“We’re on mountain time up here – we’re about an hour behind the rest of the world.”
And with those words, Peter Mischefski lets his visitors know they’re in for a unique experience at Ngāti Ruanui Stratford Mountain House.
Peter and wife Alie manage the popular hotel, restaurant and conference centre, nestled among native plants, alpine forest and birdlife on the slopes of Taranaki Maunga, 14km from Stratford, in central Taranaki.
“It’s an amazing place,” says Peter of the stunning setting, 846m above sea level, with the mountain so close it appears within touching distance.
“The location makes it very, very special, as does the connection Ngāti Ruanui has with the maunga and the people. It’s restful, tranquil, peaceful, quiet, and secluded here.”
For more than 120 years there has been accommodation for tourists on the Stratford side of Mt Taranaki, initially in the form of a basic shack on the plateau, and then a cottage in the hotel’s current location, further down the mountain.
A bunkroom barn followed, before it was torn down in 1977 and a new complex built, including separate chalets.
In 2010 the complex, situated on original Ngāti Ruanui iwi rohe, was bought by Ngāti Ruanui Holdings, the investment and economic development arm of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Ruanui Trust. The trust was established to oversee and manage the assets of the iwi’s settlement with the Government.
Ngāti Ruanui carried out extensive alterations to modernise the restaurant, café, bar, kitchen and entrance, and now the hotel boasts 10-room, 22-bed luxury accommodation, a 30-seat award-winning restaurant, and the ability to cater for a 50-person
Profits from the mountain house go towards a range of activities that directly contribute to the health, wellbeing and support of the Ngāti Ruanui people, such as grants to marae, onsite training and education grants, the funding of doctor consultations, and sponsorships of gym classes.
Peter, who has been in hospitality and the food industry for much of his working life, says managing the hotel is a privilege.
“I grew up near here, and went to school just down the road. It’s an honour to be here, and work amongst this beauty,” Peter says.
“The maunga represents the most sacred of ancestors to Ngāti Ruanui, and it is a sacred and beautiful place for all to enjoy.”
While the slower pace is attractive to visitors, the mountain house is surrounded by some of Taranaki’s most popular outdoor attractions – walks through the Goblin Forest, Dawson Falls, and Egmont National Park, and skiing at Manganui Skifield.
The mountain house’s reputation for high-quality food, service and accommodation has grown, with bookings often being made 12 months in advance, which Peter puts down to the commitment and skills of the 15-strong staff.
He says Taranaki has a strong hospitality scene that succeeds through a combination of proud, ambitious operators and inter-industry support.
“When one or two places raise the bar, everyone else follows,” he says.
“We also work together really well and are supportive of each other. The future of the region, and for hospitality, is very exciting.”