Rafting on the mighty Rangitikei is the perfect adventure for Ashleigh Collis and her 8-year-old son.
You might blink and miss Mangaweka if it weren't for the obsolete aeroplane perched beside a desolate building labelled Mangaweka International Airport.
I can't number how many times I've passed through without giving the tiny town a second thought.
However, the towering Papa Cliffs beckoned me down a side road and I stumbled across Awastone, home of Mangaweka Adventure Company (MAC).
A cafe sign, combined with the summer heat, drew me in for a cold drink.
On the banks of the Rangitikei River, under the shadow of a giant cliff face, I discovered a camping ground, paved pathways edged in river stones and a cafe set among stunning gardens looking out across the river.
When I learned of its family-friendly river rafting, I decided to come back for an adventure with my 8-year-old son.
We set up our tent beside the river with an incredible view of the Papa Cliffs, before changing into our togs.
While we were sipping on smoothies from the licensed cafe, our rafting guide, Cam, suited us up with life jackets.
We were given waivers to sign, stating that we understood the dangers of the trip and MAC was not responsible for anything that may happen.
A little unsettling but all adventure has an element of risk, right?
So we signed away and headed for the river.
The one-hour rafting trip we opted for was soft-paced, giving us plenty of time between rapids to set aside our oars and gawk at the giant clay cliffs that felt as though they might slip and fall on us at any second.
We stopped intermittently to jump into the warm river and swim.
It was a great way to cool off before being ungracefully pulled back into the raft like a sack of spuds to continue on.
What a thrill, rafting was far easier than I thought and didn't require much skill, fitness or experience at all.
Down a rapid, I watched my son sitting on the helm of the raft, as he bounced up and down with a huge smile, holding his own as he paddled.
He turned to me; from the smile on his face I expected him to say the classic phrase "this is the best day of my life" but instead, he said: "Mum can we come here every time?"
We glided peacefully down the river spotting waterfall after waterfall, native birds, a flock of paradise ducks and sheep grazing by the riverside.
Down another rapid, we were instructed to start paddling hard.
Water flew through the air and adrenaline kicked in as we all focused on steering the boat through the turbulent waters.
Out the other side, we pulled the oars in and collapsed back into relaxed positions; the boat slowed to a soft glide.
Passing under a second bridge towering far above us, the hour had gone and our adventure was over all too soon.
MAC owner Paul Eames was waiting to load the raft and deliver us back to camp.
It was both a thrilling and relaxing ride, the perfect family adventure.
Back at camp, we rinsed off and slipped into Awastone's new cedar hot tub, set privately among native planting.
With tui flying overhead, I may have even fallen asleep as the aroma of cedar wafted around and my body pruned in the steaming water.
After showering in the beautiful communal facility, we popped into the cafe for our complimentary hot drinks, sausage rolls and scones.
With a glass of Waihopai Valley sauvignon blanc, I indulged in their Drippy Chicken Burger with a side of chips and gherkins. Awastone's own garden provided most of the fresh vegetables.
After a riverside campfire and some sticky chocolate s'mores, we headed back to the tent to get ready for bed.
A minor mosquito infestation meant we were glad to have brought a bug zapper with us.
My son was more than happy to kill the blood suckers, but the electrocution came with a foul smell of singed hair, so next time I might just take some citronella.
Sleeping under the stars is something every parent should do with their children.
In Mangaweka, the night sky was crystal clear, allowing millions of sparkling stars to put on a full show.
We drifted off to sleep to the sound of the river.
In the morning we opted to cook our own breakfast in the communal kitchen, which felt like home.
There was a gorgeous painting of Papa Cliffs on the wall, a large dining table and everything else you might need, even a small lounge with a TV. This was the nicest campsite kitchen facility I had seen.
Awastone is truly a comfortable camping experience that showcases beautifully one of New Zealand's longest rivers, the mighty Rangitikei.
The Mangaweka section of the river was immortalised in The Lord of the Rings as The Gates of Argonath.
It's unique to this part of New Zealand, and I had never seen such sheer vertical clay cliffs or deep canyons, other than in that movie.
The river provided the perfect setting for adventure to ignite the imagination.
Not only does Awastone have a basic campsite for pitching a tent, it also caters for the more glamorous camper with riverside cabins, secluded huts and powered campsites.
Awastone claims it's New Zealand's best riverside destination — and I'd have to agree.