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Queen’s Birthday weekend was the date set to do the only thing I actually had on my bucket list when I first received my terminal cancer diagnosis. It proved to be an incredibly special weekend not just for me, but for all of my children and the five of my six grandchildren.

For a start the weather was brilliantly fine with cloudless blue skies which were the perfect backdrop for the breath-taking beauty of the snow covered mountains. See photos below. Some of us arrived at the Tongariro chateau just before 5pm on Friday and were also treated to the spectacle of the windows of the chateau glittering like gold in the setting sun.

None of us really knew what to expect as although we have gone skiing on Mt Ruapehu most winters, none of us had ever been inside the chateau. Also our ski trips are nearly always to Turoa rather than Whakapapa. I spend most of my time on the mountain on the beginners’ slopes and I have always gloried in being able to spend time in what for me is such a sacred place. At the age of 52 I had even managed to climb to the top of Mt Ngauruhoe, and have also been to the top of Mt Ruapehu. But sadly, I won’t ever get to do the Tongariro Crossing.

We were all immediately won over by the luxury and service provided by this wonderful place. A few days after my return home during a phone call from my mother I learned that my parents had honeymooned in the chateau in 1949. I was able to tell her that yes, the large fireplace in the lounge area was still there and it was still framed by the enormous paintings of the pink and white terraces.

I had booked bed and breakfast accommodation packages for us all, and our long and leisurely breakfasts were one of the highlights of our weekend there. We were absolutely spoiled for choice and you could even make your own smoothies.

On Saturday morning after breakfast we all headed up the mountain. Because the ski season was still a month away we were able to park at the top carpark and have fun in the snow around the buildings. It was a beautiful sunny day and we all had a great time. Some of the grandchildren had not been in snow before. Unsurprisingly the first snowball was thrown not by any of my grandchildren but by son number 3 (see video below). He scored a direct hit on son number 1 who, as usual, was busy videoing us all. And then of course we all joined in.

After an hour or so we traipsed into the café and had lunch. In the afternoon we did a short walk to one of the waterfalls. This was followed by time in the plunge pool in the basement area of the chateau for the grandchildren and repeated trips between the sauna and plunge pool by son number 4, an activity he indulged in on all three days. Sunday followed a similar pattern although some of us chose to forgo a second trip up the mountain in the morning and lounge in the luxury of our rooms instead.

We had booked the restaurant for dinner for both Saturday and Sunday nights to ensure that they would be able to cope with all 14 of us, and on both nights we assembled in the lounge at 5.30pm for drinks. The view of Mt Ngauruhoe in the setting sun from the huge arched window was simply stunning. As I have noted previously, my family tends to be a rather rowdy bunch, and on the second night as we filed in we found that we had been placed at a large table at one end of the restaurant. Juliet, our waitress on both nights, was very attentive, and coped well with being at our beck and call. I think she had been told that this was a bucket list event. However, I am sure she had never experienced hearing bits of some of the unusual conversations that occurred at our table.

On the Sunday evening, much to my astonishment, my son-in-law began by waxing long and lyrical about childbirth and it proved very difficult to shut him up. He ended the evening on one of his favourite topics – his time as an animal rights activist in his youth and the evils of zoos.

On the Monday, after another fabulous breakfast, we began the journey back to Auckland, having shared the most wonderful weekend we have ever had together. It had been a perfect and memorable weekend in a very special place with my much loved family. Another reminder of what a lucky woman I am.

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