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Steph's horse riding school
Before to hit the Far East with Steph, we try on the "Kiwi Experience" bus tour. We're eager to see the New Zealand musts, plus I've won this bus tour at Casete Nine, a bar in Auckland. The bus brings us to Coromandel where are the north island's most famous beaches, Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach. At 10 PM is low tide and tourists gather with torches, spades, music and alcohol on a couple of square meters where hot water is shallow. Each group digs its own little jaccuzi in the sand and can stay warm while enjoying the stars. We finish year 2013 with a unique experience: rafting an underground river, where hundreds of glowworms put on quite a show. At last, we visit with our group a Maori village designed to show tourists how Maori used to live three hundred years ago. Hips of songs and a Hangi (their barbecue) make it very pleasant. We hitchhike for two days to go back to Yakov, Wiki and gipsy life. The wagon is fixed, the horses are shoed, and the route is known, Steph is to be thrown on a horse. It is not an easy start. I lead Bo who's back his soar, he bites Wiki's butt now and again, making him jump and run. Buba who's usually extremely quiet is for once jumpy (result of a week off grazing). And we're not exactly on a trail. Ten minutes after we start, Steph falls off. Then we almost lost Bo twice (he turned around and left us). Fortunately, the ride is short and Steph pretty tough. We reach Te Araroa and meet Yakov's new friends: Pauline, who runs the backpacker and art gallery where we camp (Te Ruku Kanga), and her sister Johanne, who we'll spend awesome evenings with, around the fire, with DJ Yakov's music and bouzouki! Yakov has decided to promote the Ngati horse breed (called after the local tribe "Ngati Porou"), which are tough and quiet. We've seen very small kids riding them bareback and on their own! Yakov gets three of them to pull the wagon, performance which is very much appreciated in the village. Another great event at the camp is the arrival of Yakov's friend Audrey, an eighty two years old pin up. All that keeps him busy, while Steph and I carry on with Buba and Wiki, meeting us only at night. A beautiful beach road brings us to East Cape, which lighthouse is the most eastern place on earth. The road stops here, as if it was the end of the world. A herd of horses graze here freely, as they might not think of a better place to be. Our horses can't stand the flies though. I thought it would be a good idea to set Wiki free so he and Buba chase can each other's flies with their tails, but I have to set Buba free too when he gets his leg caught in his rope, and they both run away. They could have been quite far without the help of a brave girl, who in spite of being pregnant, holding a kid and wearing a skirt, managed to catch them both! She informs us that we can't carry on, as we would have to cross a piece of land whose owner forbid the access (with locked gates), assessing that the trail is too dangerous. We have to backtrack, then walk an extra day on the "highway 35", which might not be much more safe. Going back to Te Araroa is not a loss of time: 1/ We send the dogs back home (two dogs had been following us for two days and it was hard to get rid of them, nonetheless because of their cuteness). 2/ We pick up Bo, not requiring him to be floated anymore. 3/ We get Buba reshoed properly. 4/ Yakov and Pauline do a photo shooting picturing Indians and cowboys. At Tikitiki, the next village, we stay with Jeb's family. He's a stock man, the first I meet who actually works with horses. Some kind of kiwi cowboy. Too much! The next day, another farmer, Chris, shows us a nice trail to go to Ruatoria, the next village. River crossing is involved, which is a bit scary as we don't know the depth in advance, but exciting too! On our way we meet Tony Holden, who organizes horse treks. He tells us where to stop next, at his friends' John and Amanda. But we first hit the wrong paddock and end up at the neighbors' barbecue, Paul and Frances! John and Tony are very impressive when they deal with horses. They are very good riders and horse persons, getting the best out of their horses, who clearly trust them. Tony's kids, who's oldest is eleven, ride colts on long treks which not every grown up would dare riding. Their horses have very good feet and go anywhere (if they don't, they don't last long with them!). We are amazed by what they do and by their horse stories. We start a day trek with them, but have to stop soon due to a gear failure. That might have been good luck for us, as we are still not sure our horses could have done the full trek safely. They are awesome pets, but maybe not the bests bush horses!
PS for Steph's family
After 200 km he's good as gold!
Everybody loves Wiki
We cruse amongst paradisiac bays. It's peak season, but we are almost alone on the freedom camping grounds, which stand right by the ocean. We can therefore set Wiki free. He deserves it, plus he's the only one we trust for not running away. He attends to all our meals, and listens with passion to Yakov's playing Bouzouki. He's such a good pet that we don't think anymore about getting a dog. We reach Tokomaru Bay where a kid greets us in a very weird way: "Have you called the police?" "No, why?" "Somebody has called the police looking for horse riders. You're the only ones here, that must be you. Follow me." As we'll understand later, a lady who we had met earlier the same day wanted to know where we had been, and called the police, assessing they would know. That makes sense in a small village, where the policeman (Bryan, the kid's uncle) is a key person: he's also the horse riding teacher and the emergency midwife. Nothing can happen in Toko without him knowing about it. He provides us with a paddock, and also with beautiful crayfishes! Moreover, he invites us to stay for the welcome ceremony given by the Ngati Porou tribe at the marae for the new police commissioner for Gisborne district. Yakov, Steph and I attend to this great Maori ceremony, with all the police force of the region and the local "who's who", touching noses in hongis. Our point of view on the police is changed forever! The next day, Bryan and a couple of kids ride along with us across farmland, saving us from riding on the main road. We're less and less keen on riding in traffic, now that we know how wonderful it is to ride cross country, but we are strongly advises not to go anywhere without the landowner's permission. We reach Tolaga Bay, where we stay at Wendy's, a friend of Jeb (the kiwi cowboy from Tikitiki I introduced earlier). She welcomes us so well, that we find good reasons to stay at her place for a couple of days. First, there are horse sports up coming. Those very popular events gather riders of all age who compete in jumping, barrel racing, slaloming... Wendy is a judge, Bryan one of the organizers and Tony and his kids are there to ride. He even loans me one of his horses for me to compete too! I have some experience in jumping and do all right, but when it comes to slaloming at canter, I'm hopeless! I fully appreciate the performance of the other riders, who obtain very good results from their horses in spite of their laid back riding style. Maybe this happens because they ride since they are babies. One of the category is "lead reins": very young kids hang on to the saddle while their parents lead the horse on the obstacles, sometimes cantering. Another day, Jeb and his family visit us and take us to the world famous in New Zealand Tolaga wharf. It's the longest of the south hemisphere. A local rider became a legend by jumping from the end of the wharf with his horse, then swimming back. The wharf stands a couple of meters above the ocean's level, and is about a kilometer long! We get mussels from the piles, huge ones, and have a feast at night (marinated mussels, mussels chowder, roasted mussels...). Jeb with his guitar and Yakov with his bouzouki entertain us with improvised songs and even get the foreigners (a German couple and ourselves) to sing songs from their countries. We go for Louise Attaque and Pink Martini. Delighted by our stay, we carry on through farmland and on the beach (beautiful itinerary found thanks to Paula and the Sheltons). We soon have to go back to the main road, as a landowner forbid the access to the trail which crosses his land. That's a big disappointment, but luckily we can ride the beach at low tide most of the time for the last kilometers to Gisborne. Steph now rides Bo, whose back has healed, and enjoys his smooth trot and canter. The horses are in good mood and good shape, our little team has a great time. Yakov on his side meet great people. One night, we find him drinking mate with a young Argentinian couple, Mariana and Federico. They get along with the horses quite well, and decide to come with us for a while. Another day, he brings us an awesome girl, Felicity. She comes with her spurs and a bridle, jumps bareback on Buba and leads us to her place in Gisborne. She's about to leave for a horseback riding journey in the US, it's a dream to meet such a girl on our way. We leave the horses in her five stars paddock while we head to the Tongariro National Park (most famous as the Mordor), which we want to see before Steph flies back to France...