The evocative moniker attached to National Park, 15km west of Whakapapa Village, belies the overwhelming drabness of this tiny settlement – a dispiriting collection of A-frame chalets sprouting from a scrubby plain of pines, eucalyptuses and flax, with only the views of Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe to lend it grace. The place owes its continued existence to skiers and trampers bound for the adjacent Tongariro National Park, and paddlers heading for Whanganui River trips.
Accommodation is in great demand during the ski season – when prices rise substantially – and can fill up from Christmas to the end of January. Pukenui Lodge, SH4 (Tel:0800/785 368, Web: www.tongariro.cc ; Price: four-shares no linen $25, doubles/twins $100-129, chalet $200-249), offers a lounge and kitchen with great mountain views, a spa pool, and a range of accommodation from dorms and doubles to a three-bedroom chalet (sleeps 7; 2 nights minimum). Similar standards apply at Howard's Lodge, Carroll Street (Tel:07/892 2827, Web: www.howardslodge.co.nz ; Price: dorms $22, rooms $50-69, deluxe rooms $100-129), which has two accommodation sections – one catering to backpackers, the other offering a plusher kitchen and lounge for better-heeled guests. Alternatively try the excellent National Park Backpackers, Finlay Street (Tel:07/892 2870, Web: www.npbp.co.nz ; Price: camping $14, dorms $22, rooms $50-69, doubles $50-69), with outdoor hot tub, good facilities and Internet access, and notable for being built around an excellent indoor climbing wall ($10, plus $3 for boots and harness). Last but not least is The Park, corner of SH4 and Millar Street (Tel:07/892 2748, Web: www.the-park.co.nz ; Price: dorms $30, rooms $70-99), an 82-room hotel complex with a bar and restaurant.
The lodges serve breakfasts for guests, while for main meals try steaks and bar-style meals at the rowdy Schnapps Bar, on SH4, next to Pukenui Lodge, or fish and chips and a jug of beer at the National Park Hotel on Carroll Street. The Station at the railway station is the high-class option, serving café-style dishes and lovely cakes before morphing into a formal restaurant in the evening, while Eivin's, at the corner of Carol Street and SH4, offers large portions of Kiwi favourites from 4pm (mains $18–30).