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Here I am!

After a 72h journey and an excursion in Malaysia, I reach the other side of the world: Auckland, the city of sails.
Viv Dostine, the president of NZ Horse Recreation Inc., welcomed me very nicely at her place, and also introduced me to her horses - my first kiwi horses. Two former thoroughbreds race horse, one of them re-educated thanks to her good care. The complicity and mutual trust they show toward each other is delightful. For instance, to get in the trailer, no fight, no stress, Viv just shows the way with her finger and her two boys get in quietly. She doesn't even tie them up at all! One of her trick is to massage and to scratch them, they love it and would do anything to get more of that.
Pretty cool, but unfortunately, the reason why Viv uses a trailer is because there is no trail around the fields where the horses are. She drives them at least ten kilometers further, to ride in a forest which she accesses with a key. I had been warned that private property and fences were all over the country, but I couldn't imagine it was that bad. Viv shows me some roads I could use when riding a horse, they appealed to me as much as an highway would. But I know that some people have already crossed the country with their horses, especially Pete Langford no later than last year. I ask him, doubtful, how to cross some part the land, and he admits that trailers are sometimes required. Argh!
I head to Hukatere Lodge all the same, a five hour drive toward the Far North. Incredible but true: I travel with Alain and Joséphine, my parents' friends, which I had never met before! They are a lot of fun, and the landscapes we drive by, a mix of agricultural fields and tropical forests, are pretty nice. But I can't help but notice that the smallest piece of land is surrounded by fences.
Hukatere is a surprising place, a comfortable and stylish accommodation in the middle of nowhere: the famous ninety mile beach. In my opinion, this beach is mostly famous because of the hard time it gives to hikers who cross New Zealand starting from the north (a 3000km hike!). The beach stretches its wilderness for more than a hundred kilometers, except at high tide: then it completely disappears and hikers have to find their way in the dunes. A must do here: go for tuatuas. We were told to go to the beach at low tide and to dig in the sand. Low tide time was a stormy time but we went all the same, and we happily collected kilos of tuatuas.
After Joséphine and Alain left, I focused on the horses.  There is a dozen of them (including three cute little foals), but nobody has been riding them for a while. Gabrielle, who runs the place, had shown me the horse I could buy. It's a big white one. He turned out to be hard to catch, a bit nervous on the lead, and even more when ridden. I didn't feel like carrying on, but it took me some time to make my mind about what to do next. In the meantime, I met all the tourists coming through, kiwis and Europeans, along with helping Gabrielle in the lodge against accommodation. I've now decided to go and meet people who are into horses to define a realistic itinerary and find horses. At least I'll discover the country a bit more!

Back to square one

Gabrielle drops me at Main Street Lodge, in the little town of Kaitaia.  For the first time I really mix with the other backpackers.  Most of them are German, in their early twenties, and have just enough money to pay for a two weeks accommodation and buy a 25 years old car (most often from another one of them, now returning back home). Consequently, they are looking for a job: planting potatoes, babysitting, cooking - whatever but quickly!

When I ask how to go to Auckland, I discover that the only bus has just left. Fortunately I meet two girls going there (a four hour drive), but only after visiting Cape Reinga (a one hour drive in the opposite direction). I don't mind going at all! It's the end of north island, where the Tasman see and the Pacific ocean meet. It's also the starting point (or the end) of Te Araroa, the 3000km hike crossing the country. The first kilometers of this trail appear quite clearly from Cape Reigna, but as far as one can see, there is no other evidence of life. I admire those who dare loosing themselves in such landscape.

In Auckland, more precisely in Pukekohe, I have an unlikely acquaintance: a former British colleague of mine has befriended a kiwi girl when they both used to live in China, and this girl's father, a certain Dan, has a carriage pulled by gorgeous Clydesdale horses. I had met him shortly during my first stay in Auckland, and was impressed by this 70 years old dealing alone with three giant horses and all that come along: truck, harness, carriage and hundreds of kids queuing for a ride. I spend a couple of days with him and I learn that those "hell" of good horses have been involved in a "bloody" number of movies (www.townandcountryclydesdales.co.nz).

We pamper the horses and he shows me around. I get to see the touristic side, till the mouth of the Waikato river, then the industrial side, where race horses training and breeding centers proliferate. Industry really is the word: for instance, Dan shows me a "walker" which trains about fifteen horses at once, using the same principle as pony carousels.

Next thing for me: go to Equidays, a three day event all about horses!

Adventure calling!

To get the best out of Equidays, I take the full package: three days + camping. I set my tent up for the first time since the customs asked me to do so (no messing around with illegally imported dirt, which puts at risk the island's biodiversity). For once, it doesn't just decorate my backpack!

I enjoy meeting with Viv again, and to attend to many demonstrations, shows, competitions and seminars. I don't get to ride, except for 29 seconds of mechanical bull (two attempts for that).

But most of all, I meet a certain Gerard, also called Yacov, a sixty years old kiwi man with dutch origins, who completed several journeys in New Zealand in a wagon, looking for partners to start a new journey! He's ready to help me finding a horse so that I can ride along with him. He shows me some pictures of his (homemade!) wagon pulled by three horses, no doubt this is managed with great care! A wagon will make it much easier to ride on the road, and leaves us with the option to explore trails on horseback wherever nice trails can be found. Plus, being two (or more, I'm waiting for my boyfriend and am looking for more adventurers to join) makes things safer and easier. I'm so excited! We agree on meeting in two weeks to get ready to leave as soon as possible.

One more nice thing which happened to me in Hamilton is that I get to meet Jacqui, Dan's daughter (my colleague's friend for those who've read through), and her family. They welcome me as if we had always known each other. This is the third time this happens to me in this country, but I still find it incredible!

Two busy weeks

I meet again with Joséphine and Alain, who are spending their last days of vacations in Auckland. We visit mount Eden, a old volcano (nearby the somewhat famous Eden Park). The view of Auckland is awesome, with its turquoise creeks and green volcanic islands. This city is quite unique, both modern and quiet, spread with Victorian houses and tropical plants. I go for one of its main attractions: visiting Rangitoto, its youngest volcanic island. This place is good for exploring lava caves on all fours, and for the great foreground it gives to pictures of Auckland: black rocks, white sand and crystal clear water.

The hostel I stay at is homely, as most of the people live there quite permanently. My flatmates are from all over the world and even from here! (I can't help but notice the Maori guy with its mysterious face tattoos)

Over the weekend, I go with Dan and his three clydies to take tourists for rides in cute villages. I'm happy to spend some time with such an expert in driving horses, before to start my horse and wagon trip! Plus he's a lot of fun.

My to do list in Northland is such that I rent a car. After right hand drive and automatic driving is demystified to me, I visit Jeannie. All I know about her is that she has a farm, horses, organizes horse treks, have sometimes woofers over and that I can stay at her place for a while. She takes me for a ride right away: she had a friend's horse over on purpose! I discover what "going in the bush" means: when there is no track, just extremely dense vegetation and uneven ground covered with branches, Jeannie pushes her horse forward as if it was a bulldozer. I couldn't believe my eyes, but the horses came out of that without a single scratch, and didn't seem moved at all. Another day we went for a ride through the fields (hello cows, sheeps) to a gorgeous lake, riding on the beach by the way. What else could I ask for? Another incredible kiwi experience for me.

Jeannie also took me to see kauri trees, which are emblematic of New Zealand: Te Matua Ngahere, the widest one with its 16 meters girth, and Tane Mahuta, the biggest. Those living cliffs might be 2000 years old! To protect those trees, anybody entering the forest has to wash his shoes, and it's forbidden to step outside of the elevated path, there could be some shallow roots... Human was the first mammal introduced in new Zealand and he opened the door to many other pests, he should now behave!

At last I'm shown the Rainbow Warrior mast. Its story (that Google tells much better than I) is sad for our two countries, but this mast standing at the top of a hill, overlooking the lights of Dargaville, is a great curiosity.

During the little time left after all those leisure activities, I help Jeannie milking her cows. Chasing cows around, on foot or with the quad bike, is a lot of fun. And I get to feed the calves and the baby pigs. What a chore to take care of baby animals...

Next step: meet Pete Langford, who's crossed New Zealand with two horses last year. As many people told me I should go to south island for horse treks, and that I might not be filled by the horse and wagon trip, I tell him I'd like to go to south island after the wagon trip. He asks me how much time I'll have then, knowing the weather is quite bad on April and onwards. That leaves me two months at most, admitting I can get ready in one month, which is not much when starting from scratch. Moving from one island to the other will require a great deal of time, money... and energy. I'll need a strong will power then to start all over again, with new horses. So why not heading south with the wagon, then get the horse carried to the south island? Pete confirms that the ride to get to the south is nice and suggests to choose Dampier ridge as the final destination, as this is the most outstanding place he's come across during his whole trip. It sounds a bit scary: he found his way only thanks to contour lines on his 1:250000 map, whereas I find not so easy to just follow a track. But by then I'll have made some progresses hopefully!

My plan is shaping up: start from Whakatane where the horses are, go to East Cape in Maori territory, follow the east cost till Hamilton, get on a ferry to finish with a nice highlight in south island. Or maybe not, because the outcome of such project is certain only when it's over!

I finish my short road trip with Julie, a French girl met in Auckland. We first explore an underground river, lightened by glowworms (and my powerful Petzl flashlight). Then, heading to Bay of Island, we feel bad when we realize that we have blindly followed the GPS to a dead end: there is nothing but a river in front of us! But it turns out well: two minutes later a ferry comes and we drive in! That's the first of the six boats we'll use this day: the sail boat we booked to see dolphins (checked!), the dinghy which brought us to an island, then the dinghy and the motor boat of a very sweet kiwi couple who took us back to the sail boat as we looked lost on the island. And last but not least, the ferry we took to visit Russell (a city of interest as it was the first European settlement in new Zealand ): the crew has been nice enough to let us drive it!