Chateau Tongariro Hotel to remain shut while earthquake resilience assessment continues

"It certainly will have an effect over winter."
"It certainly will have an effect over winter." Photo credit: Supplied

By Jimmy Ellingham for RNZ

The Chateau Tongariro hotel looks unlikely to reopen its doors any time soon while its earthquake resilience is assessed.

Now in the hands of the Department of Conservation (DOC), it is being treated as a seismic hazard. The director of a nearby resort says the uncertainty has left a clear gap in the tourism market ahead of the peak winter season. That is unlikely to change as DOC seeks to clarify the Tongariro National Park heritage-listed landmark's seismic rating.

Long-term leaseholder Kah New Zealand withdrew from the chateau in February, and the building returned to DOC's stewardship.

Sam Clarkson, director of nearby Skotel Alpine resort, said its absence was huge.

"It certainly will have an effect over winter, from the accommodation perspective for the public, rather than just ourselves.

"Where it will affect us is in the ancillary services offered by the chateau, which is the pubs and the restaurants, which are now closed. But, people will still need somewhere to eat, and they're going to be knocking on our door."

Clarkson said that might sound good, but Skotel was already at capacity. It's actually pretty unpleasant for everyone concerned, looking for somewhere to eat, and we really aren't capable of meeting their needs because we're already full.

"We can't just put 500 people into our restaurant. It doesn't work like that."

Kah's 30-year lease expired in April 2020, but it continued running the chateau until this year. When doing due diligence about a possible lease renewal it sought a seismic assessment, which found concerns. However, the report's exact contents are not known.

"What needs to happen is to understand what's going on with the seismic report - something that nobody's seen - and get a handle on just what state the property is in, and make appropriate decisions," Clarkson said.

He was clear about the effect of the indefinite closure.

"It just makes the place run-down. There's ongoing ripple effects to local families because they don't have jobs. It's negative all round.

"It's an iconic building and needs and deserves to be run - hopefully by a New Zealand entity - to put the love into it that it requires."

A cafe attached to the Grand Chateau Tongariro that is also closed.
A cafe attached to the Grand Chateau Tongariro that is also closed. Photo credit: RNZ

Still waiting on seismic assessment

Ruapehu mayor Weston Kirton said DOC was doing its own seismic review of the chateau.

"We're waiting with some anxiety in that respect to see what level of earthquake strengthening is needed for that particular building.

"Once we get those results then they'll be discussions with DOC as to where to from here."

Although the short-term future was uncertain, it appeared there was interest in the chateau long term.

"We know that there are a number of people interested in this operation and they are meaningful people that have some experience in hospitality and the hotel business, so we know that they'll be engaging with local iwi and other stakeholders," Kirton said.

In a statement DOC's deputy director, general organisation support, Mike Tully confirmed it had received inquiries from interested parties. He said DOC would be in touch with them when it was able to discuss the chateau's future.

"We are currently working with the former lessee [Kah] to finalise matters relating to the previous lease. We are also gathering information about the condition of the chateau, including its potential seismic risk," he said.

"Once we have resolved outstanding conditions with the former lessee and have more information on the condition of the building, we will be in a position to make decisions about the building's future."

That information included its seismic status.

"Until we receive a detailed seismic assessment, we do not know the seismic risks with the building. We are currently treating the building as seismic hazard until we know more."

Kah had not provided DOC with its seismic assessment.

Tully said DOC was working with Kah on end-of-lease arrangements, so could not comment on whether the parties had reached an agreement on how to deal with Kah's improvements to the building.

Chateau still being maintained

Meanwhile, the chateau was not being left to decay.

"We have commissioned an assessment of the building's condition, which will inform immediate repair and maintenance work. We have maintenance staff working Monday-Friday, covering off routine maintenance checks and responding to urgent issues such as leaky pipes."

Tully said the golf course on the property was being kept in a "tidy condition". The chateau's chattels belonged to Kah. "We have offered to support Kah to sell items with high heritage value, such as the Carl Kahler painting of the pink and white terraces, to a public museum."

RNZ contacted Kah's parent company Bayview International for comment, but has not heard back.