NZ10+ : Day 11 : TAUPO to RIVER VALLEY

A brilliant day spent in the wilderness. Horse-Riding, guitar-playing, and staring at the secrets of The Universe.

Thursday 27/03/08

Feeling a little hungover. Which is a shame, as this is a really nice hostel. River Valley - a big lodge, kind of literally in the middle of nowhere. When we arrived, we had to put our luggage on the back of a small truck, as the road down to the lodge is too steep for the Kiwi Bus. I signed myself up to do the Horse Riding that afternoon, knowing that getting up in the morning would be a problem if I tried to do it then. I had slept through my watch-alarm again, so I will have to break out the mobile phone or the alarm clock, which will have a louder alarm… That, or I stop getting pissed!

The horse trek was on my ‘to do’ list, and the scenery was actually quite beautiful, with the sun setting, a gentle breeze, and tons of wildlife on all sides. My horse, Gypsy, was the senior mare of the group, and so she had a quirky personality and kept stopping every ten paces to eat grass! Glad to have done it though, but I still can’t get my head around proper horse-riders. To me, it is a very uncomfortable way to travel. When we broke into a trot, it was really tough on the old ball-sack! You have a choice of holding onto the saddle or the mane, and either is quite tough. I have no idea how you would hold on at a full gallop, or going over any kind of terrain, hills or jumps. My respect for movie-horses has definitely stepped up several notches! Steve had a funny horse by the name of Pedro, which just refused to move most of the time.

We got back to the lodge in time for the roast dinner. Most of the staff seemed to be fellow travellers who are working here in return for free accommodation. Very friendly though. Started drinking quite early, about 8ish. Played a new card game, imaginatively titled “Shit-head.” Then I met the guys outside of our dorm to “illegally” finish off our stubbie beers from Taupo. Then I thought it would be an excellent idea to drink wine as well… I kept flitting between drinking from the bar inside and then drinking stubbies with the guys outside. We spent a lot of time looking at the stars, which were crystal clear, even allowing me to see to the edge of the Milky Way.

When all the stubbie beers had gone, some dude in the bar started a challenge where you had to start on top of a table, climb underneath and back again, all without hitting the floor. Needless to say, I was terrible, and shouting “Look over there!” as a distraction didn’t work!

Eventually, we ended up on the lawn playing guitar, but by then I was so hammered that I got guitar rage - my hands were not listening to what my sozzled brain thought it wanted them to do. I was the last to leave for bed, as I was determined to get at least one song out of the thing, but I failed at that and sulked off to bed.

SOUNDTRACK “Free Love on The Freelove Freeway” by David Brent.
Because Niall was playing it.


Nothing really to add here, I think the diary entry pretty much sums up The River Lodge.

My photos of that day do remind me that we passed another Lord of The Rings filming location on the way there. A quick pull over to the side of the road and a short walk later, and we found ourselves at Smeagol’s Pool. This is the location in the film where Smeagol sings his song about fish, as he waits for Frodo and Sam to return after being captured by Faramir and the Rangers of Ithilien. I took a few pics, but the compact camera couldn’t really do it justice, and of course we were there in broad daylight, quite different to the night-time lighting and setting used in the film. Still, it was the first actual LOTR location that I got to stand in, as I had of course slept through my chance to hike up ‘Mount Doom’ the day before.

The River Lodge Itself was a perfect, a picturesque super-sized log hostel, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It was incredibly idyllic, and I dare say I missed a brilliant chilled out afternoon as the sun went down near the river, as I was on the aforementioned horse-riding experience.

The night skies in New Zealand were stunning on most nights, but I had honestly never seen any sky like that night in the middle of the forest, on New Zealand’s North Island. I think there was a bottle of white wine involved somewhere between the guitar starting and the star-gazing… Still, that night sky was so stunning and humbling that I have never experienced anything like it since. There are just so many stars out there. With what must have been almost zero levels of light pollution in that part of the world, it was no wonder why ancient humanity was so obsessed with the Stars, Sun, Moon and Planets – though we have hidden them with our electricity, those ancient Gods and Titans are still out there, waiting.

That snapshot of the Universe was something that only New Zealand could have given to me – a cherished piece of memory that is both Magic and Science all at once.