I am writing up my gap year travels from 2006-2007 so that I can self-publish a book to pass on to my niece and nephews. I hope they will read about my adventures and be inspired to explore themselves…and I hope you enjoy my travel tales.
Rangitukia, New Zealand, April 2006
Rangitukia is located about 10km from the East Cape, the most easterly point of New Zealand, and on the next leg of our Kiwi Experience ‘East As’ trip we stayed on a farm for the night called the ‘Eastender Farmstay’. Accommodation consisted of either a big dorm-type room or a little hut with two bunk beds in each, and I fortunately managed to bagsy a hut with my new friends Liz, Dominique and Ally. Rangitukia feels like it is out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded as far as the eye can see by lush green fields and pretty farmland. On our way into the settlement we saw small children riding their horses bareback on their way home from school. Apparently, they get them riding from as young as two years old in the area.
Our guide, Jerry, explained that Rangitukia is a Rastafarian-Maori area, and we were greeted on arrival by Reg, who was an outgoing character with long dreadlocks piled on top of his head, a few gold teeth, and a metal hook for a hand. His story (and I’m to this day still unsure as to whether I am inclined to believe it) was that he once caught a large shark when he was fishing, which he tried to kill, and it flipped round and bit his hand off! Whatever the reason, it certainly didn’t hinder him in any way. Jerry described him as a ‘demon’ on a horse, and told us a tale of when they had been galloping horses along the beach when Reg sped past him, holding onto the reins with his hook, and smoking a cigarette with his spare hand!
In the afternoon, ten of us decided to join Reg and Jerry on a two and a half hour horse ride. We were told that this was not a horse ‘trek’, where the horses walk or perhaps trot around a set course, but an actual ‘ride’. Now, I had never been on a horse before, and in hindsight perhaps should have seen these words as a warning, but easily singling me out as the novice of the group, Reg allocated me to Tip Top – a small horse who was apparently the oldest and slowest of the bunch. I was more than happy to dawdle at the back of the group and take in the beautiful woodland scenery, and did so for a while, but when we reached the long driftwood-scattered beach Reg was having none of mine and Tip Top’s dilly-dallying. He instructed me on how to ride standing up in the stirrups (apparently better when you’re learning as it’s easier on the derriere) and as the more experienced riders set off at a pace along the beach, I thought why not? At this point, Tip Top decided to come out of his sleep-like state and canter at full speed along the length of the beach, whilst I did as I was told – stood up and held on for dear life! It was really quite scary at the time. Tip Top turned out to be strong and powerful and I feared a few times that I was going to come off him, but I could hear Reg shouting behind me in apparent delight, “Look at her go! Go Sharon!” and I was determined not to let him down.
I don’t know about Tip Top, but I was absolutely shattered by the end of our gallop. Jerry commented that he had never seen him go so fast, and couldn’t believe it when he noticed that he had broken a sweat! No sooner had I calmed down from my eventful beach ride, we started on an incline to the top of a hill. Once again, Reg instructed me to stand up in the stirrups and lean forward as the horse went up, and lean back as he went down. We tiptoed down hills, splashed through rivers, and galloped up hills, with me hanging onto the Tip Top’s mane and reigns as if my life depended on it (which, to some extent, I suppose it did). All was going well until my one of my feet slipped through the stirrup and I ended up literally hanging off the horse sideways and had to hoist myself back into the saddle…no mean feat, but I was determined once again not to hit the ground during a gallop. Reg was quite impressed with me that day, announcing me as his star of the day when we stopped at the top of the hill for a much needed break. At the time, I was just thankful to be alive, and my legs felt like jelly as the events of the last couple of hours started to sink in! I will say now that the following morning on waking, I discovered that I had pulled, strained and bruised pretty much EVERY part of my body from my ‘horse ride’, but it was worth it for the unforgettable experience and beautiful views.
That evening we ate a hangi meal, a traditional Maori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven, and afterwards sat around a bonfire toasting and eating marshmallows. Some of the group had gone off into the night to do possum shooting, but hunting is very much not my thing, so the rest of us sat, drank wine, played with the farm puppies and chatted the night away under the stars.
The following morning I had a go at Maori bone carving, which provided me with a lovely pendant to remember my trip by. To be honest, the guy who was demonstrating ended up doing most of my carving as I think he felt a bit sorry for me – every time I as much as lifted a finger I winced with the pain caused by my inexperience in horse riding!
All too soon, it was sadly time to say goodbye to Reg, the horses and puppies at the farm. I’m sure I saw a mischievous glint in Tip Top’s eyes as we drove off, having successfully lulled everyone into a false sense of security that he was an old plodder. The little tinker!
Links to previous Travel Tales
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels
#6: Fun & feijoa flavoured vodka
#7: Bays, bravery & the meeting of oceans
#8: Dolphins & premieres
#9: Glow-worms & geysers
#10: Thermal baths & wonderlands
#11: Prisons, earthquakes & wineries
#12: Surf and scenery