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After about fifteen kilomètres in heavy trafic, a nice lady on a push bike talks me into using the beach trail rather than the main road, in spite of the signs forbidding horses. I enjoy the sunset on Cape Kidnappers but it's already dark when I reach Jaci's, who Yakov is visiting too. The next day, Angus Gordon takes us in his 4X4 to show me the way to go through Clifton Station. I know all about him and his family because I've read his book, "In the shade of the Cape". For generations, they've been shaping this very special piece of land. Angus' thirty year old son, Tom, is now in charge. I loved the book, which gives an idea of the challenges met by those farmers-entrepreneurs, through lots of lively stories. I'm quite honored to get to know the author better. Later I ride through the station, and I can forget all about GPS and maps.
I spend the night at Haupouri, a show jumping stud with 200 horses. But everybody is at Horse of the Year, of course! It's the first day of Automn and it's raining as it should. I ride along Ocean Beach, where I came surfing with Talya earlier. With the bad weather I couldn't tell it's the same beach, if it wasn't for two brave surfers.
I've been offered a place to stay at Waimarama, by Damian, briefly met at Haupouri. I thought it would be rough (he said there's just a bed and outdoor toilets), but it's quite charming and surprise: there is a sauna! I heat up while Bo and Wiki explore the garden with their palate.
The sky has cleared when I leave, using Te Apiti "paper" road (paper roads are public roads which have somewhat been privatized, one can find padlocks or even a field where they are supposed to stand). Te Apiti in a lovely dirt road winding through paddocks. While riding, I remember I've been given a contact on this very road: Harvey Nelson. There is no phone network coverage and I call in, unexpected, at dawn. He welcomes me with a big smile all the same.
The next day could have been the end of my journey. I tie Bo and Wiki to a fence while I go get my bags. When I come back, Wiki's laying on the ground, a hind caught between two wires. I free him up with my swiss army knife. Even then he seems to struggle to breathe and tries but fails to stand up. I call a vet as desperately as I would call 911. He answers my call with great professionalism, and promises to be there soon. I shouldn't force Wiki up, but I can feed him grass. After eating some, he attempts to stand up one more time and manage to get on all four. I run my hands everywhere on him and make him walk: he's got nothing! He seems ready to go but I'm not, I'll need two hours to recover.
I ride on a gravel road for the rest of the day. Before to hit the tar seal, I ask a farmer if I can cut through his farm. That's how I meet with Nigel, his wife Carla, their daughter Jessie, his colleague Nick and the owner Marc. They are super nice and I find some reasons to stay a bit. First, the tide is low exactly at sunrise and sunset, which is hard to deal with. Plus, they have some crutching to do: they going to need help! I get a job as wool swiper, while Nigel and Nick crutch about four hundred sheep. Some sheep get dirty when pooping: those are cleaned up before the "shearers' gang" come. Shearing is a hard job, and farmers do all they can to ease their task.
Nick (25 years old, 5 kids!) is very keen on mustering on horseback. So do I! Lucky us, some sheep have to be mustered to the woolshed. Nick has very little (not to say none) horse experience. But he's brave! He enjoys the ride and copes with Bo misbehaving (he's not in a good mood), while doing his job (yelling and whistling at his dogs who are so happy around sheep that they disappear with them in the bush at some point).
For the next legs, Marc has used his network to come up with an itinerary and contacts for me. I even have options: the beach (fairly difficult) or a ridge through farmland (very difficult). The beach is awesome, but big rocks stand in the way. Wiki refuses to walk through them (he puts a foot forward with such bad will that it almost get stuck, whereas Bo has passed it without trouble). By wisdom or weakness (or both), I turn around. I find the ridge much easier. I reach the "castle on the hill", Chip McHardy homestead, where Marc has suggested I stop. He welcomes me warmly, put me up in a cottage, and even gives me a quad bike to go back and forth! We've got a surprise visitor: Brando, a twenty year old kiwi, who's been walking around new Zealand coast line for more than a year. He's already gone from north to south on the west coast, and is going back north following the east coast (unfortunately we're going in opposite directions). He lives of the land, and his 38kg backpack includes a riffle, flippers,... The horses have a rest day while I help a bit at the house and at the farm.
I ride toward another of Marc's contacts: Scott Hunter (on Hunter road - easy as!). He, his wife Jacky and there little blond kids welcome me very nicely. I'm shown the way to my room in their impressive house by one of their little ones. Scott and his family have lots of horses, for polo, dressage and mustering. They help me fix Wiki's shoe (I have to look for a farrier again, already!) and top up my horse food.
For once, there is something going on exactly on my way: a dog trial. I stop for a couple of hours to watch dogs push sheep through doors. What I find the most interesting is when the dogs get it wrong, but the dog owners don't see any fun in it. For them, dogs are a passion, an essential partner for farm work, and a financial asset.
In the afternoon, I reach an arbitrary target: the place with the longest name in New Zealand (and in the universe according to the local pub). It means "the hill where a man played the flute to his beloved one, and went down hill sliding on his knees" (according to information collected at the local pub too).
Roaring to Castlepoint
After a whole day on tar seal, I feel like camping. But being on the road, I receive a lot of attention and I'm offered to stay in several places. I end up at Wendy and Hamish's cosy place. They've decided to reintroduce horses in their daily work (on a sheep farm - what else?), and have just bought a nice looking skewbald ngati horse. As between us we have three horses, we all go for a little ride in the morning. Wendy rides Bo, which I think is good for both of them. She's a good rider, which should be a relief for Bo after all the beginers he's had, and she should appreciate Bo for what he is - a five stars horse. Wendy is getting back to riding and I faithfully tell her that Bo is ideal for that, because is very reliable, he can be ridden by kids, beginners, etc... Unfortunately, he seems to profoundly dislike being behind Hamish's well behaved gelding, he gets more and more jumpy and eventually throws a nasty rodeo - I've never seem him that active before! Fortunately Wendy hangs on and manages to stay on his back. I was so wrong about him, thinking he was a good pony! What a shame.
I leave Wendy and Hamish's enjoyable company and head toward Herbertville, via Tautane station. It's an awesome ride, through farmland, with a view on the ocean, on an easy trail. I'm crossing a very shallow lake which stands between Herbertville and the beach when Bo stumbles and struggle to get back on his feet. At the same time, Wiki falls on his bum. They are out of trouble before I attempt to do anything. I just have time to think "so that's how quick sand feels...".
We camp at Pipi Bank station, whose manager is a horse lover. He introduces me to Ann, who shows me the way on her quad, and unlock the gate to the next station. I saddle up after a lazy morning on the beach. I was told the ride would be about ten kilometers, but it's close to twice more. On a quad it doesn't make a big difference, but on horseback it's an extra hour at least. It's getting dark when I reach the next station, Te Akitio, but the manager Tim treats me with the kiwi legendary hospitality: the horses are sorted out with a paddock and myself with a beer and a meal.
I stay for two days at Te Akitio, mostly because one of Wiki's shoes is completely flat and that Tim knows somebody who can help. This somebody is Erin, nicknamed "possum", a tiny blond girl. Wiki surprisingly doesn't stand still and kicks, giving her a hard time (and to Tim as well, he ends up with a bleeding hand - once again what a shame!). But she persists very gently and eventually puts the shoe on.
Here too it's crutching time and I get to see a different method: the sheep is held by a machine. I help to separate the dirty ones from the clean ones and feed the machine with the dirty ones. I also drive a car to escort the sheep to their paddock. Other fun activity: deer have started roaring and we go out on the farm to find them. Tim takes a bottle of wine. We pickup his worker Mike, who comes with beers. A third guy join us, also bringing his drinks. They start roaring as if that was a very normal thing to do, and I can't help but laugh. It take me a while to get used to it but eventually I try too. I'm told I sound like a cow, but even though my juvenile roaring attracts a spiker who walks down from the hill and come to us. We have no gun, he's safe! I now understand why farmers put padlocks on their gates: they protect their private hunting ground. If several people come and roar in the same place, they might attract each other and be very disappointed when they end up face to face with one another!
To leave from Te Akitio, Kate, a friend of Tim, has shown me where to go. She also explained to me where to cross the river, but I fail connecting what I was told with what I see on the spot and end up crossing it quite randomly. We're already on the other side when we hit deep mud. We get out of there all muddy and shaky just when Scott, the next door farmer, drives by and invites us home. The three of us are treated with a shower. I meet Scott's wife Jodie, three of their four children and their German "helpix" (domestic woofer), Julia. The next day, Scott takes Julia and I for deer hunting. This time it's serious stuff, we try to walk without making noise and look for footprints and broken branches. After a long silent walk in the bush, we give up. That's about when a deer turns up, but as we're not stealth anymore he sees us and runs away. We also see a wild pig family and in spite of (or thanks to) not killing anything I'm quite pleased with the hunt.
I leave the same day for a very nice and easy ride along the beach and end up camping by a river.
The next day is the last leg to Castlepoint. On my way, I meet Brett and Jenni, who are in the area for the week end. They take me in for a coffee and even for a shower (I'm still muddy from the hunt...). Brett gets on Bo and rides with me till Castlepoint. We're very much expected there: Jenni is there to pick him up, some friends of them are there too, as well as... Yakov, Jaci, Marino and Pounamu who are there with the wagon for a "gypsy" weekend!
We set our gypsy camp at Castlepoint Station. A light rain sets camp here too. The good mood of Jaci, Marino, Pounemu and Yakov makes over for the weather. We decide to go for a walk to the lighthouse and it's well worth the effort. The lighthouse stands at the end of a rocky bluff which is fun to explore. Huge waves splash as high as ten meters high, and have shaped it in an amazing way. The surroundings are inhabited by pinguins, shags, seals and surfers.
At night, we have Yakov specials (cooked by Pounemu), spicy cabbage with meat, recalling the great time we had together around East Cape. As even the best things eventually come to an end, they leave and I find myself alone with the rain. Fortunately, Emily and Anders Crofoot, who own the station, welcome me generously in their beautiful homestead. They offer me to stay as long as I want, which will turn into one week as it rains continuously. I'm quite happy to rest completely, in company of their awesome Jack Russell Holly. In spite of the weather, the place offer some great activities. Emily as a very active social life and is involved (as well as Anders) is farming associations. A bunch of high school kids, who took "farming" as an option, come at Castlepoint Station and I visit the farm with them. Then David, the Crofoot's son, takes me surfing (we can't get wetter anyways). On small waves and with his "three steps" method, I take off on the first try. At last, his friend's father (father and son are called "Scowy") take me fishing. Scowy senior, Captain Rob, two of their friends and I get on a boat and drive away from Castlepoint beautiful coast at full speed. As soon as the fishing rod are out, fish bite. But I miss some action there because I feel terribly sea sick, struggling just to stay on a seat with closed eyes. I start feeling better when I hear " Alex, do you like dolphins?" And I feel good as gold when I see dozens of them playing around the boat - including a mother and calf, perfectly synchronized. I'm now ready to fish and I'm taught two methods. The first method is to put the line with baits at the bottom and wait for a fish to bite (hopefully a tarakihi). I catch one, which pleases everybody, then I catch a huge baracuda, which I'm the only one excited about (it appears not to be eatable). The second method is to shake a lure within thirty meters from the bottom, making it look like a wounded fish. This is meant to attract kingfish, and we do catch two nice ones.
Back in Castlepoint, we decide with Scowy junior to ride the horses to the pub, where Trish, Emily's houseworker, is celebrating her birthday. We bring the fish which is turned for us into fish & chips! It's dark when we leave but the horses know the way home.
Scowy had not ridden a horse for years but he's straight back into it and offers to come along for one day. Our itinerary has been drawn by Bill Maunsell, a key person in the area. The first leg brings us to... Trish' house! Mary and Kerry, the Crofoots' neighbors, are nice enough to bring my bags over and pick up Scowy. But he's hooked up and decides to carry on for a couple of days. I leave some of my stuff behind, to make room on Wiki's saddle, and ride him with his halter. He's good as gold, whatever the gate, and whereas he's in front of or behind Bo (or even without him). He even manages to open and close some gates.
We meet some incredible creatures. First an emu, at Trish's. The African drum sound coming out of his chest spooks the horses all night long. Then a 47 year old pony, who the horses are also afraid of - white and bony, he looks like a ghost. And at last, a family who's into endurance riding, the eleven year old daughter being engaged in the 120 km race at the national final!
We enjoy the great kiwi hospitality, first at Roger and Mel's, who find us camping in their woolshed, then at Andy's (nicknamed Tick) that we surprise by riding, unexpectedly, up his 3 km driveway, and finally at Peter and Heather's, when we end up completely randomly. By chance, they are horse people!
Mary and Kerry, always ready to help, come and pick up Scowy and deliver my stuff - plus a bunch of deshydrated meals and a hoofpick bought on behalf of Scowy!