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Although a lot of travellers head straight for the tourist magnet Queenstown, the fast-paced alpine destination is not on everyone’s list. In the centre of the North Island there’s a lesser known stopover, with its very own playground. River Valley; where the beautiful Rangitikei River runs through, is the base camp for the adventure business River Valley Lodge, Rafting and Stables.
“River Valley Lodge sits at twice the altitude of Queenstown, in fact the highest permanently inhabited dwellings in New Zealand are found in our general area (central North Island),” owner Brian Megaw says.
“For some people Queenstown is exactly what they want, not only for the scenery and adventure - ̶ but to be seen. “There’s not much chance of being seen at River Valley.”
“We operate in a friendly environment in a more remote wilderness location than Queenstown. “There’s an emphasis on real connections, rather than short, sharp encounters and must-dos.”
French Canadian rafter and adventurer Derek Klapka doesn’t consider Queenstown is the ultimate destination. He says that the town, being classed as the tourist capital of New Zealand has a tendency to attract a certain impression. “Queenstown has a beautiful backdrop and dramatic scenery, but is fuelled by tourists, with a high staff turnover. “River Valley in comparison is very friendly and staffed equally by foreigners and Kiwis – a blend that he believes works the best.”
Having seen many rivers in 19 years of rafting worldwide “every river is a good river” for this senior river guide. He’s “not a city boy”, preferring to retreat off the beaten track and has been returning to River Valley for 10 years to help lead visitors down the local waterways.
The Rangitikei upstream from the Lodge is a “steep technical river” with a “concentration of rapids”, Derek says. “When people come on trips they have to work. I love this river ̶ you have to guide your boat. The terrain is complicated and consequential and you depend on the other guides for safety, therefore teamwork is a must. And the scenery throughout the river is awesome ̶ on all its sections,” he adds.
It’s a diverse landscape offering a unique stage. Predominantly a grade four river, the Rangitikei continually changes as it passes through steep high country, farmland, bush, and a vertical river canyon carved out of rock. It travels past the highest mountain in the area, Aorangi, which still belongs to the local Maori people. The mountain hosts 5,000 hectares of untouched natural reserve. The journey finishes downstream at the Lodge doorstep. River Valley offers a variety of rafting trips to suit all ages and groups, from half day to 5 days. On the lower river there’s a scenic trip suitable for families.
“It’s a great picture of what New Zealand life is like, in a rural setting and that is what attracted me to it,” he says. Derek and the other guides know the community well, offering their hand to local farmers to help with seasonal farm work.
“River Valley offers the whole package, on the river and after the river – the food, the lodge, the horses, walks, spa, and the setting. “It’s the complete experience that makes the difference”.
“Not everyone comes to raft, some come just to mellow out or go horse trekking. “You can chill out, or party hard.”
“If you take a step back and look at the overall River Valley package set in rural New Zealand – it’s pretty awesome... and matches well with my character as an individual. “Basically you would not see me in Queenstown,” says Derek.
River Valley is near Taihape, about halfway between Auckland and Wellington and a short distance off State Highway 1. For more information go to www.rivervalley.co.nz
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