40. Tales From The Riverbank

Our first impressions of our new driver Si were that he was a bit mad. As it turned out, we were wrong. He was completely mad. He was however, very funny, even if that humour did play hopscotch along the line of acceptability.

Our first stop with Si was the Taranaki Falls walk, which took us to a waterfall with a view of Mt Ngarahoe – the place we had been denied trekking across by Taupo’s weather.

Feeling genuinely like I was in Lord of the Rings, we headed cross country surrounded by spectacular scenery and eventually found a waterfall. This isn’t the waterfall in the picture. It was much bigger. But I didn’t take a picture, so:

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We carried on to our hostel for the night – River Valley Adventure Lodge. This was a completely remote place next to a river, built virtually exclusively for White Water Rafting. They also offered a ‘roast dinner with Yorkshire puddings’ which at $16.50 per person was slightly steep, but was far too tempting to our tastebuds to refuse.

At $26 per person per night, our dorm at this hostel was the cheapest we had encountered in New Zealand so far, which was surprising as Kiwi Experience have a habit of putting you in $35 a night places. On our arrival, the justification behind this low, low price quickly became apparent. Our dorm was two long wooden bench in tiers, with mattresses stacked along them side by side. Squeezing 33 people into a room the size of my kitchen at home, it was a bit like a hot tub. It would have been fine with close family, maybe even some select friends, but with a group of virtual strangers it was just a wee bit weird.

Luckily we knew 50% of the people we would be sleeping directly next to, so it was sort-of-okay-but-still-strange. We were actually saved from being in a room of total strangers by Pippa saving us 2 beds, and I can’t thank her enough really.

So we headed downstairs in anticipation of our roast dinner and the tantalising thought of Yorkshire puddings. Dinner was served at 7, so naturally we sat down at 6.30 before they’d even set the table.

I now present my comments about the River Valley roast dinner in the cold light of day. It’s a good job I didn’t write this blog immediately afterwards as, having paid $33 for two dinners, I was less than impressed and this blog would have way more expletives than necessary. My grandparents read this so I have to keep it PG.

1. Let’s start on a positive. The mash potato was incredible. It had all sorts of spice in it, a bit of potato skin and melted cheese on top. 9/10. To reach 10/10, we needed to remove those little lumps left in there, but this is easily forgiven.

2. Keeping up the good work, the roast beef was excellently cooked, but a little limited. All you can eat it was not, but tasty it most certainly was. 7/10.

3. There was 1 Yorkshire pudding per person. I don’t know in which world people only have one Yorkshire with their roast but it’s not a world I want to be part of. Awful business. 2/10.

4. The beef, mash and Yorkshires were served with a array of conflicting and confusing dishes, including kidney bean salad (no, me neither), cold chinese noodles and feta cheese salad. Did they mix up the roast dinner recipe with a recipe book on side dishes? Were there leftover kidney beans, noodles and feta and you just hoped no-one would notice? As Summer put it, this “roast dinner” was ‘an insult to the nation’. 1/10

5. The gravy was top notch. And I’m northern, so I know my gravy. 10/10.

Hopefully this feedback will be a) seen and b) taken on board, to avoid future confusion. In the meantime dinner was packed away and we got to some drinking and games planned by Si. Yes, of course they’re going to be weird games, it’s Si.

The first was called Round The Table. In the centre of the room was a long wooden table, around 4 feet wide. The aim of the game was simple – to go all the way around the table, from being on top to underneath to on top again, without touching the floor.

We were expecting this to be impossible – it required a massive arm span, serious upper body strength, agility and luck. The first girl to attempt it failed straightaway, and picked a Swedish boy called Adam to go next.

On his first attempt, only the second attempt of the night overall, Adam only went and bloody did it. And he made it look easy.

50 other people then tried to do the same. 50 people failed. Adam then did it a second time with ease. Many illusions of masculinity were shattered that night.

After another game and some more wine, we headed back to our cosy and quiet 33 person dorm for sleep. After a surprisingly undisturbed night’s rest, some people headed off to do white water rafting. A combination of my shoulder and our budget had stopped us from doing this, so instead we rounded up a few troops, including super-manly Adam and his lovely girlfriend Celine, and crossed the river on a plank of wood to do a walk which the hostel had recommended.

After crossing a waterfall, climbing up a landslide, chopping through tree overgrowth, getting to the top to find the end of the walk barricaded off as private land and doing the same again to get back down, I was beginning to doubt the hostel’s recommendations.

In fairness the walk was a lot of fun to do, testing out my knee and shoulder well and also providing just the right amount of risk of death to be fun without ruining the walk.

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This might look steep. It was actually steeper. Promise.

Returning to the safety of the ground and across the river, we were back on our way to Wellington – New Zealand’s capital city.

We only had a night in Wellington and having arrived late had just enough time to eat and pack our bags, before trying to fall asleep in our room which was a similar temperature to Mt Doom (for the non-nerds – very hot).

We woke up early in the morning (just as day was dawning, Postman Pat and his black and white cat), still hot and eager to get out of Base. We did a short jump to the ferry terminal, parted with $110 for the privelege and boarded the Interislander ferry.

One big queue, one rush for seats and a little argument between the boat crew and Si later we were on and waving goodbye to Wellington, the North Island and our little group who were all staying behind for a few days in Wellington.

We were sad to leave an island and more importantly a group of people who we’d had a pretty brilliant time with, but we knew we’d catch up with most of them in the backpacker Mecca of Queenstown. For now, the South Island was approaching…


Alex Odlin can’t put any of Simon’s dark, dark humour on this blog, because as mentioned earlier, his grandparents read it. Drop me a text and I’ll tell you the worst ones. They’re awful.

NEXT TIME: Sailing away on the crest of a wave, its like magic. Also, fire.

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