Chateau Tongariro Hotel
Which trips include a visit to the Chateau Tongariro Hotel?
Timeless North – 6 days, Auckland to Auckland.
Pristine New Zealand – 13 days, Auckland to Queenstown.
The history of the Chateau Tongariro, like New Zealand more broadly, is short but tumultuous. The fascinating Georgian style building is pleasing to look at, finished in soft pastel colours, and deliberately (if not perfectly) symmetrical. The Chateau was designed by kiwi architect Herbert Hall, and was modelled on the Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada.
When you see photographs of the striking building you feel beckoned to go and explore – perhaps it is the hotel’s position below the imposing hills of Tongariro National Park, or the buzz-cut lawns of the golf course out front? Or is it the juxtaposition of the building and the landscape? It’s difficult to say for sure, but the Chateau has an undeniable invitation about it; add to that its fascinating history, and the Chateau Tongariro is probably the most desirable accommodation in New Zealand.
The national park of Tongariro is New Zealand’s oldest, it was established in October 1887, and covered, at the time, 26.4 square kilometres (10.2 square miles). Today the national park has an area of 786 square kilometres (303.5 square miles), and is managed by the Department of Conservation.
The land on which the Chateau Tongariro is built was gifted to the people of New Zealand by the local iwi (Maori tribe). The gift consisted of the peaks of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, three mountains considered sacred to the Maori population; it was made to ensure the area would be forever conserved and protected. Whether or not the building of a hotel on the gifted land equates to conserving and protecting is a debate for another day, but what it means for the Chateau today is that it is within a UNESCO World Heritage site, and that’s a heck of a selling point!
The proposal for a hotel on the site was made by the National Park Board, a government group, to encourage tourism in the area, and the project was taken up by Rodolph Wigley after 4 years of very little interest from contractors. Wigley, who was the managing director of the Mount Cook Tourist Company, found Fletcher Construction Company, and once the contract of work was signed, the foundation stone was laid on the 10th of January 1929. Amazingly, the building was completed by the 1st of August the same year, at a cost of £78,000 (USD$105,200).
The dealings of Rodolph Wigley, in the process of obtaining and guaranteeing the funds required to build the hotel, are still hotly debated. However, it is widely accepted that Wigley reneged on a promise to pass on the majority of the government loan of £60,000 to Fletcher Construction for services rendered, and instead passed on only £10,000. The difficult timing of the Depression meant that tourism could not be relied upon to repay the debt, and so in February 1931 the Tongariro Park Tourist Company was placed in receivership – and the hotel spent the next 60 years or so changing hands.
Chateau Tongariro was taken over by the National Park Board, and shortly afterwards was commandeered by the government to serve as a disaster relief zone and shelter following an earthquake in Wellington. Following that the hotel served as a place for returning military personnel to rest and recuperate after service in World War II.
Due to disappointing tourism numbers, and concern for the growing number of tourism assets obtained by the New Zealand government, the Tourist Hotel Corporation was formed in 1957. The purpose of the Corporation was to manage the government’s growing portfolio of hotels, and encourage growth in the tourism industry. By this point the New Zealand government was in control of at least nine large hotels.
The foresight to introduce a scheme offering substantial assistance from the government, to new hotel developers, led to large hotel chains opening in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown, and Dunedin by 1963. Coupled with the rapid growth in international jet air travel, New Zealand tourism was now in a far better position, and the government could begin to step away from its involvement in accommodation – in 1990 the Chateau Tongariro Hotel was sold to Malaysian company Oriental Holdings, and control passed to KAH New Zealand – their local subsidiary, with whom it remains today.
During the hotel’s most recent ownership it has been extensively refurbished to a beautiful, luxurious standard, and has had a new forty-room, five-storey wing added. The stunning location and the striking neo-Georgian design are undeniable draw cards for tourists to New Zealand’s most sought after bed-nights, however, we think you’ll agree that it’s the story of a place that really brings it to life – and that has never been more true than in the case of the Chateau Tongariro Hotel.
The Ruapehu lounge at Chateau Tongariro (image courtesy of Chateau Tongariro)
Chateau Tongariro below Mt Ruapehu (image courtesy of Chateau Tongariro)
A cosy drawing room at Chateau Tongariro (image courtesy of Chateau Tongariro)
Afternoon Tea looking out at Mt Ngauruhoe (image courtesy of Chateau Tongariro)