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On Ze road
Our last night in Kawerau is to be remembered. Sara, the girl who's going to ride the Motu with us, brings some fine food and a bottle, and a musician friend of Gerard comes to say goodbye. He looks like a rocker, but he blows the shofar (an antilop horn) and says some kind of prayer to bless our journey. After throwing all our belongings in the wagon, we wave goodbye to Kawerau poney club. We've never tied Kiwi to the wagon yet, he jumps a bit when the wagon starts moving behind him but the two other horses stay absolutely quiet and it only takes a hundred meters for him to settle down and pull with calm and power. We now call him Wiki Wonder. This first day goes incredibly well. I sometimes get off the wagon to take some pictures, and I'm struck with the wind created by the big trucks driving by, but the horses completely ignore them. The only thing that spooks them are the very scary puddles... We got started around noon but covered about 50 km at a slow but steady pace. We stop at the Waimana Scenic Reserve, which is ideal: the grass is beautiful and there is a river (which water is said to be drinkable, as it's a magic, self cleaning river). We stay there the next day, adjusting the gear, enjoying the river and talking to the people who come to us, as they see the wagon and horses from the road. People are nice to us, we're offered to go deer hunting up the Motu (as a teaser I'm given some teeth that require just a bit of jewelry work to make nice earnings), horse trekking in Australia, some Diesel to drink (Bourbon-cola), and a promised to be sheltered in case of heavy rain! We expect the second day of traveling to be as smooth as the first one, but Mister Bojangle, who thinks he's nothing but a diva, has decided to stay at the reserve. It takes an hour of stimulation, tricks and patience to get started, but what a start, we canter up the hills. Not long after, we notice that Buba misses a shoe. We use one from his spares - already, after so few kilometers! Not to mention his other shoes are already very thin. We meet a woman and a little girl riding on the same horse. This is quite incredible in such a country, but here the horses are actually used for transport. We know that we're entering a very unique region, East Cape, where people are close to nature, living from the land. At the end of the day, we hit a creek: we've reached the ocean. Our second camp is even more of a paradise than the first one, except that "no camping - no overnight stay" is sign posted - but the local people tell us that less than a week is fine. We're next to a lagoon, and there are toilets and running water! In the lagoon, at low tide, many pipis are to be found. Pipis are like tuatuas, just a bit smaller. We have boiled pipis, pipi salad and even pipi fritters, a local dish which secret recipe is worth being revealed to the world: pipis, water, eggs, flour, milk powder, salt and pepper, sweet corn (optional), mixed and thrown in a pan. We stay two days at "pipi bed", because the horses need a break, and because somebody offers to make our dream come true, by welding tungsten on our spare horse shoes. He's the one who offered us some Diesel to drink, that we meet again by chance (it seems to me that East Cape is like a neighborhood, where people meet each other all the time). He looks exactly like the French actor Gérard Depardieu, I can't help but tell him, and he knows already! He helps us a lot (as well as his friend Lans who re-shoe Buba), drive us to awesome viewpoints, and teaches us how to use a lasso (on the three meters far away gas bottle - that's hard enough!). The pipi fritters recipe is his. We meet many other people, amongst them a rugby team from Fidji, very impressed by our horses as the ones they have over there are much smaller (even smaller than Wiki!) Our third day of travelling goes well, we make it to Jock Collier's, a Maori we met at Hoof Camp (Whakatane's saddlery), who offered to leave the wagon at his place while we ride the Motu. It's time to saddle up!
Jock and his wife Ann welcome us very nicely. They make room for the wagon, our horses, and us: we kind of move in their garage, where we set our picnic table. It's a quite unique ambiance restaurant. We obviously haven't had hot running water for ages: I sincerely ask Gerard how he managed to fill two recipients with hot water at once. His answer: "see the tap with a red dot? Don't you have them in France?". While waiting for Sara (who'll finally not come), we reshoe Wiki's hinds, as Gerard noticed that his shoes were "thin as toilet paper". At the end of the day, we go for a ride with Jock. He shows his horses to us, spread on the surrounding green and peaceful valleys. I'm living my dream, riding my horse, in a beautiful place, along with local horse persons. The next day, we pack for our four days trek. We use the old coach road, a metal road which used to be the way that mail was delivered. A quicker, tar sealed one has been built since then, but the old stage road is still very well maintained. It's an heaven for biking, cycling and horse trekking, as it winds smoothly through happy valleys away from civilization. We reach Toatoa, the village where lives Bob, Sara's friend. We don't find his place, he finds us! He has a great paddock for the horses, a bed for us and tea is ready! He has sheep, cows, pigs, ducks, horses, dogs... He knows a lot about horse trekking and has a brilliant way to tether horses that we want to copy: an anchor. Gerard decides to stay there, but I want to go to the Motu and carry on with Wiki. At the Motu, I stay at the community house, an hostel where I'm the only person. I'd felt a bit lonely if I hadn't met Bron, who invits me for breakfast, then for a day and night stay at her place. She teaches at the local school, which has a total of ten kids (two of them are hers). Her husband is a hunter, no doubt about it, as each room is decorated with deer antlers and pictures of pigs. They are both horse lovers - so are their kids. Bron takes me to beautiful falls, and as we drive back, we pass a wool shed full of activity. Outside, naked sheep. She arranges for me to try, and I'm soon holding and shearing (part of) my first sheep, closely monitored by the shearer (it's quite tricky). The Motu (and Bron) offer me another real kiwi experience: planting trees in a kiwi birds enclosure, so that in a couple of years, what was a field not long ago looks like native bush again. The enclosure is almost as secured as a banking company: we have to go through a sass. This is designed to protect the iconic bird (who can not fly) from the pests, a threat introduced by colons. I'm pleased to get muddy for such a cause. Floating on air, I go back to Toatoa (hello again, Bob, Gerard and Bo). We return to Jock's, quite happy about this 100 km detour to the Motu. We spend another day at his place, and arrange for the equine dentist, Wayne McEwan, to come. We're worried about Wiki, who's chewing a lot. Wayne confirms something was wrong, a too long teeth is wounding the opposite jaw. I'm interested by his work, and very relieved that he fixed the issue. As a bonus, he brings Olivia with him! We're ready to carry on the coast.
From Opotiki to Waihau Bay (by Olivia)
One week with a happy kiwi family
Yakov has to go back to town for a couple of days. After singing "Happy birthday" to me at breakfast (I'm thirty now), he and Olivia leave. I stay with the Kemps: Jim, whose family has been into
sheep since one hundred years, his wife Sally who came from England, and their daughters, Emily the diver-photographer and Harriet the hunter-singer. They welcome me warmly and generously, as if
I was part of the family. At night, they sing "happy birthday" to me in maori, around a beautiful vegan chocolate cake. I appreciate both the gesture and the taste very much.
With Jim and Harriet, I get to participate in the mustering of the sheep and the drenching of the lambs. They have to be stuck in a corridor so that we can get close to them and put the product in their mouth. We also sort out the sheep which have to be sheared. Holding a lamb is a bit tricky, but when it comes to catching a sheep and dragging him to a different paddock, it's quite a rodeo. It's a lot of fun, and I seriously consider adding "sheep management" on my resume.
We bring the horses to the nearby river. Jim is a good rider, he used to work with horses rather than with a quad in the old days. For once, Bo has to behave! Jim takes him for a swim (whereas I usually just get him to walk in the water). I rush on my camera to capture this, but by the time I'm ready to take a picture, Bo has disappeared. I scan the place to find a tree or some place where he can hide, but no such thing is in sight. Then I see jaws coming out of the water close to Jim, then a pair of laying back ears (sign that the horse is not in a good mood). Bo comes back to the shore, obviously upset. Jim bravely gets back on him, incredibly manages to bring him back to the same spot, and this time, Bo does swim! Jim also teaches Buba how to swim. Wiki unfortunately missed the course, he was stuck in the paddock due to a missing shoe.
Yakov is still not back when the Kemps take me diving. We pass a hill with their UTV to reach their batch on the ocean, on a superb remote spot, well equipped with hot shower and coffee... We put on masks, snorkels, flippers, wetsuits and weight belts, plus a bag to bring back the catches. I just float along while Jim and Emily roam everywhere in the water as if they were fishes themselves, catching crayfishes, urchins and abalone (weird looking animal which tastes good in paua fritters). By the way, we shake hands with a huge octopus. Eating all this sea food is also a great time, furthermore because the Kemps have a feeling for cooking.
I thought I had tried all the extremely cool activities possible in the area when Glenis, a friend of the Kemps, offered to introduce me to the art of weaving, the main Maori handicraft. We cut some flax leaves, after silently asking the plant for its approval, explaining what and for who it's for. Glenis and Jim also show me how to extract from those leaves some very strong strings, which could be useful during the journey.
At last, Harriet, who's only eighteen but has many years of experience as a hunter, gives me an initiation to hunting. We first go and shoot some cans, then at night when it's dark the two of us patrol in the area with the quad. With a powerful torch, we scan the surroundings, looking for eyes' lures. Harriet teach me how to tell a sheep (green eyes) from a possum or a hare (red eyes). I'm not bad at finding sheep, especially when driving through their paddock, but I don't spot anything else. Lucky that Harriet is better! After shooting a couple of hares without hitting them, she kills a possum. We collect its fur, which may be sold (but at least a kilo, roughly twenty animals, is required). The meat is for the lucky family dogs.
In as few words, my stay at the Kemps is very exciting, I couldn't hope for a nicest family to stay with nor a nicest place for my horses, also enjoying the company of the sheep, puppies, dogs, cats, pet cows....
We wish you a Maori Christmas
Yakov comes back with Christmas presents for the Kemps, for myself and even for Buba: packsaddle bags, homemade out of chaff bags.
We're ready for the next leg, except for Buba and Wiki's feet. For once, Bo doesn't give us any trouble, his gaits are so perfect that his shoes are not worn out and his hoof has not grown much.
The Kemps help me to find somebody to reshoe Buba (not a farrier though, there is none in this remote area). Wiki's case is more complex. One of his hoof was in bad shape when we bought him. It's quite a miracle that the shoe has hanged on so far, but it has finally came off, along with a piece of the hoof, allowing no more refit. Fortunately, we're now sponsored by the Institute for Barefoot Equine Management (IBEM) who provides us with discounted horse boots. We have our first go with a boot in quite extreme conditions, walking in the Whangapararoa river's bed during fifteen or twenty kilometers. The shoe stays on as we walk on stones, in the water and in the mud. Moreover, they still look quite new at the end of the day - and Wiki's foot is fine too. We have an awesome ride till Wiki gets his hinds stuck in the mud, frightening me and making him somewhat mud-phobic for a while...
We spend the night at the Mohau, staying with Jobby and his wife, that I know because they've adopted one of the Kemps' puppies (and renamed it Sally, like Sally!). It's dark when we reach and thanks to their good care we are soon in bed, after a good meal and a shower.
The next day is the 24th of December and an easy ride is supposed to bring us to "Te Araroa" (village whose name means "the long pathway" in Maori). After an eight hours ride, we're still quite far. We're happy to camp for Christmas' eve, till we notice that some of our gear has fallen from the saddlebags. Yakov's jacket and waterproof cover are missing, as well as my bag, stuffed with a bunch of useful items (including ropes, toothbrush, torch...). Backtracking would be quite exhausting for the horses (and impossible on foot). We decide to seek help in Tarere, a nearby farm. There are a couple of houses but most of them are empty (it's Christmas). It rains till the next day (the 25th) and Matthew, who we meet then, is like a ray of sun when he brings us chocolates! He also gives his jacket to Gerard - how sweet! This is a perfect day to test my wood stove in wet conditions. It takes about two hours to half-cook noodles and we realize that we'll badly need the little ready-to-eat food we have (bread, boiled eggs). That's why when we find a bunch of pigs finishing it, I decide that never again I'll stop eating pork! It's only 6:00 PM but we go to bed, as we can't think of anything else to do. We're soon waken up by Matthew and his wife Denise who bring us a great Christmas meal: venison, strawberries, cake... And bacon! It's our turn to pig out. We eat in the woolshed, making this Christmas even more special.
The next day, Denise and Matthew bring us back to the Kemps to pick up the wagon. There place is still christmassy, and we enjoy a christmas cake with them. Jim surprises us by offering to go and look for our stuff (about 30km away) with the quad bike and we find it all!
Another surprise (a bad one!): on the way back, the wagon breaks and a wheel almost comes off. Gerard handles the situation very well, befriending the people who live in the closest houses, a Maori family preparing a reunion. They let us camp at their place, offer us coffee and shower, and an unexpected show: they kill a pig.
Back in Tarere, we meet Matthew's brother in law, a horse lover. He welcomes us very warmly and gives us his house key, in case we would like to have a shower when he's not there! He accept to keep the horses at his place for a while, as I need to go to Auckland, see Fabienne my bestfriend who happens to be in New Zealand, and to pick up my boyfriend who comes for a month of vacations (that's what he thinks...).