As the sound of a gong echoes off the hillsides and the river, the flying fox emerges from the trees on the other side and makes its way towards us.

The sight of it makes me giggle with delight which annoys photographer Stuart Munro who is trying to shoot some video footage and he does not want my laughter on the audio.


It is just that the trolley carriage is so damn cute - it looks like it belongs on a 1930s Ferris wheel rather than this remote location on the Whanganui River.
We have come to visit the owners of The Flying Fox retreat accommodation, 30km north of Whanganui on the river road where the tourist season will soon start in earnest.


The carriage is just the beginning of the quirky delights that await us on the other side of the river where we are greeted by hosts Jane McCall and Kelly Stephens who purchased the Flying Fox from Whanganui Mayor Annette Main in December last year.
Annette and her late husband John Blythe owned the Flying Fox for 25 years offering unique accommodation to hundreds of travellers.

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Accompanied by a friendly black chicken which seems to believe it is a dog, we take a tour among the proliferation of fruit-bearing trees that are thriving in the micro-climate of the sheltered land.

There are avocado, tamarillo, orange, grapefruit, apples, a quince, a kaffir lime and even a cherimoya (custard apple tree).

An arborist friend recently spent a week at the property and trimmed back the large walnut trees that were overhanging the cottages.
The interior of the James K Baxter cottage has had a new coat of paint but Jane has taken care to paint around Baxter's portrait which was painted directly on to the wall by an artist named James in 2002.
"I kept a rectangle of the original paint around the portrait and added the wooden frame to preserve it," says Jane.

Both the Baxter cottage and the Brewers' cottage next door have an eclectic mix of comfortable furnishings and each is equipped with a stereo that offers both compact disc and turntable options with sizable collections of discs and vinyl in each cottage.

"I had a vinyl collection of my own," says Kelly "so I added them to the ones that were here."


Next to the cottages, is the ultimate "glamping" site - the Glory Cart is a double bed perched on a deck inside a tent complete with bedside table, lamp and chest of drawers.

Kelly has added a new deck out the front so guests can take full advantage of the view.
It is just one of the tasks the couple have completed since they arrived to enhance the work of the previous owners and add some touches of their own.

With help from a couple of French WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) Jane and Kelly have cleared bracken from the campsite next to the orchard and it was the visiting workers who named the site "Koru Camp" to signify new beginnings.

It has a kitchen shelter with sink and gas cooking facilities, a toilet, a hot, gas heated shower and a wood-fired bush bath.

Jane has re-established the vegetable garden and she has almost completed an online organic gardening course.

A new strawberry bed has been established with fancy bed ends retrieved from the rubbish collection depot on the other side of the river.
Re-purposing is something Jane and Kelly enjoy and because it is not easy to move things on and off the property, it makes sense too.

Under the trees lies the old flying fox "carriage" which is a very basic metal frame with strong, cotton webbing.
"I plan to turn that into a hammock," says Kelly "I will add new webbing and suspend it from one of the walnut trees."

We head up the walkway behind the main house, through a rhododendron and camellia path to the wilderness campsite.

For those who want a real "get away from it all" experience, the site offers basic amenities of a long drop toilet, cold running water and a fire place.
Through the trees are the last remains of the old farm house and the Koroniti Post Office.
It would have been a thriving hub in the days when riverboats sailed that far up the river and Jane says she thinks it was open until the 1950s.

As we head back down the track, Kelly points out an old, upturned spa pool shell and said he has plans to turn it in to a hobbit house for children.


We finish our tour at the main house - Ruru Lodge where we sit on the deck to enjoy a nice cuppa and some of Jane's tasty, freshly-baked chocolate muffins while our hosts tell us how they got to the Flying Fox.

Less than two years ago, Jane and Kelly thought they had bought their "forever home" on Durie Hill.

They had given up their lifestyle block and Kelly, a long-time forestry worker and river guide was in hospital recovering from knee surgery.

"Jane brought the paper in for me to read and I saw that the Flying Fox was for sale but we didn't think it would be in our price range," said Kelly.

"And we had not long bought our forever home," said Jane.

When they discovered that the place had a not been sold a couple of weeks later, they decided to put an offer in and were over the moon when it was accepted although it meant they had just six weeks to sell their house.
"It sold after two weeks," says Jane "and the new owners wanted all our furniture as well."

As we head back across the river in the quirky cart, I think of the song made so famous by that Presley bloke.
Like a river flows
Slowly to the sea
Darling so it goes
Some things are meant to be

With such a great pool of talents between them, such respect for the previous owners and so much willingness to give their guests a great time, I reckon Jane McCall and Kelly Stephens are meant to be at the Flying Fox.