40 Years On

Last month, 6th of October 2022, an unremarked and uncelebrated birthday passed quietly. There was no celebration, no party, but it was significant for all that.

On the 6th of October 1982, River Valley Ventures Ltd was incorporated as a company. Generally, when we talk about the history of River Valley, we use this as the founding date, though the founders, Brian and Robin Sage, had been actively offering BBQs to other rafting companies and maybe some rafting on their own account before this date.

Forty years would certainly have merited a party, but to be honest, surviving the pandemic and gearing up for a full season, the first since 2019, was our primary focus. For the business to survive 40 years, one pandemic, three global financial crises, and a myriad of more minor crises would, I think, have to be considered a success.

Brian Sage BBQ

Brian Sage BBQing

Looking back at 40 years, what has changed?

Nicola and I were not involved, other than peripherally, during the first four years, not joining until 1986, so I cannot comment too much on that time other than to observe that weekend rafting trips were the stock in trade. However, even by 1986, the writing was on the wall. The initial boom in everybody wanting to go white water rafting was already on the wane. For an adventure company out the back of Taihape to survive, Taihape then, as now, is scarcely a major tourism destination; there had to be more.

From 1987 onwards, we developed River Valley Lodge –  a journey still not complete. The first iteration of a horse trekking operation was added several years later.

The Lodge, rafting and associated river activities, and horse trekking have been the primary offerings ever since, though often not in the same format.

80s Rafting

Grade 5 Rafting in the 80s

River Valley 80s

River Valley before the Main Lodge was Built

In the mid-1990s, we joined the tourism industry and started hosting international travellers. A turning point for sure, as we had been totally focused on the domestic market up to that point. The aftermath of Rogernomics (a massive liberalisation of economic activity in New Zealand), coupled with the aftershocks of the 1987 share market crash, had led to some tough years in New Zealand. The timing of entering the international visitor market could not have been better.

Wooden river dories, e-bikes, and vegetable gardens have been added in the last decade, along with further infrastructure development at the Lodge.

However, these are all things you can touch, see and experience.

Rangtitikei River Stoat Traps

A Wooden Dory on the Whanganui River

E-bikes Giant

New E-Bikes at River Valley

River Valley Acres Gardens

The Extensive Gardens at River Valley Acres

River Valley Lodge

River Valley Lodge in 2022

But have we changed?

We have always been a family business. Nicola and I took over from her parents in 1991, and our daughter, Janey and her husband, Tom, are taking over from us now. Melissa, another daughter, is also involved, looking after the extensive organic vegetable garden that provides produce to the Lodge kitchen. Other extended family members are also part of the set-up, with Max, a nephew, now the Head River Guide, while it is often his mother, Coke, who is the morning barista.

While you could say, there has been little change in our values, as we have always focused on giving our guests great experiences. But now, having adopted regenerative principles which centre around how our actions as a business can promote life, be that to our community or the natural world around us, what we provide seems to have more depth. The produce from our gardens is a part of this story.

There is little doubt in my mind that focusing more on these other values provides a depth of experience for our guests and staff that was not always present in the past—a vastly more satisfying experience for all concerned.

It has been quite a journey! What will the next 40 years hold?

Brian Megaw

Sage & Megaw Family Photo 2021

The Sage/Megaw Family