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It has been four months already since Wiki, Bo and I completed our journey in the North Island. Here are some news!

Wiki for the disabled

The last leg of our journey had brought us near Levin, on the west coast, after a 100 km detour to cross the Tararua Ranges. I had decided to go there as I knew of a good company specialized in horse transport, A2B transport, based in Levin. This way, it will be very easy to organize Wiki's transportation to the south island next spring. It came handy too for Bo, that Yakov wanted back in Hastings. Within one week, A2B transport got him there.

On our way to Levin, we've been incredibly lucky to meet Rick Schimpf, the president of the local branch of Riding For Disabled (RDA). This association, very active thanks to volunteers and donators, gives to disabled people a chance to ride horses. RDA Levin happened to be short of horses and Wiki, with his nice temper, is perfect for the job. Thanks to Rick, he is now free leased to RDA Levin till next october, where he's very well looked after and does good deeds! After racing, pig hunting, being a pack horse, pulling a wagon, mustering, Wiki is adding one more string to his bow: he now belongs to the very select club of the "RDA horses". I've been to RDA a couple of times and was impressed by the organisation and the commitment of the volunteers. Plus the ambiance is great!  Three times a week, horses are caught, groomed, fed (with concern for their specific needs) and geared up. Then the customers, mostly adults with disabilities, come for their ride. They are led in the sand arena where they are offered different activities, receiving more or less help depending on their capabilities and horse experience. They are no different to other people in the way that horses give them great emotions, some fears to overcome and a lot of pleasure.

Back in Hawkes Bay at the Bakers

It was a good thing to have the horses sorted out, even if parting with them, who had been my best friends, full time activity and transport mode for months, was not easy.  I was particularly sad to part with Bo, who I wouldn't travel with anymore. Since the beginning of the journey I had hoped that we would reach the south of the north island, that we wouldn't run out of luck by then, that no horse would be injured for instance. From this perspective, the goal seemed ages away. But now that we had arrived, it seemed that the ride had been too short, and was over too soon.

Fortunately I had decided by then to stay one more year in New Zealand and to ride the south island. I just had to be patient and keep busy during winter.  First, I had to find a new transport mode . I soon became an expert of the campervan market, which crashes every year precisely in June, when European backpackers go back home to enjoy summer rather than endure winter here. There are good bargains for the few people who are interested in vans at this time of the year. I bought one in Auckland from a french couple.

Enjoying my new mobility, I traveled about 1000 km, catching up with lots of the friends I had made along the way.  I also went for the first time to Wellington, the capital city, from where the mountains of the South Island can be seen in the distance!

The last friends I visited were the Bakers. Three months later, I'm still at their place! The Bakers have been hosting Yakov for months, aswell as Buba, and even Bo very recently joined them. But they've got such a big heart that they welcomed me as well. I love staying with Vale, Malcolm, Sam and Jenna (10 and 8 years old). Their home is a happy place, full of animals and creativity. For instance, there is a flying fox to cross a river between two of their paddocks!

They make me feel as part of the family, while sharing their culture. For instance, they took me to Napier's aquarium so that I can see a kiwi, this very unique flightless bird which can't be found in any other country. Moreover, we watched Whale Rider, a beautiful movie made in New Zealand (after what Jenna asked if all the other movies are made in China). And I get daily opportunities to observe the kiwi lifestyle. Once, Malcolm told me that Vale had gone to town to get meat. It crossed my mind that one has to badly crave for meat to drive 60km for it. But when Vale came back I could tell that it was worth the trip: she brought back a whole cow (one of her own) which had just been butchered and could now fit in the freezer!

There is no shortage of horse and ponies here: including Buba and Bo they have sixteen or them, so there is always one to ride (or drive!). I even got to go to a hunt, which is a very popular sport in New Zealand. I was a bit scared by the idea of jumping fences, but it wouldn't take much for me to get addicted to it.  It gathers dozens of riders, smartly dressed, a pack of hounds, some hares (unvolontarily), a "red jacket" or master, and "whips" who crack it to keep the hounds on the track. One is free to pick his way and gait to follow the master and hounds, riding through beautiful land which is otherwise closed to public. It's as challenging as show jumping, but it's also a great opportunity to ride cross country, gathering the best of both world.

I'm preparing the next leg of the journey, and the Bakers offer me a dream base camp. I got to go with Vale to equine seminars (about lameness and physiotherapy) and even to an equine first aid training she was giving! They have all the facilities and skills to make gear, for instance a heavy duty sewing machine for leather. Their library is full of books about horse training and horse equipment.  Their shed is full of the equipment itself, pack saddles for instance! Malcolm shoes the horses and gives me some tuitions. Plus, being an engineer, he designed for me an anchor to tether the horses, which doesn't require much strength to drive in the ground but holds very well. At last, he put me in touch with the resourceful Hepa Paewai, the great horse trekker of New Zealand, who's getting plastic boxes made for the pack saddle. I feel lucky about it, as the fact that a mould exist in New Zealand is a well kept secret. Google doesn't know about it, so how would I have a clue, if it wasn't thanks to Malcolm and Hepa?

The word of mouth is powerful in New Zealand. Even if one doesn't know a person, one always knows somebody who knows that person. That's how one day Larissa and Kendall turned up at the Bakers. Those two girls, who're getting ready to "horse around" New Zealand too, had heard about my journey from Brando (alias "Wild Boy").  They happen to live only 20 minutes away and we've often met since. We get all excited about knots, rain gear, light gear, saddle fitting, natural horsemanship, saddle bags, topographic maps...  It feels good getting together with like minded horse trek geeks!

Working with lambs

I started looking for a job even before the end of my horseback journey. I looked in parallel for jobs on ski fields, jobs involving horses and jobs in IT which is what I usually do.  None of the above gave great results, so I started looking for a job near my new home in Hastings.

I soon started a grape pruning job which gave me some insights about immigration.  The majority of the workers were european backpackers. Being paid per contract, none of them managed to prune fast enough to earn the minimum -legal- wage. The fastest of all the workers earned 70 dollars in one day, whereas the minimum wage is around 110 dollars. Spirits were low but many came back the next day, as they had no other way to pay for their hostel bill. The employer is aware that he's breaking the law but also knows that backpackers don't have the means to take him to court.

Just as I was about to go back to France, my plane ticket being booked anyways and seeing no point in spending winter in New Zealand without a decent job, I received a phone call. I had met Paul a fortnight ago, when going door to door looking for a job. He's the boss of "On Farm Research", a sheep and beef farm where are held scientific experiments on forage and animal production. This time of the year, with lambing and calving, is particularly busy, so he was looking for a farm assistant... Moreover, I had time to go back to France for a short time before the job started, which gave me a chance to catch up with my family and friends, and with administrative stuff! Steph and I also got a chance to book our plane tickets together, choosing to stop in Australia, Malaisia, China and Mongolia on our way back...

I came back to discover that my job involved looking after a bunch of lambs abandoned by their mum, from the day of their birth to weaning. And after them came the calves...   Not only I get to bottle feed super cute little lambs, but I've also joined a pretty awesome team. For instance, one of my colleague was once asked to take a boat trip with hundreds of cows being exported to Mexico.  He took his surfboard along so that he can surf over there! They are very nice to me, and even offered me to lamb a ewe! I was there just on time to see a tiny hoof coming out and grope around for the head, as one should pull on the head and at least one leg at once. Eventually, scared looking lambs came out. I still wonder how the ewe knows that she's then supposed to lick them clean, when it's the first time she lambs and that nobody has told her anything about it!

Last days in the North Island

My last days in the North Island were very busy and quite moving, reminding me of my departure from France one year ago: I have to part with good friends, a family and great colleagues! Some friends take me for a tour in a Waka, the traditionnal maori boat. My stay with the Bakers ends with a snow trip. It's the first time the kids see the snow, to them it's "the north pole". My colleagues organize a great lunch for my departure. They surprise me with a french delicacy: snails! Straight of a trough, still very alert, they soon leave their plate to wander amongst the other dishes.