Tongariro High Tea

The road out from the Ruatiti Domain campsite, prone to rockslides when it rains. 

 For a second day running, everything is damp. Our clothes are damp. Our socks and shoes are damp. The tent is soaked. It’s still raining.

We spent last night at Ruatiti Domain, one of the few free campsites near Tongariro National Park for those of us not in self-contained vehicles. It was a beautiful mix of field and woods situated next to a river, but heavy rain meant the tent was soaked by morning (even with the rainfly). We woke up damp, ate breakfast in the car with the heater on, and decamped with an irrational haste because really, we couldn’t get much wetter.

Today was supposed to be our big hike; we had planned to trek the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is nearly 20km of mountainous hiking through the park. But when we stopped by the Visitors’ center, the ranger laughed and told us not to bother. “Are we starting too late?” we asked. “A bit,” she replied, “But the bigger issue is the weather. You’re not gonna see anything out there today with these clouds! Just not worth it.”

A taxidermy kiwi in the visitors’ center. Spoiler, this is the only kiwi we will see in New Zealand.

She walked us through a few other hiking options in the area but conceded the weather probably wouldn’t be clearing up anytime soon. “It’s not too bad to hike in!” she told us with a chipper voice. We looked out the window at the rivulets flowing from the roof and the heavy drops hitting the sidewalk. It probably wasn’t too bad if you had somewhere warm and dry to go post-hike. Maybe with a nice shower, and a dry change of clothes. But we only had the car.

And here’s us in the car. Damp.

We dashed back to the car and checked our options. The storm system covered the entire central North Island, so we couldn’t out-drive it to find sunnier hiking elsewhere. We could go back to Kerosene Creek, but that meant a couple hours’ drive back the way we came and would mess with our subsequent schedule. Then we remembered a sign: the swanky Chateau Tongariro, just next to the visitors’ center, does High Tea. And when you’re bedraggled, damp, and dejected, what could be better than a cup of tea?

A few minutes’ later we were in the main lobby of the hotel, hoping the staff wouldn’t throw us out for failing at any dress code whatsoever. They politely handed us menus instead. At $28 NZD per person, it wasn’t cheap. But LOOK at it:

Stoytcho and the Chateau Tongariro High Tea spread

Really, is there anything more comforting on a wet afternoon than two steaming-hot pots of tea and a tower of delicious carb-heavy sandwiches and sweets? No. Nothing.

We luxuriated over the tea for two hours, seeing people come and go. We watched a young family try to keep their toddler from hoarding all of the rocks in the plant displays in her pockets. We discussed life, and how far humanity has come: in the developed nations, we’re so rarely wet or damp for more than a few hours that we aren’t familiar with its misery. We have never known the lives of our ancestors who (with statistically likelihood) toiled or travelled in the rain, or whose roofing almost inevitably leaked and made the home damp. It’s a wonderful world we live in now, free from these discomforts. But on the other hand, after two days of damp chill, hot tea has never felt so warm, so life-giving.

At the end of tea, we glanced out the window to find a lovely surprise. The sky was clearing. Mist still clung to the distant mountains, but the rain had abated and the clouds had thinned. Though we didn’t get to hike, in the distance we could make out a volcanic cone rising out of the landscape. Sometimes, it really is just best to grab a cup of tea and wait out the storm.

A volcano (perhaps Mt Ngauruhoe) emerges from the mist at Tongariro National Park

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