River valley lodge would be our next overnight stop but nobody had heard of it and looking at google maps and it featuring in the middle of a national forest you had to assume it was remote and private. Boarding a Kiwi Ex bus with new passengers you have to be aware of the new rules, it’s like starting a new school. You don’t know who the cool kids are, you don’t know where you can or should sit and you don’t know what the driver will be like. Lisa was different, she let people drink and played DVDs. 8am we boarded the bus in Taupo and there was beer being passed around. A few people asked about Andi’s nose but nobody appreciated the full extent of our adventures like our old bus gang. Everyone had had their own good or bad times and it would take us awhile to create new stories together.

It was cold and raining when we left Taupo and our first stop was a 2 hour walk the other side of Mount Doom near an out of season ski lodge. It was described as being a 45min walk, time for a stop for lunch near a waterfall and then 45min to carry on back round the loop. Having got used to Andi’s slow pace from constant photographing I didn’t want to be the last one back to the bus especially as we didn’t know anyone yet to spot them if we got lost or for anyone else to remember us and wait. So off I marched leaving Andi to catch up once he’d photographed the waterfall to death, from above and below. It was a nice wake up as most of the walks are especially if you have a hangover. It’s a good stretch when you spend most of the day sitting on the coach and it gives you an appetite for lunch.

We left Taupo with Albin and Mathilde so weren’t totally in a group of strangers. On arrival at the lodge we had to walk down a very steep hill that was too narrow for the coach to drive down. There was a large request for private rooms due to the mass amount of couples on this new bus however the lodge were very kind and gave up deluxe rooms for the price of a double. Ours was a king size bed with 6 pillows and single bed as well. It would have been the best nights sleep IF we had decided to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Our activity for the next morning would be white water rafting and the river was visible from the lodge. The few hours we had of the afternoon before that nights family roast dinner was ready we explored the small area along the river around the lodge. It wasn’t amazingly warm but a few people had braved themselves for a dip in the river by way of a pully bridge. The other side of the river was a steep cliff with a small walkway for those that wanted to climb up to see the views of the valley. However the only people I saw brave the pully bridge were those wanting to jump off into the freezing waters. Albin was first in line and Andi braved it with him. Mathilde and I watched from the side feeling cold just looking at them. The pully bridge seemed tricky with the difficulty of having to hold on readying yourself to jump without swinging the platform too much and giving you room to jump off the platform without injuring yourself. The boys jumped off at the same time however Andi managed to go in face first, luckily not further injuring his nose. The boys then moved on to playing volleyball for awhile before dinner. For an extra fee that night we were cooked Roast beef and yorkshire puddings. Then the fun started.

if you didn’t join in the drinking there was not a lot else to do

Knowing full well anyone who signed up for the activities in the morning had to get up around 6am, the lodge staff still encouraged a heavy night, partly I think as we were in the middle of nowhere and if you didn’t join in the drinking there was not a lot else to do. A game was started where contenders had to attempt to scale a table and hang on whilst moving under and back over again without touching the floor or the tree trunk pillars at either end. This was a great challenge to watch whilst drinking and even if you didn’t take part you felt every pain whenever a contender hit the floor. For those that weren’t brave enough for that, an alternative challenge was to make your way around a dinner chair whilst hanging on and again not touching the floor. The third challenge of the evening was to be able to reach the furthest point along the floor from a starting line and place a bottle upright using a partner to levy you and prevent you touching the floor. We did have a go to no avail and I was desperately trying to think of the best yoga move to aid me with this but I think the number of beers I’d had by that point didn’t help. I think Albin & Mathilde won actually. We could’ve carried on with the festivities all night, especially as Andi’s nose story was doing the rounds, however I dragged Andi to bed for us to have at least some sleep before our early thrill ride.

I wasn’t really looking forward to the rafting, in fact I was pretty damn scared and I had the black water rafting to thank for that. I’ll admit that some times when you were asked before participating in an activity for any injury history, I was secretly hoping my arthritic knees would prevent me from taking part. I don’t remember much of the briefing, there was a lot to take in and I had been placed at the front right of the boat next to Albin to keep us moving and steered away from rocks/waterfalls/whirlpools etc. I knew the trip would end back at the lodge and the further we drove away in the minibus with the rafts, the worse I felt about the long journey back. My fear reached maximum when we were told to get in the raft whilst on a grassy bank just off the roadside and we would be pushed down (vertically) in to the river! Luckily it was just on to the next grassy verge and we then got out to carry the raft in to the water. I’m glad that was the scariest point and looking back now I don’t know what I was worried about. This activity turned out to be one of the best and I’ve been constantly looking for a chance to do it again.

Andi fell in, I did not.

The trick is the hold on with your legs, by squeezing them around one of the inflatable walls or sides and hooking your feet underneath the walls or sides. If you hang on to the raft you’re pretty much going to stay in and by using your legs and feet to do this, it frees up your arms and hand to paddle. In addition to paddling there was the occasional requirement to sit on the floor of the boat with your paddle in the air, throw yourself over to the other side to lie across your paddle partners lap to prevent the boat from capsizing, and general silly moves and expressions for the photo opportunities along the way. As well as the several rafts moving along with us on the Level 5 course was a canoeist to take our photos. Most of the the photos look like we actually fell in a lot, however this is just the position of the boat as we paddled back towards waterfalls or fell down the rapids. Andi fell in, I did not. And of course, Albin jumped in at every opportunity.

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