River Valley Lodge – Our History


The Statement of Purpose of River Valley

“Our purpose is to be a regenerative business that benefits the land, nature, family and staff, our local community, and our customers.”

The sentence above, which we first encapsulated in 2017, defines what we see as the purpose of River Valley.

Getting to the point of developing a purpose that felt right literally took decades and is an integral part of the history of River Valley.

The History of River Valley

River Valley has always been a family company. The original founders were Brian and Robin Sage, second generation sheep and cattle farmers with the farm at Pukeokahu, 32 km east of the central North Island town of Taihape.

The farm bounded the Rangitikei River, where the family would camp each summer, swimming, fishing and later, kayaking. This is how things would have remained if it were not for the introduction of a new adventure pursuit into New Zealand, white water rafting.

White Water Rafting

In the late 1970s, white water rafting using boats constructed of PVC or Hypalon reached New Zealand. The hunt was on for rivers on which to use them. During the next two or three years, the main rivers that form the backbone of rafting operations to this day were identified. One of those rivers was the Rangitikei and, in particular, the Grade 5 section upstream from the Sage’s camping spot.

Brian and Robin enthusiastically embraced this new sport and were soon catering to groups of rafters who came through. In 1982 they decided to take a more significant part and purchased their own rafts while also founding River Valley Ventures Ltd.

In 1986, the present owners of the company, son in law, Brian Megaw and the Sage’s daughter, Nicola, became involved.

The mid-1980s were a time of much promise, and a decision was made to start building River Valley Lodge, the project commencing in early 1987. At the time, no one could have forecasted the impacts of the 1987 sharemarket crash, which occurred in October of that year. Interest rates went skywards, finally getting over 20%, while by 1989, New Zealand was in the midst of a significant recession with high unemployment. The country did not come out of this until 1993.

These were tough times with the business only holding on by its fingertips.

In 1991 Brian and Nicola bought River Valley off Nicola’s parents, who then retired to a special spot overlooking the river.

By 1995 New Zealand’s tourism industry was growing strongly, and River Valley was able to be a part of that. During the next few years, relationships were forged with major operators, existing building projects were completed, and new projects commenced. Staff numbers grew, the place was busy, and while we worked hard, we also had a lot of fun.

While we were very busy and successful, it would be fair to say that there was a feeling that something was missing.

By the early 2000s, Brian and Nicola’s children were in their early 20s and were also working in the business, in between travelling overseas or studying. The next few years are a blur. Thousands of guests experienced the Lodge and our adventure activities – rafting and horse trekking – while we attracted many exceptional staff members, who also contributed their bit of magic to the place.

However, there does come a time when you ask, “What is the point of all this, other than to make a living”.

By the late noughties, the way we viewed the world had already started to change. We had become much more aware of environmental issues and had started to change how we did some things. We started growing organic vegetables on-site, while Nicola had begun a journey with the horses using natural horsemanship techniques. These techniques are potentially better both for the horse and the rider. We had started a predator trapping program on the river and surrounds, focused primarily on protecting the threatened Whio or Blue Duck.

In short, the thinking now was becoming more holistic.

This thinking matured further, and in 2017, thirty years after we started building River Valley Lodge, Brian and Nicola, daughter Janey and her husband, Tom, got together with a facilitator and came up with the statement that appears at the top of this page.

“Our purpose is to be a regenerative business that benefits the land, nature, family and staff, our local community, and our customers.”

Up to the Present – December 2021

We have viewed the covid pandemic as not only a significant business challenge but also as an opportunity. The challenge is financially surviving the collapse of the tourism industry, while the opportunity is to remodel River Valley so that it operates more in line with what we see as its purpose.

Janey and Tom are now part owners (2020), with Janey being Operations Manager and responsible for River Valleys’ day-to-day running. Tom is developing his skills as a specialist butcher and mountain biker while also guiding on the river. Melissa, Brian and Nicola’s second daughter, has taken over the much enlarged organic vegetable gardens and is developing them as her business – River Valley Acres – supplying nutrient-dense produce to the Lodge and other customers.

Nicola is still very involved with the horses, emphasising “Rides for Riders” while developing how natural horsemanship fits within a commercial trekking operation. She has developed several multi-day rides – out to 8 days – which are growing in popularity. She is committed to enhancing the relationships that develop between horse and rider.

Brian still guides on the river and seems to keep busy every day. Much of his work involves furthering where River Valley sits within a regenerative and environmental framework. He still threatens to write a book.

Janey and Melissa’s children, the fifth generation on this land, the fourth generation as part of River Valley, are reaching their early teens. Will River Valley be a part of their future?

Only time will tell.

The River Valley Journey continues.

Brian Megaw

Sage & Megaw Family Photo 2021

4 Generations of Sage & Megaw Family

Video presented by Brian Sage, one of the original founders of River Valley.

Have any questions?

Speak to one of our friendly adventure consultants who would love to help you out.
thelodge@rivervalley.co.nz / 0800 248666