When we arrive a bit later than expected in the evening, we immediately experience the great service at River Valley Lodge. The staff saved us our evening meals and take us to the restaurant which has a big open fire place in the center greeting us with a roaring fire.
You will probably find groups of young backpackers having dinner and sharing the restaurant with you, because a bus brings them every day. We are surprised by the efficiency of the lodge in handling such a group. Most of them are attracted by the world-class half-day white water rafting trip with 10 major rapids over 11 kilometers. Don’t worry though; the lodge doesn’t just focus specifically on these groups and encourages families to come over as well.
You will find the perfect escape from normal life at the River Valley Lodge on the banks of the Rangitikei River. Originally the lodge was only open at the weekends. It is not a typically luxurious or stylish place; in fact, the lodge was originally built by the owner himself. Today it hosts 4 generations of the Sage and Megaw family and is a delightful, natural accommodation for everyone and it is open every day all year round, even in Winter. Once here, you will recognize that what the lodge provides is unique and found nowhere else in New Zealand. The family and staff here work with a real passion for the place. The family leads the staff in a family relationship, creating a team that sure want to let guests experience the best.
There are a range of accommodation options from backpacker style bunk rooms, to campsites, through to deluxe suites perfect for a romantic weekend away. The suites are the Garden Deluxe Guest Room and Riverside Deluxe Guest Room. Or ask for a larger family room: with a private bathroom, king sized bed and two sets of bunks, this room can be a great hideaway for a night or two if you are taking part in one of the lodges’ family adventures. If you have older children, you might choose the “Paua” en-suite room, and arrange to put the children in “Seaglow”, a small bunkroom next door. An appropriate solution for both children and adults. Each bunkroom sleeps 6. Of course, they are ideal for travelling on a budget, and the view from every room’s front door is just as stunning as the next, with native forest, the Rangitikei River, and a waterfall opposite that cascades several hundred feet down to the river. We are travelling with a camper van and camping is even possible at the lodge for a maximum of two nights.
The next day we enjoy breakfast: a choice of continental or cooked. And soon after we go white water rafting. Now we certainly understand why the buses return every day as the lodge and especially the rafting are such an awesome, wild adventure. With our two girls, now 8 and 10, we choose the scenery rafting. We go with a group of 8, all families. The water level appears to be a bit low this time of year, therefore we take 2 two-men rafts with our big raft. An experienced guide will show us the best route to follow and we look forward to controlling our own raft. As soon as we are on the water, we need to practice what to do and not to do when you fall in the water. Not for nothing: almost all of us end up in the water during our journey. Which is alright for us: we love the adventurous part of it. Or in the words of the Managing Director Brian: “Sometimes it’s just good for the soul to go and get scared shitless!”
So, don’t assume it’s only scenery on the ‘scenery rafting’ trip: the rapids are exciting enough for the two-men rafts and paddle we do! Several times we have to walk a bit. No worries, it gives an excellent opportunity to float on our backs on the river. The low water level makes us do more technical maneuvering to avoid bumping into a trench or getting stuck on the bottom. The trip is amazing, we are out there from 9 to 3 in the afternoon and even our youngest enjoys it the whole day. Although the trip is challenging, we have plenty of time to admire the surroundings: being on the water gives us another great point of view of New Zealand.
With children 5 years and up, consider the Fantail Canyon Overnight Rafting Trip with a night in a tent and several short hikes to spectacular waterfalls, safe swimming holes and beautiful campsites. This is a fun trip for all the family. Or you might choose the Mokay Canyon Multi-Day River Rafting Trip with two overnights. This setting was used in a scene from the movie Fellowship of the Ring.
Soon after the rafting we meet Jamey Harrison, Operations Manager and granddaughter of the original owners. She introduces us to her two daughters ready to play with ours. The girls are just lovely and eager to learn some Dutch words. The river beckons them and soon they jump off the hill on the other side into the water. The water is still fresh from the mountain, but the fun part wins over the cold. By the way: use repellent to prevent the water fleas from pouncing on them.
Afterwards they are spoiled with the warm spa pool and warm showers. Adults might also book the sauna or a massage if wanted. Jamey’s informal approach is exemplary for this lodge: as guests you experience this open and welcoming manner that makes us feel right at home.
On our second day we again join together for dinner in the restaurant. It’s just lovely: all good homemade, traditional country style, fare and plenty of it. And you can actually taste that it is natural, healthy and “real”. The River Valley Lodge believes in serving ethical, local and environmentally-sustainable food. Their onsite organic vegetable garden supplies many of their vegetables. Actually, the food is a good example of the beliefs of the Lodge about the holistic nature of what the Lodge does and how they operate protecting and being part of the environment. Try the half-day experience “Garden to Table Cooking Classes” to learn more about it. And there’s a bunch of initiatives throughout the lodge to protect the environment. No wonder the lodge is a member of the New Zealand Tourism Sustainability Commitment.
The following day starts with our next adventure: horse riding and Jamey and her girls join us for this. The Lodge has a van ready to take us up to the stables where horses take us riding for 2 hours. Of course, Menno and I are given stronger horses than the girls, but all the horses are a pleasure and delight to be around. They are safe and respond magically well to the riders level of experience. Also, we are guided very professionally: helpful yet sensitive to our requirements. And, we mustn’t forget while writing about these stables and incredible horses to mention the scenery, which is amazing, including herds of sheep along the way. Can’t get enough.
Yet, we need to leave sometime. And better to do it in style: the road up is simply too steep for our camper van. Again, this isn’t a problem, it seems this happens quite often and we are helped up by Brian's 4WD. Another adventure!
# The family approach is a real unique selling point, we absolutely love it.
# Saddle and Paddle: both rafting as horse riding here is an experience we must repeat and we sure encourage you to do the same.
# River Valley Lodge offers multiday trips by raft or horse with overnights in a tent or lodge. We are sure our girls would have loved that as well. Or even better: what about a 7-day horse riding holiday? No need to visit the Lord of the Rings Museum: you are riding right through it here.