Spiralling to the Chateau

I didn’t get much sleep last night. I got up soon after putting the light out to turn the air conditioner on. They had it at 16˚, which I thought sounded a bit cold, so I turned it up to 18˚, but when D.C. got up at one point during the night, I also got up and put it back down to 16˚. I didn’t notice any difference.

I know I dozed off a couple of times, but it wasn’t for long.

We got up at 5.30am, got washed and dressed, and then went upstairs to the Vue restaurant for breakfast. And then promptly came straight back down again to get my camera. The sky was clear, there wasn’t a breath of wind, the light was beautiful, and the Spirit of New Zealand was motoring out in the harbour. I knew I should have taken my camera up. I even mimed it to D.C. as we waited for the lift.

Breakfast was nice, but expensive (as we thought it was going to be.) Fresh melons, fresh pineapple, Weetbix, yoghurt, apple juice, toast, butter, marmalade. And the view. Shame about the tall buildings blocking it.

We came back down and finished getting ready to leave.

Our taxi had just arrived when I got downstairs and the driver was very helpful, even though he couldn’t get his boot to open. We got here in time and, as we’re part of the Pukekohe Travel group, were directed to offload our bags at the luggage car, and then go through the first door after that – to carriage D. We did this, and it was almost full with our group members. We thought we were early! We found a seat and made ourselves comfortable. They came around and ticked our names off.

9.30am they came around with morning tea – tea/coffee/ hot water and a muffin.

Saw a New Zealand Wheelbarrows wheelbarrow hard at work. I think it was a Tradesman XP, with the flats free wheel.

As we went past Ngauruwahia, there were three people waving to us in a paddock. The kid waved and then turned and mooned us.

Coming out of Te Awamutu there was a worker in a yard. He had his hose firing full blast into the air as a salute to us – he was also waving.

Just before Te Kuiti, I went out onto the observation car, and remained there, until 12.00. When I returned to my seat, my lunch was there. – small filled roll, mandarin, grapes, savoury, cheese and crackers. So I scoffed that down.

We stayed in the car and listened to the commentary during the Raurimu Spiral – or that spiral thing, as one guy said. The only problem is, we think the commentary’s out of synch, because she talks about the cutting between the tunnels before you even enter the first tunnel. Then you’re told to look back at Raurimu, but you haven’t got there yet.

We got into National Park about 1.10pm, where we disembarked. They offloaded our cases, which we had to collect and take to the bus with the luggage trailer. I would have thought that, as we were given red ribbons and name tags for our bags, it would have been quicker and simpler for someone from Pukekohe Travel to take control of that, rather than have all of us wait around.

We got on a bus and travelled the short distance to the Chateau Tongariro, including past the gate where we nearly lost Kally, when we visited here with Pen in 2011.

People are right. The Chateau Tongariro does seem to loom up out of nowhere. The bus pulled up and there were two valets waiting outside, looking very dignified in their uniforms, and I felt very underdressed.

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We went through to where all our room keys (key cars) were laid out and got our keys and went up to our rooms – this time room 603. Our bags arrived a short time later. Sadly, we’re in the newer Tongariro wing, not the historic, haunted, original wing.

It’s a nice, roomy room, with a roomy bathroom, but people are right. It is looking a bit tired. The hand basin and toilet flush are both cracked, and it doesn’t seem to be quite the same level of quality as the Grand Mercure, but it’s still very nice. All the toiletries are called Forest and Bird and the manufacturer donates a portion of sales to the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. No endorsement by the society on the packaging though.

D.C. wanted to show me a short walk that she’d done when she’d been to a Forest and Bird conference in the Forest and Bird hut, so we (with a stop off at the i-Site) found that and had a wonder. The beech forest with all it’s mossy, odd-shaped trees, is beautiful. The i-Site said we might see some Whio (Blue Duck) in the stream, but no such luck.

When we’d arrived all the mountains were in cloud. When we went for this walk, Ruapehu, behind the Chateau, was revealed in all its snowy glory.

Back to the Chateau and we had a shower (That’s not a shower. It’s a massage!) and got into our Christmas dinner clothes. I’d been tossing up between my flapper outfit, since the Chateau Tongariro was built in 1929, or red blouse, Christmas waistcoat, black “formal” skirt, and freshly made macramé Pohutukawa necklace. Both outfits used my flapper shoes, so that wasn’t a problem. In the end I went the Christmas route, and I didn’t regret it. No one else made a real effort to do anything, aside from some flashing earrings and some were even wearing clothes that wouldn’t have been dreamed of being wore in the Chateau’s heyday. Very casual jeans, t-shirts, sandshoes etc.

Ngauruhoe came into view, clear as a bell, except for the cloud wafting from the summit…

There was a happy hour before dinner and the two of us were just sitting together, when Frank Beech came over. He’d been on the last rail trip we’d done to Napier and “Gisborne” (and had seemed to do all the work) and kind of remembered us, so we had a chat. When the time came to go to dinner, he told us to go down first and choose our table. He then suggested that we sit at the table that he and John and Wendy Graham, the other organisers, had reserved, so we did. Along with three and another couple from Auckland.

The meal was nice but, aside from the Christmas crackers (I got a steam roller and my joke was “What do you get when you cross a cow, a sheep and a goat…? A Milky Baa Kid.” D.C. got a train and her joke was: “Where do young fish go in the morning…? Plaice School.”) and attractive table decorations, it didn’t feel that Christmassy. The food was nice with ham and potatoes and salads, but it just felt like a good buffet meal. Not a Christmas dinner. No one else had made much of an effort to dress to celebrate the season.

There was soup, hot ham, hot beef, hot chicken, prawn salad (I gave D.C. the prawn I put onto my plate), comb honey, orange glazed pumpkin, and all sorts of other mains like mussels and some kind of fish dish.. Desert was two kinds of ice cream (the orange was nice), Christmas pud (rectangular and pre-sliced), fruit salad, apple pie (2” square), carrot cake (ditto), banana cake (ditto), Jaffas, Pineapple lumps, Pavlova. It was all very nice and filling. Also, because it was buffet and we weren’t waited on, it didn’t feel Christmassy.

Part of the tour is made up of about 46 members of the Howick RSA (Returns Services Association) Line Dancing group. So they put on an exhibition. Line dancing seems to be something that would be more fun to do than to watch.

Once that was over we came up to our room, with a stop off to listen to an excellent pianist. I don’t know how good his singing was, as the piano overrode it, but I wasn’t complaining. He belting out a very energetic version of “Hotel California”.

It was an enjoyable day, but it doesn’t seem like a group tour. Just a lot of people heading in the same direction. We haven’t got name tags, so we don’t know who else is in the group, and there’s been no introduction of/by the guides.

But it’s fun.

I tried to decide which socks to wear tomorrow. I’ve bought a couple of pair of black merino/synthetic. One pair I wore today. The other pair I was planning on wearing tomorrow. They both look the same. They are both getting thin at the toes. And, bizarrely, they both smelt the same. I couldn’t tell them apart and by the time I’d checked and rechecked, I’d lost track of which pair was the pair that I thought was more likely to be clean. Good stuff, merino. My shoes are merino too, so that probably helped.

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