock climbing routes for those who wish to indulge.

We walked the easy trail to the side of the wall, wondering how (or why) anyone would climb it.

Looking back across the ski field, chalets dotted the barren landscape that becomes the beginners run, Happy Valley, when covered in snow.

The east face of the wall presents a sheer drop of 45 metres, a little more challenging for those thrill-seekers with ropes, helmets and jelly legs

We were more excited to be standing in the vicinity of memorable Mordor scenes from The Lord of the Rings. These volcanic rocks, cliffs and ash were the location of Emyn Muil, the mountainous area where Frodo and Sam become lost on their way to the Black Gates of Mordor and first meet Gollum.

Beyond Mead’s Wall, the river valley wends its way through the Whakapapa Gorge, toward the conical shape of Mount Doom, I mean Mount Ngauruhoe.

Back to reality, as we were leaving a solo rock climbing lesson was just beginning, I couldn’t bear to watch.

Whakapapa

Tongariro National Park was a scenic forty minute drive from our haven at Motuoapa Bay. New Zealand’s first national park, Tongariro was gifted to the people by Te Heuheu Tukino IV, the Paramount Chief of local Māori tribe Ngati Tuwharetoa, in September 1887. The 80,000 hectare park is centred around three sacred volcanic peaks. A lookout on the way to our destination, Whakapapa Village, rewarded us with views of Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, the latter (on the right) may be recognised by The Lord of the Rings fans as Mount Doom.

From this height, the sweeping panorama across the Central Plateau was spectacular.

We parked the car at the village and considered our options, deciding on the Sky Waka gondola ride and buffet lunch combo. Mount Ruapehu is the centrepiece of the national park, the North Island’s highest peak is home to the largest ski field in New Zealand. The terrain in March is quite different to that during ski season, it is hard to imagine the Rock Garden Chairlift conveying skiers on the advanced beginners run.

The $25 million Sky Waka gondola opened in July 2019 to transport 2,400 people an hour, a distance of 1.8km, up the northern slopes of Mount Ruapehu. It really didn’t feel as though we were travelling at 6 metres per second.

Back to The Lord of the Rings, scenes of Mordor were filmed on the rugged landscape of Whakapapa ski field and the slopes of Mount Ruapehu, including the scene where Isildur cuts off Sauron’s finger.

Our ride culminated at Knoll Ridge Chalet, a multi-storey eatery built in 2009 to replace the original café that was destroyed by fire earlier in the year.

The magnificent Pinnacles Ridge was shrouded in cloud when we arrived and it was a bit cool for alfresco dining.

The Pinnacles Restaurant was warm and welcoming, the extensive use of timber created the feeling of a traditional mountain chalet.

Lunch at the highest restaurant in New Zealand, at 2,020 metres above sea level, was delicious.

Mount Ruapehu is the largest active volcano in New Zealand and has three major peaks. There is a beautiful carving representing Paretetaitonga, the peak that wards off the southern winds.

By the time we finished lunch, the clouds had lifted from Pinnacles Ridge

and Sky Waka was the only way down

with more stupendous scenery to absorb.

The Great Divide

The Lyell Highway traverses Tasmania from Strahan on the west coast to the capital city, Hobart, in the south. Driving the 300km through the West Coast Range and Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park along the tortuous route is both tiring and exhilarating. On an unusually straight stretch of road, about 75km past Queenstown, we noticed a couple of cyclists taking a break at a small roadside rest area and stopped to investigate. We learned from the information board that this was the point of The Great Divide. Tasmania is divided into two distinct regions when it comes to climate, geology and vegetation and this divide is known as Tyler’s Line (named after Peter Tyler, a Tasmanian limnologist). The west has higher rainfall, poor acidic soil and the strong westerly winds of the Roaring Forties. The vegetation comprises rainforest, moorland and wet sclerophyll along with rugged mountain ranges.

1.westward2.westward

Frenchmans Cap is the highest peak in the West Coast Range, named because of the similarity to the shape of the Liberty Cap worn during the French Revolution.

3.Frenchmans Cap

To the east of the divide, conditions are much drier and warmer with lower rainfall and more fertile soil. From our vantage point, the King William Range rose majestically on the horizon, similar in shape and geology to the more famous Cradle Mountain.

4.King William Range

Made up of three separate peaks, named Mount King William I, II and III,

5.Mt King William I6.Mount King William II7.Mount King William III

the King William Saddle is equidistant from Tasmania’s three major cities – Hobart (190km), Launceston (186km) and Devonport (193km), each one a three hour drive. Fortunately, we were only 10km from our destination of Pumphouse Point.

Lake Plimsoll

Our trip to Pumphouse Point earlier this year gave us the opportunity to travel a road we hadn’t been before. Anthony Road, built as part of the Hydro Tasmania scheme, leaves the A10 five kilometres south of Tullah and reconnects just north of Queenstown. I had been advised by a work colleague to stop at Lake Plimsoll lookout for some spectacular views, it was very good advice.

1.Lake Plimsoll

In 1994, the Anthony River was dammed by the Hydro-Electric Commission and the 340 hectare lake was created.

2.Lake Plimsoll

Named for Sir James Plimsoll, the Governor of Tasmania from 1982 to 1987, it was the last major dam constructed by the Commission.

3.Lake Plimsoll

Beyond the lake lies the Tyndall Range, an area marked by the course of  glaciers in the last Ice Age. It seems fitting that it is named in honour of Irish physicist Professor John Tyndall, who had a special interest in glacier motion.

4.Tyndall Range

The sharp peaks of the range contrast with the gentle arch of Mount Tyndall, composed of Owen conglomerate from the Ordovician era, about 480 million years ago.

5.Mount Tyndall

We wandered down to the water’s edge, the sunlight sparkled on the surface. Stocked with brook trout, the lake is a popular fishing spot. I can imagine spending a few hours afloat, though I prefer the company of a good book to a fishing rod.

6.Lake Plimsoll