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A new start
Steph is gone, and I soon discover that it's departure time for Yakov too! There are still some big hills up coming, preventing us from using the wagon much. Yakov is neither keen on leaving the wagon behind, nor on hitchhiking back to it every day. He tries to team up with two broke backpackers, hoping they can drive the car and tow the wagon, but once fed and rested they go away. Yakov decides to stop traveling, which is a terrible news for me, but he puts a smile on my face when he tells me I can use Bo to carry on! I'm a bit sad when I leave Gisborne with only Wiki and Bo. Buba seems surprised not to be allowed to come along. I guess he was enjoying his latest position as led horse, with no rider nor packs! I ride for two days in the city and on suburb roads, which is not ideal, but I'm pleased by two things. First, the horses are very nice, at least after I give up the idea of using Bo as the pack horse. He really dislikes it, and always end up breaking free. Too bad, because he was good at dealing with the width of the bags when turning, allowing extra room for them. Wiki has another strategy: the narrower is the space he has to go through, the faster he goes! Besides that they are perfect. I'm happy we got to know each others for two months already and have by now a good relationship. Then, people at outstandingly good to me, even if Yakov is not there anymore to charm them with his bouzouki songs and his sense of humor. The first night, whereas I'm looking for a place to camp, I'm offered a paddock for the horses, and tea and a bed for me at the neighbor's! Almost all the people I meet are eager to help me or host me. Only those who've traveled New Zealand can imagine how good people are! The next day, I'm hosted by Debbie, Simon and their sons Harry and Drew (Harry suggested to his mother that they should pick me up when they saw me on the road). They have horses and are very interested by my journey, that they boost by floating my horses. Instead of riding the next boring twenty kilometers on the road, I just do a nice ride up to their hut, while they carry all my stuff on the bike. They shoot dozens of goats (considered as pest because they eat the sheep's grass), then leave and let me stay the night in this amazing place, so quiet and remote. It's so great being there, that my mood is not affected by the wet weather, nor by the forecast which says it's going to rain seven days in a row! Following Debbie's plan, I ride to Ruakaka, where live her friends Peppa and Simon. They allow me to ride through their farm, and Simon even shows me the way with his bike! After a several hour ride through farmland, I reach the next farm, which is as big and where I have to "use my nose" as told by Simon, or for a better efficiency my GPS. As I'm exclusively surrounded by paddocks, nothing else being on sight for hours, it feels a bit like being into the wild when I set camp for the night. When I see some houses the next day (Mangaroa), then some cars (at Ruatikuri), it's like coming out of a dream. On the map, I've just covered a little blank space left between two roads, and I wonder what else does the map hide. In Ruatikuri live Dave and Jane, some other friends of Debbie, who too have horses. It's Dave's birthday (twenty five according to him, but more than the double according to the police), and their family is visiting them, but they make me feel very welcome all the same. It rains for days and I end up staying with them while their family leaves (Janine and the little ones, Hope and Faith). And I'm still there when their friends (Paul and Adrian) come over from Auckland. They introduce me to the Neknomination, that they do with great fashion in the family, and to their way to enjoy evenings together: drinking good wine, singing good songs and playing the ukulele, the guitar, the piano and the accordion. Dave is very involved in "search and rescues", which teams are quite famous in New Zealand for rescuing trampers. He arrange for an Emergency Locator Beacon to be delivered, for me to be able to call emergency services at anytime. As it has not arrived when I hit the road again, he arranges for it to be delivered to me while I ride! I'm amazed when the courrier's red van stops next to my horses. I ride on extremely quiet gravel roads. I even have to go through some gates, as even the road sides are grazed! I'm constantly surrounded by farmland, but luckily I find a "reserve" where to camp at night: a small patch of bush, next to a river with grassy banks. The next day brings me at Jess and Emanuel's (Dave and Jane's friends). The young couple has three kids (Owen, Lily et Felix), but also about thirty horses! Before I leave, Jess takes me to lake Waikaremoana. I had ridden nearby, without getting a chance to see it: I failed to get the permission to ride the trail leading to the lake, and going by road would have required a 30 km return ride on the road (a whole day for me!). Thanks to Jess, I get to admire this must-see before to head to Hastings.
Long walk to wisedom
I carry on gravel roads. I can count the cars on the fingers of one hand. A school bus passes, then stop, and its driver Heather Manson invites me to spend the night at her place. I like it right away, because the grass is the greenest of the area! Her husband Tom raise sheep, and has been shearing all day with a couple of friends and extras. Even if I haven't helped then, I take part to the great post-shearing meal they're having on the garden. But I get another chance to get involved, as Tom has just bought eight hundred lambs which have to be drenched. I stay for that, but I'm a bit taken aback when Tom asks me to do mark the lambs, by punching their ears. I do my best, especially because I've almost insisted to come, but fortunately, I'm so bad at it, letting the bloody lambs mixing with the others, that Tom finally asks me to help Heather at drenching. Once done, we set them free so that they can fatten by eating grass. Tom is greatly helped by his dog, well taught with an electric collar. He whistle different sounds, which mean "left", "right", "stop", "run". They seem to be remote controlled. They can stay still during long minutes, then rush forward when their name is called. They do an awesome job, which is nice to look at. After that, it's a bit late for me to leave, and I completely give up the idea when I'm offered to go pig hunting the next day. It seems that everybody goes pig hunting in New Zealand -even Wiki has been pig hunting- so I'm very curious about it. I get to go with the boys (Bennett, George and their cousin Angus), led by Quentin, a family friend and very experienced pig hunter. We take four pig dogs with us, two of them being tracked thanks to a GPS collar, and a pet dog who enjoys hunting as a past time. I enjoy hiking and riding the quad through paddocks at dawn, till action starts: the dogs catch simultaneously two young boar. We run toward the pigs, helped both by the squealing and the GPS. We arrive soon enough to free the first one, but the second is in bad shape and has to be killed, by sticking a knife into its heart. That's quite an experience for me, but takes more than a young boar to satisfy Quentin! We keep cruising through farmland till we almost pass without seeing it a big pig which is having a nap. The dogs do notice it and wake him up in no time. New stabbing, some bleeding and everything is over. At least for the pig! His inside has to be removed and it has to be carried back to the quad (lucky us, we are parked real close!). After bringing it back and telling all about our hunt to the few people we meet on our way, a process as long as the hunt itself starts: the pigs are hung, theit skin cleaned with a blowtorch and knives, and their legs and head are cut. We won't turn them into bacon, but instead visit Quentin's place, where is to be found a pet dear and... Domesticated wild pigs!
By the time I'm quite fond of the Manson family, which also includes two girls, Ruby and Lily. As a perfect excuse to stay longer, we agree that I'll call in the school on the day I leave (no sooner than Monday). Wiki and Bo become the family ponies for the week end, all the kids ride them. They take good care of them, feeding them apples and cleaning their hoofs, and are enthusiastic riders. Some canter with Bo (who behaves well), and I'm pleased when Ruby, initially slightly scared by the horses, tells me that she feels like going to school on horseback.
We also all go to an awesome spot on the river, with big jumps and beautiful waterfalls.
Soon comes Monday. We leave at seven for school, Ruby riding Wiki which I lead, and the little George riding the huge Bo on his own. More than two hours later and slightly late, we arrive at Putere school. As only nine kids attend to this school, I can give rides to all the volunteers. Surprisingly, George and Ruby are the most keen!
Heather gave me a contact for the next night: Louise and Arnold, who breed beautiful Clydesdales. They nicely offer to host me, but I go a dozen of kilometers further, to Chimney Creek Stud, where they have a woolshed, sparing me the tent set up. I'm back into civilization, I cross Rauponga then I'm on the main road, with hips of trucks. I see the Mohaka viaduct, mentioned as a point of interest by touristic maps. The next day, I find a way to escape the road: I ride the railway, idea I got when learning that it had been closed to trains between Gisborne and Napier for at least a year, due to a slip requiring reparations not yet done. This straight forward itinerary has great highlights: tunnels. The first one is short, but bended, requiring to walk toward darkness, as the exit is hidden. While I'm busy with Bo's reins, Wiki's lead, my flashlight and the camera, Bo back up with energy. Wiki handles it very well: he turns around and follows Bo, facing him. I'm sure they would be good at Tango! Putting my camera away, I manage, step by step, to bring Bo to the the bend, and when he sees the exit he chills out. The second tunnel is much longer (over 800 meters), but they are used to walk in the dark already and seem not to care at all. Whereas this tunnel frightened me a bit. If not carried by the horse, I might have turned around!
Last challenge: find a good place where to leave the horses several days, as I need to go to Hastings to have a wisdom tooth removed. I knock at the door, whenever a house can be accessed from the railway. Kathryn and Grant, who own a farm, notice that and offer their help. They loan me a big paddock for the horses, and I'm soon at their place, drinking bier and watching cricket. The next day, Andrea, whom I had met while looking for a paddock, picks me up. She goes to Taupo and can drop me on her way. Finally she'll go out of her way, dropping me at the dentist, after calling in to check I was really expected there!
From Napier to... Napier
Having a wisdom tooth removed is not exactly fun, but I turned out to have a very nice stay in Hastings for that occasion. I "couchsurfed" with Talya and her parents. Talya took me out, along with her friends. We went up Te Mata peak, having fish & chips at sunset with a breathtaking view. We went to the beach to surf (or at least try!) on a board her father, who surfs a lot, has built himself. But most of all, it's Art Deco Week End in Napier, a big event for which almost everybody dresses up like in the twenties. Feathers, braces, hats and collection cars are everywhere. Talya loaned me a dress, a boa and girly shoes, which I appreciated greatly after wearing pretty much the same clothes everyday for five months. I also met with Yakov, who topped up my "pet food" stock and introduced me to his friends, whose horses he's been helping to break into harness. I got to drive a Shetland pony's sulky (Wiki is next for pulling a sulky!).
After this medical tourism, I go back to my horse to find them in very good shape. Grant helps me greatly with the itinerary. His daughter Stacey who's visiting also gets involved and the three of us drive to the next viaduct. Its boards are dodgy and I don't consider using the railway anymore. After studying the map and driving to the neighbors, a new itinerary is found and we are given two precious gate keys (thank you Steeve and Lesley). Grant and Stacey escort me for the first kilometers, driving the car at walking pace behind the horses, protecting us from the traffic while on the main road. I ride through farmland and on back country roads. The ride is awesome, especially when reaching a summit overlooking the ocean and kilometers of coastline. But I stop floating on air later in the afternoon, when I fail to open the padlock on the gate bringing back to the road. I set camp for the night in the paddock where we've ended up, and in the morning everything goes well. First, the horses come cantering for breakfast (the paddock was so big, I didn't know where to start looking for them). Then, in a cloud of dust appears a flock of sheep, a clue that the farmer is coming! He does free me up and by the way let me know where is the gate I could have opened with my key. I was really close, but in another paddock...
I head toward Tutira lake, but its access is for pedestrian only. No drama, I knock at the door of the closest farmers, Jeanette and Honey, and we soon discover that I've already met their son Mike, who farms near lake Waikaremoana, and that I'm heading towards Honey's brother's place ("Blue"). Honey ushers me into his paddocks then explains me how to cross the forest and reach the lake, thanks to a one hour ride. Three hours later (I got delayed by big trunks laying in the middle of the trail), I meet Blue, waiting for me on the way. I apologize, as I guess he has been waiting and worrying for a while, but he was not so worried after all because surprisingly, he knew that I had an emergency locator beacon! He even knew it was given to me by Dave Withers. The new zealand jungle telegraph is very efficient, he had got the info from Jeanette who had got it from Mike.
Blue, his wife Helen and their son Amish welcome me very generously, in their beautiful place facing the lake. They are adorable and when they offer me to stay one more day to escape the rain, I can't help but accept. My next stop is Tangoio road, where I've been given a contact, Glenn. Blue draws the itinerary on the map (or my tablet I should say), where no track is to be seen (only forests, rivers and level lines). But once on the spot I do find a wide track - several tracks, even! After walking uphill for a while, I have the confirmation I took the right ones, as I find a note "for the french girl riding through" taped on the gate. Frances (that I didn't get to meet) had unlocked it for me, after Blue called her.
Glenn welcomes me very well. Bo and Wiki are lucky enough to be the first animals grazing on the property he had bought recently. The three of us leave the place in good condition, heading to Napier, that we can see far away. I also have a contact there: "Dzidra". A nice guy named Chris had come to see me while I was riding through a paddock, giving me a paper with her number and saying it was "from Dave". No matter who Dave is, that was nice!
Dzidra offers to float my horses through Napier. We agree she'll pick me up the next day. By then, I shall get as close as possible, by riding on the beach. It's hard to find grass near the beach, except on flesh houses' yards. I spot a camping ground on the map, hoping it will be a vast green area as usual. But this one is is packed with tents and I don't even bather asking if they can accommodate horses. I back track to an open space around the railway (it again!), where grows some grass. I'm about to set camp and spend a lonesome evening but Bo walks away, Wiki neighs and in no time I'm invited to spend the night with the neighbors, Darryl and Wendy, who's father was a farrier. Darryl borrows a briddle and rides with me to Napier (the bags are dropped by Wendy at a friend's). He's quite happy to get back on a horse, for the first time in twenty years, and I'm very happy too, for the company, and also because while he rides Bo I get to ride Wiki!