National Park: Blending in with the locals

By Rod Emmerson

Tongariro Holiday Park is a good base for summer or winter holidays, just make sure you fill up your petrol first, writes Rod Emmerson.

Tongariro Holiday Park is close to Mt Ruapehu and is a great place to base yourself for skiing or other winter sport activities. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Tongariro Holiday Park is close to Mt Ruapehu and is a great place to base yourself for skiing or other winter sport activities. Photo / Sarah Ivey

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a holiday can go pear-shaped when you don't have local knowledge.

But then even the locals mumble about the operating hours of the GAS service station at National Park. After all, it's the only one for miles, on busy SH4, right on the doorstep of the Tongariro National Park. And its opening hours are ... idiosyncratic.

The only reason I mention this is because I had neglected to ask the locals what time it closed and, as a result, found myself heading for the haven of The Chateau with the car's petrol gauge well below empty, gale-force winds blowing, snow falling, no chains and the sky prematurely dark.

Fortunately, the staff of The Chateau have a different idea of service to the folks at the petrol station and so we slept out the blizzard in comfort and next morning they even found us enough petrol to escape to the second closest service station.

We were here for a three-night winter holiday stay at Tongariro Holiday Park, close enough to Ruapehu and Lake Taupo to make it ideally situated for summer and winter pursuits for all members of the family.

In summer, it would be the perfect base from which to do the Tongariro Crossing or beyond.

But both my boys are mad - no, crazy - about snowboarding so they spent their daylight hours up the mountain, while I took in local walks and cafes or put my feet up and head down in a book.

I'm slightly biased on the subject of the Tongariro National Park because it is one of my all-time favourite resting places and this was my sixth trip to the region in four years. But I thought the camp was an ideal spot for a break.

Owners Greg and Donna Hooper and their young children have been in the area just on two years and see themselves there for life.

When they first took on the business, it was in serious need of TLC but that is well under way and there are also plans to further expand and improve the already perfectly adequate facilities. Although cabin accommodation is basic, it's clean, cosy and, I can assure you, very warm, even in a blizzard.

For a few extra dollars, you can have a room with an en suite, along with endless hot water, which is useful after a day in the snow.

A bonus is the ski-hire shop right next door, owned and run by former staff from the mountain who know the area very, very well, so don't be afraid to ask a silly question or two.

Despite the unkind weather, we were warm, dry, well-fed and managed to make a game of monopoly last the length of our stay.

Judging from the comments by other customers, like the chatty, happy Sydneysider campers in the communal kitchen, the only area of discontent was the weather.

One thing to watch out for is that your Vodafone mobile won't work in this area. But then mine won't work in numerous pockets of Auckland city so what's the difference? And then there's the petrol situation...

Further information: See familyparks.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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