Family holiday at the Chateau
Marianne Falconer and family hit the Grand Chateau for a holiday, and discover hidden gems in the Tongariro National Park.
You know you’ve had a good family holiday when your eldest says, “I want to buy the Chateau so that we can go back there whenever we want!”. Dreams are free, right?! The Chateau Tongariro Hotel, on the other hand, isn’t, but it is available for a very reasonable nightly rate.
Adventure is part of our family’s DNA, so we always look for a holiday destination with lots of fun outdoor activities. When planning a family holiday, my mental checklist goes something like this: outdoor fun, rainy day options, trail runs so Dad can blow off some steam, and good restaurants and cafés so I can have a weekend off food prep. The Chateau and surrounding Ruapehu area had all this on offer.
When thinking of kid-friendly destinations, the Chateau doesn’t immediately spring to mind, but the fact that it has an in-house cinema with daily screenings of kids’ movies as well as an indoor plunge pool gave me peace of mind that the kids would have plenty to do, even if the weather turned to custard.
The Chateau Tongariro Hotel, which turns 90 this year, is one of New Zealand’s most iconic buildings. She sits grandly at the foot of Mount Ruapehu, amidst the Tongariro National Park. When we arrived in our family suite, the first word out of my toddler’s mouth when he looked out the window at the view of Mount Tongariro was “Volcano!”. Not only is the place a history lesson in and of itself, but looking out the window is like watching a National Geographic show unfold before your eyes.
My husband and I love a good road trip, although they’re admittedly a little harder to navigate with young kids in tow these days! When we were offered the chance to take a brand new Mazda CX-8 AWD diesel for our Ruapehu roadie, we grabbed it – armed with a constant supply of snacks and colouring pencils to keep the kiddos happy. One of my favourite features of the Mazda CX-8 is the inbuilt sun shades in the rear doors, so when Frankie started complaining about the sun in her eyes, I could easily flick them into place from the passenger seat.
To get my excited kids to sleep the night before our holiday, my number-one bribe was the promise of visiting an alpaca farm the next day. It also served as useful material for keeping the kids entertained during the three-hour drive from our home town of Tauranga to Taumarunui. The kids started asking “Are we there yet?” before we even hit the Kaimais (that’s about 20 minutes of driving!) Fortunately, we whiled away a decent amount of time guessing what noise an alpaca makes (there’s a new song right there!). Turns out, alpacas don’t say ‘al pa ca pa ca pa ca’, but make a unique humming noise instead.
At Nevalea Alpaca farm, Cohen (two), and Frankie (four), were immediately attracted to the animals’ fluffy coats and gentle natures. The kids were undaunted by the alpacas’ size (bigger than a sheep, but smaller than a cow) and we got to walk the alpacas, feed them, give the babies a bottle and even hold a one-day-old baby alpaca. Cohen took a real shine to the baby, wrapping his arms around it and did not want to let go; we eventually managed to untether his arms from its neck! The place is seriously off the scale when it comes to cuteness: there are bundles of fluff on legs everywhere and my kids thoroughly enjoyed their newly acquired ‘super power’ of leading the obedient alpacas around the farm.
Alpacas grow a luxurious fibre renowned for its softness and long-wearing nature, which attracted Nevalea owners Leonie and Neville Walker to farm them. Leonie and her daughter Kellie now design, knit and sell beautiful hand-crafted garments onsite, and a group of ladies from Taumaranui have a knitting club where they get together and knit baby clothes.
Nevalea Alpaca farm is the largest alpaca farm in New Zealand with over 900 alpacas and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. It makes a great alternative if the mountain happens to be closed during your next family snow holiday.
The staff at the Chateau were all incredibly accommodating and gracious when our family swept through the place like a tornado. (I really thought they might ask us not to publish this article because we were possibly all the family they could handle for one year, but no, they graciously met all our needs). Meanwhile, the elderly couples vacationing there looked at us like they wanted to ‘rent a grandkid’ for cuddles – clearly that wasn’t happening, but you know the vibe – we were the entertainment! One lovely couple encouraged us with “Well done you, so good to see you’re not putting life on hold because you have small kids.”.
The hotel’s buffet breakfasts fuelled our family for practically the whole day. The kids loved the carrot and beetroot juice and Frankie discovered Nutella and croissants. The staff were very accommodating, even making Cohen dairy-free scrambled eggs both mornings.
The weather was forecast to pack in, so Saturday morning we prioritised a family walk. Tongariro National Park attracts over 120,000 international visitors every year and has been named a UNESCO Dual World Heritage Site, thanks to its majestic volcanic mountains, lakes, rivers and native forest. Home to the famous Tongariro Crossing, it also has smaller family-friendly hikes. We opted for a short 20-minute walk to the Tawhai Falls at the foot of Mount Ruapehu, meandering through beech forest to a breathtaking waterfall. Thankfully, the viewing platform was enclosed so Cohen (aka ‘Cliff Hanger’) was well-contained.
From here we zoomed around to Ohakune for lunch at a local café and let the kids burn some more energy off at the Carrot park – a firm favourite in the kids’ memories.
After a busy morning in my active wear, I was looking forward to changing into fresh attire and retiring to ‘our Chateau’ (as the kids had started referring to it!) for high tea. We sat in the nostalgic Ruapehu lounge, decorated with chandeliers, sumptuous curtains and period furniture, enjoying champagne while the kids sipped on juice. I puffed my feathers with pride that my kids were eating salmon sandwiches from the tiered cake stand – so cultured! Next minute, Cohen decides to stretch his legs. While walking along the top of a low room divider, he trips and falls. Nothing abnormal about falling, that happens every day, but this time he falls onto an art deco floor lamp and said lamp goes flying – smashing into a thousand pieces.
Why do I always get the giggles in moments like this? I tried to show a profusely concerned look on my face (which was how I was genuinely feeling, as well as shame) but the giggles kept emerging awkwardly. The Chateau staff were immediately on deck cleaning up the broken glass and assuring us it wasn’t a problem. The gracious customer service was greatly appreciated, and we continued our high tea with a sense that we were still welcome. Phew!
LITTLE ROCK CLIMBERS
Sunday was a blustery day with wind and rain, so we visited the rock-climbing wall at National Park Backpackers. They set us up with harnesses and carabiners and showed us to the beginner walls. It was our first time with little kids, so I approached the eight metre wall with trepidation. Frankie, however, blew me away, clambering up the wall like Spider Woman, and Cohen enjoyed swinging from the ropes. Then the hubby and I took turns climbing the wall, so we all got our climbing fix.
CALLING US BACK
I’d grown up gazing at the Chateau, as my family often drove past it to go to the snow. I saw it as a regal building, an elusive jewel sitting at the foot of Whakapapa, far from reach. Now, having stayed there, I realise it’s in a similar price bracket to the baches we book for holidays, but with the added benefit of room service, supplied linen, housekeeping and a porta-cot on request. These things made packing so much easier. The day before going on holiday is always intense, so anything that reduces the packing stress is worth its weight in gold! Speaking of gold, maybe we’ll start saving ours in case the Chateau ever comes up for sale – Frankie would happily chip in her pocket money! And speaking of savings, re-fuelling the CX-8 AWD with diesel at the end of our road trip cost a mere $57 – not bad for a round trip to Ruapehu.
A big thanks to the Ruapehu region for their hospitality:
The Chateau Tongariro Hotel, chateau.co.nz
Nevalea Alpaca Farm, nevaleaalpacas.co.nz
Visit Ruapehu, visitruapehu.com
Walking tracks thanks to DOC, doc.govt.nz
Family wagon courtesy of Mazda, mazda.co.nz
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 46 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW