Sadly for travellers, this hotel trades on its stunning location and past reputation as one of the great iconic hotels of New Zealand (all the rest have been demolished).
We booked late but were assured that rooms were available albeit at some expense. Travelling down from Auckland on the Overlander train (another piece of tired infrastructure) we were picked up promptly by the hotel's mini-bus; all augured well. Unfortunately, at reception we were told that our rooms wouldn't be available for another hour and a half notwithstanding the fact that the check in procedures were slow and slightly chaotic.
In the interim, we enquired as to where we might have lunch and were directed to the hotel's Pihanga Cafe, a soulless couple of over-bright rooms at the side of the hotel furnished with battered Ikea-type tables and chairs. Service was unexceptional but the food, from the hotel's main kitchen, was revolting and overpriced. A palid curry was composed of the toughest meat I've ever tried to bite through, swimming in a luke warm sauce that may, at some stage in its past, have seen a cumin seed. It was accompanied by a couple of wedges of half-defrosted naan, an artfully contrived cone of soggy papadum and a chutney that looked as if it was composed largely of chemical gell spiced up with a couple of raisins. And it wasn't cheap.
The hotel's main dining room, the Ruapehu room, is the sort of institutionalised eating space you can only have nightmares about. The menu seems to have been composed by a City & Guilds graduate from the mid 1970s and was again most notable for the price. We didn't eat there, choosing to go to the hotel's detached Tussock bar which, while serving pretty basic fare, had the saving benefit of relative cheapness, although we had to endure a compilation of loud videos of 1980s pop bands.
The hotel lounge is vast, has wonderful views and, at first impression, quite grand. But then you notice that the decoration is thick with bad overpainting; that the furniture is either battered and stained or replaced with cheap imitations; that the palms are fake and there are strange half-walls in places . The bar staff while, on the whole friendly, are poorly trained and, given the nature of many of their customers (coach loads of package tour tourists from the UK, Germany and Japan), understandably a little disconnected.
The rooms, when we were finally able to access them, were, as other reviewers have noted, clean but tired. The bed was reasonably comfortable but the mattress underlay was long past its use-by date. The overall impression was as if you'd stumbled into a late 1980s hotel with tacky pictures and lots of synthetic upholstery everywhere. Windows were double-glazed and I was looking forward to a long, restful sleep, breathing in clean mountain air, uninterrupted by the sound of internal combustion engines; you know, the reason why you book into a good hotel in the middle of absolute nowhere. Sadly it was not to be: I'd been parked over a generator and that, combined with a particularly noisy mini-bar fridge, kept me awake all night. I suppose I could have watched the television but the screen was too small to see clearly from the bed and, frankly, the quality of the programmes left a lot to be desired. It is perhaps just as well that on the second night's stay we were exhausted by our walk over the spectacular if popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
This is one of those hotels that you wish would fall into the hands of a company that cared about it. Its public rooms need to be looked at by heritage architects and the bedrooms need a total makeover by someone other than a commercial firm; it's somewhat telling that there was a display board in the lobby with fabric samples, etc, referring to proposed renovations. The food needs bringing into the 21st century and the prices need reviewing because they don't reflect the value of what is currently served. The staff need motivating (better accommodation might help, just look to where they're currently housed across the main road), new uniforms (currently 1980s 'mafia' look polyester) and better training. It's all very well being able to contain costs but penny pinching feels mean and nasty in what is one of the most spectacularly located hotels in the world. It's a hidden gem, but, sadly, not in the best sense of the phrase.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Everything we do at the Chateau Tongariro Hotel we believe in providing you with a timeless elegance. We believe that preserving tradition and history is most important and as the hotel is located within a dual World Heritage National Park, conservation and culture are also at the forefront of your experience. Tongariro National Park provides a stunning natural playground bursting with diverse landscapes for visitors to the Chateau Tongariro to discover. Chateau Tongariro provides accommodation, restaurants, bars and conference facilities and is an all-seasons, utterly timeless experience not to be missed. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Bayview Chateau Tongariro Hotel Tongariro National Park
- Bayview Chateau Tongariro National Park