We left National Park, and headed south on Christmas Day to get to our next destination, River Valley Lodge.

By the pictures, this looked like it was going to be a nice forested retreat with comfortable rooms, and a homey kind of feel to it.

The drive out to the lodge was winding through the rolling green hills of the north island that was overpopulated by fuzzy white sheep.  We had to keep our hands on the wheel and a sharp eye going around the snaking road as the roads were not only twisting, but also they were narrow.  And kiwi drivers were not the safest drivers either.   The roads were rated at 100kph, but there was no way that we were going to be reaching that.

We finally found the turn off for the lodge, and headed down the now gravel road, which turned a corner and then pitched downwards at an angle of about 15 degrees.  The car started to bottom out on the gravel road, so larders (aka me) got out of the car and walked down the hill.

Unpacking to repack and reorganize as we wanted to ship some stuff home when we got to Wellington, our next stop.

When we parked the car, there was not a soul in site.  I mean absolutely no one was at the resort.  It made you think that there was some mass suicide that happened, and everyone left.  But alas, it was Christmas Day and all of the staff were given the day off.

One of the best surprises of the trip was when we went into the main restaurant area, there was a note explaining everything to us, and a Christmas card from Debs parents was waiting for us there.  That was really special.  We were all super happy to get this special card half way around the world, and in the middle of nowhere.

A beautiful Christmas card from Grandma and Grandpa was waiting for us when we arrived at River Valley Lodge.

We had brought food for a full Christmas feast.  This country hasn’t heard of turkey in anything other than slices from the deli counter, so we bought stuffing in a box, a chicken, beans, potatoes, cranberry sauce and had all the things ready for some gravy.  Mmm mmm mmm!

We unloaded the car in our room, and I went out to check out the kitchen.  There was a “guests kitchen” that was pretty sad, and reminded me of a university dorm shared kitchen….it was dirty, dishes were left on the counter, and the garbage was over flowing.

Now, there was a restaurant on site, which was closed for the day due to the staff, and since no one was in sight, I decided to invite ourselves in to play in the industrial kitchen.  I found the keys to the pantry as well, which helped with some flour as I was going to make some Christmas cookies of my own (ginger molasses a la Kristi MacDonald!)

After I pumped out a batch of these, I got to work on Christmas dinner.

No only was the guest kitchen a mess, but the main restaurant dining area was a mess!  I can only imagine that there was some sort of Christmas party here the night before, and no one cared to clean it up.  So, we took it upon ourselves to clean the place up for them.

Why doesn’t he clean up after himself like this at home!

Now that it was all spick and span, the kids and Deb played some games that the lodge had for people to play, while I got busy in the kitchen finishing the cookies up.

Working on the mashed potatoes and the green beans. No brussel sprouts over here!

Prepping the big bird!

Making gravy…

A perfect -30.7C internal temperature, and the skin was golden too!

The kids set the table including the centrepiece.

We quickly came to realize that this was far from a luxurious lodge that we were expecting.  In fact, it was at the opposite end of the spectrum, and it was more of a hostel for backpackers, day-trippers, and people who came to River Valley Lodge to whitewater raft.

The final product!

We had been telling people that we were staying at this “remote ecolodge”, and it was far from this…which was too bad.  But at the end of it all, we had the entire place to ourselves, we had each other, I had a proper kitchen to play in and make Christmas dinner in….and a restaurant grade dishwasher that does a load in 3 minutes flat.  That meant that I didn’t feel guilty for using every utensil and dish in the kitchen.  The stereo worked, and we put Christmas carols on full blast.  So, we made it our own at the end of it all.

At the hospice shop in Te Ahora, the owners gave us Christmas crackers when we bought all of the ornaments and told them our travel story.  So, we cracked them open, read the bad jokes, traded the plastic toys, and put on the paper hats.  Just like home!

Off to bed we went, having a unique family Christmas that we will never forget.  Christmas morning was probably one of the most magical ones that we have ever had.  The kids didn’t expect or suspect a thing, and the magic of Christmas came through.  They both learned and appreciated the true meaning of Christmas with family, sharing, caring, and at the end of it all, it means togetherness.

River Valley Stables

The next day we got up and got ourselves ready for the day, and headed down the road to the lodges horse stalls as we were going to go for a ride through the New Zealand countryside.

The horse was deciding whether to bolt for freedom, or stay on this side of the hill with Deb.

We each had the chance to acquaint ourselves with our horses, which was a first when it came to horseback riding experiences.  Most times you just show up and jump on the horse and away you go.

First we had to walk the horse around…

Here we had to walk the horses around a field, and talk to them so that they knew who was boss.  Sometimes the horses gave us some grief…like not wanting to walk, but at the end, I think it proved to be a useful exercise.

We jumped on the horses and walked around the field to test out our mastery of the horses, and then we took off for a nice ride around the countryside.

Lulu was a bit afraid of going across the river.

It was beautiful, and made coming here all the worth the while.

The sheep liked to graze on the terraces that were formed into the sides of the hills…

And there were a lot of sheep I tell you!

We went up and down lots of hills, across streams, through fields, past lots and lots of sheep, and then back to the lodge for the rest of the day.

The Trotting Trenholms!

Lulu loved her horse.

When we arrived back, the usual riff raff of backpackers had arrived, and they came in like typical 20 somethings….like they owned the place.  Music was blaring, the bar was open and lots of booze was being handed out, and we just tried to do our own thing and keep out of the way.  That night we had the lodge make us dinner, which was a nice home cooked meal, but nothing super fancy for what you paid ($40 per person for chicken and veggies!  BYOB and no dessert!)

The waterfall at the lodge was beautiful.

I had to leave our mark that we were there.

Wilson is not much of a card or a game playing guy, so this was nice that he joined us to play a game of Uno.

So, we went to bed, ready to head off to Wellington the next day for a one night stay before we headed to the South Island.