Guilty by Association

As many readers will know, following Covid, we have taken River Valley in a different direction.

This different direction involves purposefully dropping the availability of accommodation at the Lodge. In particular, repurposing the space that was backpacker dorm rooms to a lovely big open meeting room, the development of new ensuited accommodation, further emphasis on our food offerings, much of which comes from our on-site gardens, and a renewed focus on being not only sustainable but also regenerative. In short, upping the quality of what we offer and what we stand for while dropping the number of people on-site at any time to ensure a better experience for everyone.

Aorangi Meeting Room

The new Aorangi meeting room, which used to be a 32 bed dorm room.

Treetop Deluxe Room

One of the new Treetop Deluxe Ensuite rooms, built after covid.

Vegetable Garden

The lodge vegetable gardens – growing produce for our Farm to Table meals.

This season, just gone, was our first full season post-COVID, where the borders were open, some overseas tourists were travelling within the country, and the New Zealand public seemed to be embracing the changes we had made. We had great reviews, while sales were exceeding the budget. Things were looking good!

Of course, the weather had been unusually challenging, with a cooler, wetter summer, but this was not enough to dampen our enthusiasm too much. We felt strongly (and still do) that the different direction we travel in is right for our business, whanau, and planet.

And then along came Cyclone Gabrielle.

Unlike the devastation just over the range on the East Coast, we only experienced some minor flooding, though the Rangitikei River downstream from the Lodge experienced some huge flows.

Those familiar with River Valley Lodge on a map will know that we are not far from Hawkes Bay in a straight line, though to drive there takes several hours. Whether this is a factor in what happened next or not, I don’t know.

What happened after Gabrielle was an unprecedented avalanche of cancellations. A pattern that continued through March and into April. No matter that we let it be known that we had not been majorly affected, obviously, in the eyes of the public, we had been painted with the same brush as the East Coast. Guilty by Association.

Cyclone Gabrielle

The Rangitikei River at River Valley after Cyclone Gabrielle

Experiencing this was incredibly disheartening, and to be honest, in the darker moments, I questioned whether we had made the right decisions. Of course, having been involved with River Valley for almost 40 years and experienced many ups and downs before, those feelings quickly passed. The emphasis is now on preparing for the next season.

However, unanswered questions remain, particularly those around climate change and the effects it may have on us in the future.

These questions include, but are not limited to, how do we become more resilient, better prepare for the unexpected, reduce our environmental impact and communicate this better with our guests?

These are all questions we, and no doubt many other climatically affected businesses, are asking themselves. The answers will not be simple, and many will not be able to be implemented quickly.

The journey continues.

Brian Megaw