River Valley Lodge – a Short History
River Valley was first registered as a company in 1982, though the family had been active on the river for several years before then. In fact I can remember being a passenger on the second raft to ever go down the river, in 1978.
During the early years of River Valley, prior to my (Brian) and Nicola’s involvement which started in 1986, we had very little to do with it. At the time we had 3 young daughters and I shore sheep and did forestry work, while Nicola was a full time Mum.
My father in law, Brian Sage, who with his wife, Robin, actually started the company, often jokes about my attitude to being a rafting guide in those days.
No way I was going to be a River Guide!
There was no way I was going to be a guide (mainly because there was simply not enough work in those days to get sufficient income to rear a family and pay the mortgage).
However, by 1986 I had had enough of shearing, and Brian and Robin wanted to take a more back seat role.
By 1987 it was very evident to all that we could not survive as simply a rafting company, even with a phenomenal river such as the Rangitikei. We were, and are, too far away from major centres of population, and off the main tourist route.
The decision was made to borrow more money than we should have and start the building which would become known as River Valley Lodge. To save costs the original construction was done by myself, my father in law, a couple of other river guides, various family members, and one builder to keep us honest.
They were exciting times as we started laying the foundations for the River Valley dream.
Picture if you can
Picture if you can, as each weekend approached during the Spring of 1987, we would work up until the first guests were due to arrive on Friday night, only putting the tools away as they drove down the driveway.
At that stage we did not realise that the October 1987 Sharemarket Crash would have such dire consequences for the New Zealand economy. Our first Lodge guests stayed one week before the crash.
I still remember the first people through the door. The first person said “God, this place is new”, and the second seeing unplastered walls, and obvious ongoing construction said, “Yep, you don’t get much newer!”
That Spring of 1987 saw business skyrocket, and through into 1988 and early 1989. However trouble lay ahead.
The period from Spring 1988 through to 1993 was very tough. There was the emotional toll of a fatality on the river, coupled with the loss of a close family member in a car accident. The company was also operating at a substantial financial loss.
In 1991, Nicola and I bought the rest of the family out and became the sole owners (with the Bank!).
At this time New Zealand was in the grip of a major recession, and we only held on by our fingertips, plus some great advice and help from our Bank Manager and another professional advisor.
Though we did not know it at the time, there was daylight on the horizon. As the world economy rebounded, inbound tourism to New Zealand grew rapidly, and the adventure tourism industry took off.
While we were still outside the main tourist areas, several tour companies recognised that what River Valley could provide was unique, and found nowhere else in New Zealand.
The period of 1995 to 2002 was again one of lots of building activity, with more upmarket units being built, a sauna and spa area, some traditional backpacker style accommodation, and relandscaping the Courtyard area.
So Where the Dream Now?
We have come a long way since a rafting operation started at the back of a Taihape sheep farm.
We often question ourselves about what it is that we seek to achieve.
I think it boils down to a couple of very simple things. You see I have come a long way from the person who wanted nothing to do with guiding. I have developed a deep and passionate love affair with running rivers, and the Rangitikei in particular. Nicola on the other hand has been able to rekindle the love she had as a young woman working with horses.
One of our own daughters has become a river guide, working both in New Zealand and the USA. The third generation of river guide in the family. Our other daughters have had varying roles in the company. Now there are grand children.
With us on this journey there have been many people. Staff who fell in love with River Valley, (and sometimes each other), and worked their own magic during their time with us, and of course guests. And especially those guests who chose to visit River Valley because they could sense that passion, and then went on to tell others about their experience.
Back to the simple things. I see now that we provide two things. For some of our guests it is the skim across the surface style of Adventure, rafting big rapids or trying your hand at riding a horse for the first time.
For others it is about Discovery. Digging deeper, both into the experience, and into yourself.
Adventure and Discovery
I reckon that is pretty cool, and well worth continuing the journey.