2nd Jul 2012
River Valley - a more EXTREME day on a river!
So we jumped on our new bus with our new driver Kane, and this lot certainly felt much more lively than the last bunch of bus friends, and was packed with Irish so we had a feeling it was going to be a noisy few days!
Leaving Taupo, we drove around the eastern shores of the lake taking in yet more amazing scenery, and began the drive towards the Tongariro National Park itself, the oldest park in NZ and home to a lot of Lord of the Rings film sets. As we climbed higher in the green machine, we noticed fluffy white stuff on the side of the road – SNOW! And ice in places! Awesome! And we got the chance to get out and explore as Kane took us on a 2 hour walk around the area to the incredible Taranaki Falls.
Unfortunately, there was A LOT of snow and ice on the track and being an accident-prone winter person, I stayed at the back of the group. But this meant we took our time and were able to admire the beautiful snowy scenery complete with ice-covered rivers, icicles, snow heaps and frosted forests. And the whole time, we were overshadowed by the huge peak of Mt Doom. After about an hour of walking, we arrived at the part frozen waterfall which was incredible. The water crashed over the cliff face towards the foaming river below, but where the temperatures had dropped so dramatically, the water had frozen to create a snow-covered dome which the plunging river disappeared into. It was an odd sight and one that Kane had never seen before! So we stopped here for lunch and enjoyed a baguette with brie and pate – delicious! And from here, we continued back to the bus passing through some beautiful ice-covered forests and a stunning river.
And that wasn’t the end of our walks for the day as Kane stopped off at another Lord of the Rings site – yet another waterfall used in the scene where Gollum catches and munches on a fish. It wasn’t as recognisable but still beautiful all the same.
So we waved goodbye to Tongariro and jumped back on the bus for the 2 hour drive to River Valley. En route, the landscape changed dramatically from snow-covered alpine mountains to rolling, green hills – this country was still amazing us every day and we felt so happy that we had visited in winter which seemed to make the views that little bit more dramatic!
River Valley itself is a tiny remote lodge nestled on the banks of the roaring Rangitikei River, the main local residents being the hundreds of sheep, cows and deer we passed on the way. It was so beautiful and really did feel like you were in the middle of nowhere! Heaven! And the lodge was wicked! A massive open fire in the centre of a huge lounge area complete with big leather sofas and deer heads on the wall! It was like stepping back to the Wild West days! And the bar served amazing hot chocolate and mulled cider – delicious! So the rest of the afternoon was spent in the warm, playing giant Jengga with our new bus friends.
But our main reason for the stop was to brave the wild river in a blow-up raft! White water rafting – something we have both always wanted to try but now that it was only a few hours away, I did start to freak out just a little. And I had reason to…we were going on a 2 hour rafting mission on a grade 4-5 (the BIGGEST rapids you can get) river with water temperatures of 2degrees and I had been told that most of the time, the guides are more interested in tipping you into the black water than keeping you out of it! But we had signed up and there was no turning back now so we geared up – wetsuits, thermals, fleece, helmet and boots and jumped into the bus for the ride to the starting point.
The guides were excellent and so much fun! Although most of the time they just tried to wind you up and scare you even more which I really didn’t need! But when we arrived at the river, we were split into groups and given our seat on the raft. Thankfully I was near the back in front of the guide – excellent until I realised that you are thrown around A LOT more at the back. And Chris was posted at the front with the only other man in the raft – the best spot for getting totally drenched! So with the safety briefing done, we were told to jump in the raft for the first part of the adventure – getting down to the river! I honestly thought our guide, Tom, was joking but no, we did actually ride in the raft from the top of the very steep grassy bank all the way to the river’s edge! Hilarious!
On the river, we practiced the paddling and understanding his commands, and we seemed pretty good as a team which was reassuring! Tom was impressed too and decided to help with my nerves by telling me how drunk he was last night having consumed his home-brewed beer. Brilliant – our guide was hungover and not firing on all cylinders today!
But I needn’t have worried – it was awesome! The rapids did get gradually more intense and at times, we were shouted at to ‘hold on!’ or ‘get down’ or ‘o sh!t, we’re going to die!’ – I didn’t like that last one but we made it. Tom was brilliant, and made the trip so funny. And as a boat, we did very well – no one fell in, we took the right tracks through all the rapids and all got thoroughly wet! And the scenery itself was stunning as the river carved through the valley with steep cliff faces and green hills either side. It was an amazing morning, and we were treated to a Moro Bar (like a Mars Bar) halfway because of our good behaviour. And at the end, we got more rewards in the form of a complete soaking as Tom paddled the raft under a HUGE waterfall. And the highlight for Chris was the 15ft cliff jump he was able to do before the end! It was ridiculously high so I opted to stay dry but he managed a star-jump on the way down and battled against the rapids to get back in the boat. Awesome! White water rafting done and survived – tick!
But by the time we’d made it back, we were FREEZING! So after a quick hot shower, it was back on the bus for the ride to the capital – Wellington! Back to the city after so much time in the rural, quiet parts of the north island.