When I booked the 3-hour horse ride with Cape Farewell Horse Treks I had no idea it was going to be the best ride of my life.
At the stables, while waiting for our mounts to be ready, I killed time browsing the newspaper articles pinned to the office wall. One was a letter from an American woman. Recounting how during their trek one of her sons threw himself down-hill at fast gallop, she reported a comment from Gail, owner and guide at Cape Farewell Horse Treks:
He doesn’t think. He just dares and damn the consequences.
I liked that. I thought I was kind of doing the same: joining a 3-hour fast ride with an experienced rider in the group without having ever had a proper horse riding lesson in my life. Yet I wasn’t scared. I felt it was going to be exciting.
Well, it was. Far beyond my expectations.
I was matched with Kahn, a strong, mature, dark brown horse. Before mounting, while I was stroking his head, I catched a glimpse of deep pride and far-away wildness in his eyes. Things were going to be interesting.
The first part of the trek was along a gravel road, where we practiced a bit of trotting. At one point we left the main road and climbed up a steep narrow path which led us to a peaceful and untouched landscape. All around us only green hills swept by the strong wind and scattered with sheep. Initially Kahn was giving me a bit of a hard time by being cranky with the other horses, but after a while he seemed to calm down and we started getting along pretty well. The first time I launched him into canter I immediately felt that pride I’d glimpsed in his eyes – and it was a nice feeling.
Following our way up and down the hills, we finally reached Wharariki Beach.
What a view. Just past the white, ever-changing dunes of sand, the empty and wind-blown beach seemed endless. High rocks towered over the slight sea, giving shelter to several sleepy seals. It was astounding. And it was in such an incredibile set that we pushed our horses into gallop. In few seconds we reached a considerable (and honestly totally unexpected) speed and I was now feeling like Kahn and myself were one single thing. The sound of Khan’s hooves hitting the sand, his deep breathing, the wind blowing hard from the side: it was simply awesome, like sensing freedom with your own skin. Completely raptured by the adrenaline rush, I encouraged Khan to go faster and race the other horses. He seemed to like it, as he quickly sped up, getting ahead of everybody else. We were now riding so fast that my eyes kept filling up with tears because of the strong wind passing through my sunglasses. But I didn’t mind, it was such a great feeling that I wished the beach really could be endless, so that we could ride like that forever.
When we stopped, I think my heart was beating as fast as Khan’s, and I had the widest smile on my face.
When I thought it couldn’t get any better, we dismounted for a short break and, just a few meters away, found several baby seals playing in the rock pools left by the receding tide. Incredibly funny and very, very cute. I felt so lucky to get to see them up so close in their own habitat.
Back at the stables, with my legs stiff and still the big smile pinned to my face, I felt glad that I did not think. I did dare and damn the consequences, and it was just awesome.
Date of travel: 14th February 2010
Wharariki Beach is a wild, remote area at the very top of New Zealand’s South Island, near the curved finger of Farewell Spit (see map below). It is only accessible either on foot (20-minute walk from the car park through the Puponga Farm Park) or by joining the Wharariki Beach Trek from Cape Farewell Horse Treks.
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post and – as always on this site – views and opinions are solely mine. In fact, this is a revised edition of a post I originally published on my personal blog back in February 2010, during my 6-week road trip around New Zealand.