The peaceful 47km drive along Waitotara Valley Rd brings us to Ngamatapouri, about 80km from Whanganui.

Times have changed in the valley. This is no longer just sheep and beef country. There are beehives everywhere and we spot signs for tourism businesses.

We turn up on the last day of the last term for Ngamatapouri School's 11 students.


The school had its end-of-year concert the night before and then the community carried on with a Christmas party, ending with the traditional tug-of-war with the Christmas tree which is then thrown down the riverbank.

The last school day is relaxed with the kids playing on iPads, shooting hoops, swimming, having a water fight and enjoying a special moment for Jett Rumble who is leaving for secondary school in Whanganui. Jett's chosen a cherry tree to plant in the school grounds, a tradition for the school leavers.

Principal Michael Bieleski (Mr B) has been the sole teacher for five years and his role isn't limited to the classroom ... he's also chief mousetrap checker and firewood chopper.

His release teacher is longtime valley resident Juliet Larsen who's just turned 79. Rob, the school caretaker, is "about 80". Karen Rumble is the administrator.

"The school is the hub of the community and well-supported by the locals," Michael says.

"The school paddock is leased to a farmer and a beekeeper has their bees on the land which all helps with fundraising. It's very competitive in the valley now with manuka. A large portion of the funds raised in the annual pig hunt go to the school to help fund trips and we've bought a trampoline and basketball hoops.

"The school used to be two classrooms and about 30 students. Now there are usually around 11 students and we have a lot of preschoolers coming through in the next few years."

The Ngamatapouri Hall next to the school tells the story of the valley via photographs around the walls. They feature the Ngamatapouri rugby team, an important part of the community. Hunting is also represented with a few boars' heads among the photos.

Just along the road is St Hilda in the Wood, an Anglican church that is another focal point for the community.

Meanwhile, international hunters are getting a taste of life in the valley through Waitotara Valley Estate, a hunting lodge with glamping tent for the hunters to stay in, built by Karen and Tim Rumble, who have lived at Ngamatapouri for a couple of years.

The Rumbles promote their business to Americans keen to get hunting trophies to take home.

As well as working at the school, Karen is a beekeeper, making the most of their manuka-covered property. They ended up in Ngamatapouri after Tim decided to quit his business as a helicopter pilot in Australia and start a hunting business.

"The choice was the Australian outback or New Zealand - I said New Zealand, there's no way I was moving to the outback," Karen said. "I wouldn't trade this lifestyle for anything. It's so lovely here, the people are lovely and the kids are great."

Juliet and Jim Larsen run Remote Adventures from their farm at the end of the road.
Juliet and Jim Larsen run Remote Adventures from their farm at the end of the road.

Right at the end of the longest no exit road in New Zealand we find the Larsens.

Jim's 82 and has lived in the valley all his life. His wife Juliet has been there 56 years.

They started their business Remote Adventures "years ago" to supplement the farm business. Jim took visitors for flights in his Cessna 185. He hasn't got the plane any more - he's got a tractor instead.

Son Peter, a helicopter pilot, has a hunting business for guided and independent hunts. There's also a jetboat for trips 13km up the Waitotara River.

Jim and Juliet have seen many changes over the years.

"There used to be another little school here," Jim says.

"Taumatatahi School had about 12 kids and then it got down to two - me and my brother. Most of the people who used to be here when I was 25 to 50 have all gone now. Lots of people have shifted out."

The Larsens have an old sawmill where Jim milled trees.

"On the way back from our honeymoon we stopped in Taumarunui and Jim bought a couple of five-foot saws," Juliet says.

"I thought 'what the heck does he want that for?"'

The sawmill is a popular attraction on the Whanganui Summer Programme trips to the valley.

It's a sunny day and the huge swimming hole in the river running through the Larsens' property is tempting. Juliet says the family, dogs and horses have already been taking regular dips.

"We don't normally start swimming until after Christmas but it's been so hot already this year."