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Episode 15: River Run

On the next episode screening 24 May 2014 at 7pm on TV ONE

River Run

Joe Adam has been a bit of a cowboy since he was given his first horse at just six years old.

There was a big age difference - the horse was 26 - but it was love at first sight and Joe has had a passion for horses ever since.

He's also had a long-standing attachment to Ramanui Landing, a farm he has been visiting since he was a youngster when his uncle owned the property.

Ramanui is in the middle of the Whanganui River National Park and can be accessed only by jet boat.

Joe's uncle put the property on the market when his nephew was 14. Joe was desperate to buy it, but he didn't have the cash and it passed out of the family.

Joe describes "getting goose-bumps" when, 20 years later, he heard that Ramanui was on the market again. Within weeks he and his partner Mandy Jackson had bought it.

These days, Joe breeds colourful Appaloosa horses but he admits they are more of an expensive hobby than a profitable farming venture. 

What brings in the money is the Bridge to Nowhere Jet-boat Tours and Lodge, a highly successful tourism business that Joe and Mandy have built over the last 14 years.

Turnover has increased tenfold since they've been at the helm. With help from several members of the extended Adam-Jackson whanau, the couple cater for the transport and accommodation needs of a constant stream of visitors who come to see the famous Bridge to Nowhere and canoe down the Whanganui River.

Visitor numbers have exploded thanks to the opening of the Mangapurua/Bridge to Nowhere Mountain Bike Trail, which is part of the New Zealand Mountain Bike Trail Project and has been described as one of the best rides in the country.

Joe is as colourful as his beloved Appaloosa horses and when he met Mandy Jackson the sparks flew. Mandy was married and working in a jewellery shop at the time.

"He changed my life," she says diplomatically.

That was just before Joe discovered Ramanui was on the market again and when he showed Mandy the place, she was hooked. The farm is surrounded by native bush and wild deer can often be seen round the Lodge.

Mandy dreamed of gardens and a menagerie of animals. The menagerie has happened but the garden did not.

"Joe can't seem to make fences that will keep animals in because he's too busy doing other things so there are animals all over the back garden," she says. "One day we're going to have proper fences with animals on one side and flowers and vegetables on the other."

Living in the middle of a national park has its drawbacks - it is a 20 kilometre jet-boat ride and then another 60 kilometres by road to the nearest supermarket.

But the couple say the mystery and majesty of the mighty Whanganui River makes up for any inconvenience.

"We have got the most beautiful driveway in all of New Zealand," Joe says.

He says living at Ramanui is a privilege and one he enjoys sharing.

"Even though we've got a white man's paper to say it's our land, it doesn't belong to me or to Mandy. I can't take it when I go. It belongs to everybody."

For more about Bridge to Nowhere Lodge and Jet Boat Tours:

For more on the Mangapurua- Bridge to Nowhere cycle trail:

To buy the documentary 'Te Whiringa Taura o Whanganui,' giving a historical perspective on the river:


Frank Torley

Richard Williams

Camera Assistant
Sacha Keating-Taylor

Field Sound
Don Paulin

Peter Metcalf

Colour Grader
Alex Wright

Sound Mixer
Ian Leslie

Post Production Manager
Bailey Palmer

Production Manager
Robyn Best

Archival Stills
Alexander Turnbull Library

Vivienne Jeffs

Network Executive
Jude Callen

Associate Producer
Dan Henry
Howard Taylor

Julian O'Brien