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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 7 (October 1, 1934)

Tongariro National Park

page 14

Tongariro National Park

Week-end railway trips to the Chateau have been exceedingly popular this winter, which has been an exceptionally good one for those interested in snow-sports. The running of an afternoon express from Auckland has greatly facilitated travel arrangements, guests leaving the Northern city at three o'clock arriving at National Park before midnight.

An approaching snow storm at Chateau Tongariro, North Island, New Zealand.

An approaching snow storm at Chateau Tongariro, North Island, New Zealand.

The express thundered on and on through the night, wheels clack-clacking in monotonous rhythm, carriages swaying to the curves of heavy bush country south of Taumarunui. The moon rode high above the tall trees, a disc of silver caught and held in the rippling sea of fleecy clouds that raced across the face of the sky…. A sharp, bright night, with the tingle of frost and snow in the air, a night that held promise of good sport at the Chateau next day—if we got through! For the worst blizzard of years had come tearing down from Ruapehu's icy slopes a few days before, and the roads of National Park were buried deep in snow. But the prospect of a week-end's skiing was good enough to send two or three score of Aucklanders hurrying off in a spirit of optimism and simple faith in the ability of the Chateau management to rise to all emergencies. So I dozed fitfully in the pleasantly warmed carriage, and woke suddenly to a glare of hard white light outside. Snow! It lay thick on the fallen tree trunks beside the track, carpeted the ground, and ran in gleaming rivers of white down the steep banks into the gullies. We were nearing Raurimu, a real snow-town, deep in sleep beneath the midnight stars. Strangely white was the Spiral track, all the huge boulders turned into gleaming mounds, the bush streams, rivulets of ink running between wastes of snow and ice. Half an hour later we were crowding into roomy motor buses at National Park, with the white trail of the road glittering beneath the strong headlights.

Many a time had I motored, tramped and ridden down the long, level road from old Waimarino station to Whakapapa, but never had I travelled down a Snow King's way such as we traversed that night! The tussock, the tall spear leaves of the flax, all the roadside shrubs were half buried in snow; the road itself was thickly glazed with ice, and down by the Mahuia cutting, there were road-side drifts eight or ten feet deep. All that day, and the previous day, a gang of men had been shovelling away the masses of snow piled across the road, and our cars were the first to get through without the aid of the tractor.

Through the beech forest beyond the lonely little Haunted Whare ran the white ribbon of the road. Presently the glitter of lights across the snow heralded journey's end, and a few moments later we were in the beautiful Chateau lounge, blessing the kindly forethought that had provided steaming hot tea and an appetising supper on this cold and frosty morning, for it was now nearly one o'clock, and we were chilled and tired.

But nobody was tired next morning. A very few hours of sleep suffice in these invigorating altitudes, and before ten o'clock, the entire stock of skis and snow-sticks in the Chateau equipment room was exhausted. The snow was over a foot deep outside the building; and girls and boys were swooping down the ramp on skis from the front door! We took our first tumbles on the golf course, then gaining confidence, made
Whakapapa, Tongariro National Park.

Whakapapa, Tongariro National Park.

page 15 our way round to the back of the Chateau, through the strip of beech forest, and out on to the Taranaki Road, a flat white track winding through a field of snow that stretched for miles from the base of the three great mountains to the hills on the far horizon.

There were no instructors to make easy the way of the novice; the only ski school in which we enrolled was that of hard won experience, and if anybody thinks this ski business is child's play, not to be taken seriously, let him or her land upside down in a snow-drift with legs crossed, and a pair of seven-foot skis waving hysterically in the bright blue sky above! A few experiences such as this, a few additional spills through leaning too far forward—these are the worst of all!—a few hours pushing up through the snow-covered tussock in order to come swooping down again—well! if by any chance there is a single muscle in one's body that has not been exercised to aching point, it is the root of the tongue! But the appetite one carries in to dinner that night is superb! So we stayed out all day, as pretty a day, as pretty a scene, as one could wish to see, a world of snow and mountains, a singing blue sky, dark forests, league upon league of snowy plain stretching out to the clear blue hills thirty miles away, and up and down the white road, groups of men and girls on skis. Many of them were experts, practising for the Winter Snow Sports, swooping down steep slopes, ducking deftly under crossed snow-sticks, executing stunts and giddy turns, doing all the tricky things that make these sports a show worth miles of travel to see.

But late that afternoon a searching, scolding wind came down from the icy heights, and the tree tops swayed and tossed against a sky of sullen thunder-blue… . A sky of anger and un-ease, the menace of dark clouds piling up all round the wide circle of the horizon, the last of the snow-flakes whipping off the trees; there was no surprise in the heavy patter of rain that started soon after dinner that night. And with the rain, the storm broke, a storm that raged all night, shouting and roaring all round the great solid building, driving deluges that lashed against the windows like a million grey witches' whips.

Next morning the snow had vanished. The ski-track was a thing of sodden desolation, a grey and muddy morass winding through uncovered wastes of tussock. But the forest road across the Whakapapanui was still almost a foot deep in snow, so we trudged a couple of miles up to the roadmen's hut, where a band of enthusiasts was acquiring a few additional degrees of ski-skill. Next morning, they said, they were going right up to Salt Hut; the barometer was rising, it would freeze hard that night, and there would be splendid fun for all up at Scoria Flat.

But next morning I was back in a city office, looking out over the top of my typewriter at a strip of blue sky, shining gloriously over several acres of roof tops and chimney pots… .