Well, the first season of The River Valley Ride is done and dusted! Over three departures, 24 very lucky guests have experienced the thrills of this epic ride in New Zealand’s North Island – and while all of the feedback we received made us glow with pride, Helen Down’s feedback was the icing on the cake. Check it out below.
Please tell us how happy you were with this Globetrotting holiday.
Were there any stand-out experiences (good or bad) with the accommodation that you would like to mention?
Being a kiwi, I do not have the same perspective of staying on a marae [as international guests]. Although I have many interactions with Maori culture on a daily basis, this marae stay was absolutely standout. This was a completely genuine, non-touristy and fabulous night, with everyone who hosted us doing so out of the warmth and genuine pride of their culture. It was the single best genuine Maori experience I have ever had in my country. The other kiwis who hosted us, and whose land we rode on and places we stayed in, did well beyond what was expected of them and really put themselves out for us. I loved every single night, and the variety of accommodation. The tents were great. River Valley and Tommy’s place were excellent.
Were there any stand-out experiences (good or bad) with the meals that you would like to mention?
Fabulous picnics, great hangi. All meals were delicious, plentiful and fresh.
Which horse(s) did you ride? And would you mind elaborating as to why you were happy/unhappy with them?
Dakota was the epitome of a trekking horse. I once again asked to buy him! Any horse that can actively walk up a long uphill slope while nine others gallop past, and for him to just keep on walking without pulling or getting agitated, is a credit to their owner. Dakota was very fit, very obedient, always listening to me, super polite and was confident to tackle anything in our path.
In respect to your guides, please elaborate as to their level of service, knowledge of the environment and hospitality.
They did everything to make it enjoyable for everyone, and were patient and accommodating with some unexpected requests. They matched riders very well to their horses. They know the area perfectly, and they are both very skilled horse people. I find it very difficult to describe Tommy, but there are very few kiwi horse people in our country with his skill and ability. There are many who pretend to have the skills and knowledge and horsemanship, but I have never met another who has his level of horsemanship. He was a complete pleasure to talk with, learn from, ride with and watch with horses. His innate affinity and knowledge of the land and its people was fabulous.
Did you have a favourite day or experience while on your Globetrotting holiday?
Every time I think of one, I think of another and another. It was a real challenge, very exciting and so much more than a holiday. It was a fabulous adventure, and if you had offered a 16 day option, I would have gladly had a rest day at Tommy’s and then joined the second group and ridden all the way back to River Valley! I am even thinking of doing it in that direction next year.
I loved being disconnected from my phone, disconnected from the world, and so proud of the very welcoming people we met on the way. Little things like Mark and Carl waiting one and a half hours for us at their boundary gate, then riding with us and having cold beers waiting for us at their sheds, or Lloyd and Carl escorting us down the road in case a car came past, and building us a picnic bar amongst the trees… also the marae visit. That is a very tiny community and they had many people organised to host us, just out of their own cultural pride and honour. Richard, Lisa, Marg, Robert and so many others went completely out of their way to make sure we had a great time.
Others may talk about the scenery, but I am used to that – however, I have never spent so much time with Mount Ruapehu, and seen it from so many angles. It was with us the whole way. For me, it was time to spend with awesome horses in a part of the country that you would not otherwise be able to go to, and cannot normally ride on, where there are few roads and just huge expanses of land. I think some of the guests from overseas had no idea how remote we were. Another highlight was that I really grew in confidence about what steep and difficult terrain I can actually ride on. I really grew my own horsemanship and confidence.
In terms of value-for-money, how would you rate this particular ride?
We would LOVE a testimonial about your Globetrotting experience to share on our social media channels.
I have to say, I am finding writing anything about this adventure very difficult. I have not yet uploaded anything to social media or even finished writing my own trip journal, as I haven’t been able to capture the essence of this ride. In some way, I feel like I am still there. It was the best horse related experience I have ever had, even though I have ridden for 30+ years, and in fact done another eight day ride years ago.
It was an unforgettable and amazing experience to be one of the lucky eight on the inaugural River Valley Ride. While I had been waiting for the ride for almost a year and had huge expectations, it was beyond anything that I could have imagined. Calling it a holiday goes nowhere near to describing these eight days. It was a real adventure – exhilarating, calming, peaceful, exciting, challenging, beautiful and an experience I will always treasure. The horses were fit, happy, independent and so confident in themselves – a real testament to Nicola and Tommy’s horsemanship. Mine – Dakota – was the best horse partner you could ever want on such an adventure. He was fit, energetic, honest, confident and so much fun, with impeccable manners, and he listened to me every step of the way. I would never have thought I could ride a horse up those big tree trunks felled in the forest! If I could have taken him home, I would have. The marae visit was out of this world and all the locals went completely out of their way to make sure we felt more than welcome and had everything we wanted. I loved Lloyd’s pub in his paddock. The mountains we rode up, and the valleys we rode down into, the gallops across long rolling hills, the stops on the mountain tops to admire the views and the huge country that we had ridden or were about to ride that day. On one such hilltop, we stopped and were lucky enough to watch a band of wild Kaimanawa horses beneath us. They were so curious and beautiful. A sight I have never seen. As a fellow kiwi, one thing that really stood out for me is that this ride is an opportunity to experience the real New Zealand High Country. This is not a touristy, commercial riding holiday option – this is a unique adventure, experiencing a slice of true kiwi life on the best horses. This is the real deal and I will treasure this experience forever. And as for our two fabulous guides – I cannot imagine any other horse people who I would rather ride with. I learnt so much from Nicola and Tommy and would ride with them again anywhere, anytime.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to pack my bags and head to River Valley!
Click here to visit the ride page, or if you’d like to learn more about the amazing guides on this ride, here’s their Q&A. Oh, and we’ve also got an article about one of their guest horses, Te One, who was once a wild Kaimanawa stallion!