Four beats to freedom - a horseback journey through New Zealand



Mary's New Zealand Diary


Sent - 8th December
 
Two weeks in the 'back blocks' - frankly glad not to have the pc to contend with as well as I have scarcely even found time to write up my diary and the pack has taken a fair old hammering. We are now in Christchurch, having a little R&R - Foggy's feet, Borrie's back and my teeth are all in need of attention, and the boys are glad to be in the same paddock for several days and just to chill out ( a bit appropriate given the torrential rain we've been having this weekend). To go back to where I left you last....

Foggy floats
Foggy remained pretty sore for a couple of days, so I was delighted to be able to give him a lift to Glenmore Station at lake Alexandrina in Nigel and Penny Dickson's float. NB: For those in the UK, a float is a trailer. If a horse is described as 'floating well' it has nothing to do with his ability in the river crossings - he is good to box!!

It made all the difference - the going over the Military range between Pukaki and Alexandrina was full of stones - great hills of moraine material, full of boulders and little in the way of vegetation. We had to get permission to cross the range - would have been a shame to cause an international military incident, - but nonetheless, we did feel a little self conscious as we went through the gate denying us admittance 




Lake Alexandrina is a nature reserve, full of wonderful waterbirds including a vast flock of black swans. Yeats sprang to mind:

..Upon the brimming water among the trees
Are nine and fifty swans....

....And now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful. Their hearts have not grown old
Passion and conquest, wander where they will
Attend upon them still....

(misquoted probably, from The Wild Swans at Coole)



Glenmore is a beautiful property, stretching right up the Cass river and producing very high grade Merino wool. The lake was thick with midges and the rain came down in torrents  - thankfully we had the Murray's shearers' quarters to stay in.
What it's all about

Rick is just 14 and rides with RDA in Omaru. He joined me at Glenmore, to ride Foggy up the back whilst I led him from Boris. The rain miraculously lifted sufficiently for three hours midday allowing us to get right up to where we could see way up under the cloud to the Cass River valley. Rick had never ridden so far or for so long, he had never ridden without someone leading him on foot and of course he had never ridden Foggy. He had scarcely ever been up or down a hill. The rain on his face, the wind at his back, the cloud hanging round the tall peaks totally middle-earthish,  Cattle spooking at us, calves lurking in the matagouri: all combined to make the world suddenly a huge place and the horse was the means to get there.

'How do you feel, Rick?' I asked

'Great!' he grinned back at me. 

'Four beats to freedom':  for those two hours, Foggy became Rick's freedom, his new view on the world. Let's give more young people this opportunity to enlarge their own vision and perception of themselves by using the horse's four strong legs to take them where they cannot go alone.


Compromise not cheating

The heavy rain meant that the Godley river was going to be a serious do or drown episode, added to which the track from Godley Peaks Station creeps around the base of a very steep range and is all sharp stones. Not what Foggy needed. Time was becoming of the essence since Nigel and Penny had joined me for the demanding trip over Stag Saddle, but Nigel had a meeting to get back to in Dunedin the following Tuesday . To go all round the bottom of the was going to be too far in one day, so after considerable mental turmoil, I decided it was in the boys' best interests to float them both 15 km down to Tekapo, unloading in the car park and surprising a few tourists at the lovely statue which pays tribute to the thousands of working dogs who have played their role in opening up this hard tough McKenzie country, and then ride back up the eastern side of the lake to Mount Gerald Station.

Unfortunately at this point Jacko did a runner - but he will tell you about that himself!


The best laid plans - more shoeing sagas

I believed I had made arrangements for Borrie to be shod behind at Mt Gerald. However I found that the skills available were really little more than I could offer myself ; three of us huffed and puffed and removed one shoe but doubted our collective ability to nail tight enough for Stag Saddle so I was immensely grateful to Sam Staley at Mackenzie Alpine Trekking Company right by lake Tekapo, who fitted us in at about an hour's notice. ( If you are in Tekapo and you fancy riding beside the lake, you can contact Sam on 0800 628269 - he has a good string of horses !)


Stag Saddle - 1925m above sea level
That's a long haul from Mount Gerald at 750m ! Up and up through Mount Gerald Deer paddocks and gleaming tussock with the brilliant waters of Tekapo and the breadth of the Godley River out below us



Snow lay knee deep in places at the top- hiding the leg breaking, shoe-pulling sharp boulders and scree beneath and Borrie did his best to roll in each enchantingly cool haven. Breathtaking views - though my focus was so much on the footwork that cameras were a low priority!  The boys snapped the stag saddle picture for their page. We stayed the night in Royal hut, (1320m) an amazing minimalist shelter in a wide tussock valley, beneath a frozen and star studded sky, coming on over Bullock bow Saddle (1692m) on the Monday morning. 


Another track across the shaley slopes and a long steep ridge down the other side. The first view of the Rangitata valley - 'Then at dawn we came down to a temperate grassland...' arriving at Mesopotamia station quite late in the evening and dossing down in the old cook house - a rambling building complete with the remains of the Mesopotamia library, a gloriously period collection of novels from the days when it was much more cut off than it is today.


  

Above the Rangitata



Mesopotamia and across the Rangitata

Mesopotamia is spectacular. A great wide valley, with the Rangitata worming its braided path over the wide flats and pebble banks before it narrows and churns through the gorge below. Penny and Nigel left early on the Tuesday and I sat tight, waiting for the river to drop. The station itself is vast, and carries with it a wealth of high country history. I felt privileged to be able to give a hand in the velveting of one mob of stags, and in painting the door of the small office building - playing my part in the ongoing history of the property by signing my work!  By Friday the river had dropped after 24 hours without rain so Laurie Prouting jumped on Borrie to show me a way across, and after returning to replace the pack, the three of us picked our way through for ourselves. The current was immensely strong but we didn't have to swim for more than a few strides- thank heavens I waited for the right day. 24 hours later and it would have been impossible once again. I was jubilant on reaching the far side, I readily admit - it is no small feat. But make no mistake - it is not a river to be played with and it is only thanks to the kindness of Laurie who took time from his very busy day that we made it without a soaking - if not worse. 

End of stage 1

At Hakatere we met with Pam Holmes and her two quarter horses, and spent the next few days coming down Pudding Valley behind Mount Harper, over Brown Saddle and onto Inverarary station, where we were able to stay in John Chapman's cook house, through Mount Somers and out along the road to Mount Hutt. After visiting Mount Somers school we floated both boys down to Ashburton for the day, to participate in a fund raising event at RDA.  Local personalities had been invited to participate in a 'challenge' ride, gaining sponsorship in order to do so. Those who could ride already were given a 'disability' such as riding side saddle or riding Foggy and leading Boris, and all were judged, pseudo dressage style , over an obstacle course. You lost a lot of marks if you allowed Borrie to snatch a mouthful of hay from the bales that formed the bending poles!

Floating back up to Mt Hutt,  we came on along the road and over the Rakaia Gorge - the river very full and black, glad we aren't crossing that one - to Windwhistle school, and finally got a welcome lift down to Christchurch RDA.

Onward plans

We will float back up to the Rakai gorge area to carry on where we left off, but first we have the farrier, and need to review the fitting of the pack saddle on Borrie.  I will post an update as soon as I have a departure date and my route confirmed. I will also have a go at updating thoughts on equipment and maps - so do check the site.
 

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