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TIMARU and back to CHRISTCHURCH
I stayed in Timaru over a week; the whole of the country had a severe dose of Winter weather. On the Friday I got a vehicle to travel to Waimate, for the Waimate Hunt Club's Race Meeting.
Country race meetings in New Zealand are fun affairs. There's no dressing up, trying to outdo the others. It's a routine of watching the horses parade in the Birdcage, the preliminary canter, off to place your bets, return in time to watch the race and the winner come home - and then it all starts again. I had arranged to meet Erin Cassidy at the meeting, and we enjoyed ourselves, drinking a beer in the sun on the grandstand, catching up with Roger and Marie Laplanche, and just relaxing and enjoying ourselves. With no system or great experience in backing horses, leaving the track with an extra $13 in my pocket.
The following day I drove south to meet Erin again - she was keen to come out to visit Cannington with me as well. My father's ancestors had lived for many years in Cannington, Somerset, so when my great-grandfather emigrated he called the land that he leased from the government, Cannington.
We parked Erin's car outside the little Springbrook School, and chatted to a father who was loading his vehicle with firewood from the school grounds. It seemed that the school had been closed - the children were now travelling an extra ten minutes to another nearby school.
This is part of our government's new policy for schools - I am sure it must save them money, transporting children to bigger, more efficient schools, but I believe it's quite a tragic decision as it's destroying communities.
However, it was a delightful drive alongside the Pareora River out towards Cannington. I had been excited for days, ever since I'd made contact with Noel Crawford who lived at Cannington. He had written a history of those early run- holders in the district and agreed to meet with us on part of the original Cannington Run owned by Henry Augustus Knight, the brother of my great- grandfather.
The road rose steeply up the side of the Pareora Gorge. I was told the gorge had been too steep in those early days for the settlers to ride through; they had had to go over the top of the Hunter Hills, sometimes through the clouds, to get to the plains and back to civilisation. It was magnificent country; the river twinkling far below us, in parts covered with ice but running underneath. We were so fortunate that the day had turned out to be sunny and calm.
We were early for our appointment, so we drove on up beside the Burnett Stream to Cave, the nearest township to Cannington, through a small, winding gorge. There was a delightful church up a side-road as well as a large monument built of rock beside the road.
Cave itself was a picturesque 'village' - if we have 'villages' in New Zealand. It sat beside State Highway 8, from Timaru to Tekapo, and was a peaceful little settlement tucked in beside limestone rock hills and valleys.
On the return towards Cannington we stopped and investigated the memorial, which remembered the locals who had travelled from the district to both World Wars. The inscription touched me:
"So long as the rocks endure and grass grows and water runs, so long will this stone bear witness that through this low pass in the hills men from the Cave, Cannington and Moutukaika districts rode and walked on their way to the Great European War 1914-1918, and to World War II 1938-1945. Some of them have not returned but have left their mortal remains in foreign lands and strange seas that our British way of living may continue but their immortal souls have risen from the grave." Such a monument - simple and touching.
The church had also been built as a memorial to the sheepmen, shepherds, bullock drivers, shearers and station hands who pioneered the back country of South Canterbury between the years 1855 and 1895. It was English in style, on the top of a small hill, surrounded by beautiful trees obviously planted by those settlers.
We drove on and found the home of Noel and Juliet Crawford. Noel kindly showed me all of the records he had collected tracing the story of Henry Augustus Knight and his brothers. John Cuthbert Knight, my grandfather's father, had built up the Cannington Run with Henry Augustus, before settling later in Timaru.
Noel later drove us out over his rolling farm so that he could point out the original boundaries of the Cannington Run. He and his wife, Juliet, were very helpful about the district, explaining about the limestone kilns we'd seen earlier, and telling us how to find the Maori rock drawings at Craigmore which we looked at on our return journey.
I shifted the horses as far as Washdyke, where arrangements had been made for me to stay for a few days with Terry and Sue Ord, neighbours of Harry Fayen, a horseman from way back. Terry was to start the next day as Relieving Principal at Cannington School - amazing how these coincidences occur.
The weather on the Monday was filthy so I planned to drive to Tekapo, but my plans were foiled by heavy snow - in all 60cm. Instead, I drove south through the Lindis Pass to Alexandra. The AA had advised me that the route had been slippery earlier with snow and ice, but when I drove through there were no problems. The Lindis Pass goes through between the Dunstan mountains and Lake Hawea - 'bit country' - the scenery was magic. As I drove down beside the Clutha River the sun was setting and the colours in the hills were the full range of purples and browns.
The district itself is well known for its orchards, growing a full range of Summer fruits - especially famous are apricots and cherries. I wished it had been summer! Alexandra is one of a collection of picturesque towns in the area; there are many pretty trees like elms and birches, which make it particularly beautiful.
From Alexandra I decided to return via the Pigroot Road, which took me north on the eastern side of the Dunstan range, through Omakau, Ranfurly and Palmerston - gold mining country.
It had been raining now in South Canterbury for several days, and I'd been told that this area, usually very dry, and with porous soils, was already very wet. So when I came to drive along the route I'd covered on horseback I frequently found the fords were now impassable. I would have to backtrack in the dark to the highway, cross the river, and then find the other side of the ford. In several places the road was covered with water, and I hoped that it wasn't too deep to drive through. I could imagine being stranded in a large puddle, and not knowing where the nearest farmer lived. I was relieved to return safely to Timaru, with dry feet.
The next day I made a day trip to Tekapo, to meet with another Compuserve friend, Alister France, who runs a farmstay on his 14,000ha (35,000 acre) high country station, stocked with merino sheep and cattle. It certainly was 'high country', surrounded by mountains, but the majority of the land glacial plain. An irrigation scheme had been installed to assist with Summer watering. The district had been on the receiving end of 30cm of snow earlier that week, and there was still a lot of snow around.
Firstly I drove to the shores of Lake Tekapo to see the tribute to working dogs and the Church of the Good Shepherd, a delightful chapel with an incredibly beautiful view of the lake and mountains through the plate glass window within. Coming down from the church, I skidded over on the ice in the carpark. Ouch! I've been expecting to fall off my horse, not off my own two feet!
Alister explained the significance of "Dog Kennel Corner" in Burke Pass. The early run-holders could not possibly have fenced their properties - the fences were generally the mountains and climatic zones. However, in Burke Pass, a dog was left in a kennel to bark should any stock travel that way. From time to time passing travellers would throw the dog some feed to keep it happy. I wonder what the SPCA would say about that sort of treatment today?
The wet weather was setting in, it could be days before I could ride again, and the Washdyke Racecourse offered me grazing for the horses. Averil from the Visitors Information Centre offered me accommodation. She and her husband, Lindsay, an engineer at an international company manufacturing machinery for handling wool were delightful hosts. They loved Brae, and he was made very welcome in their home.
The weather was grumpy - each day it looked bad, but the forecast never came to much. I stayed in Timaru, listened gloomily to the predictions each night, and then spent another day thinking I could have ridden without getting wet that day..
The horses had decided they'd eaten the best out of their paddock at the racecourse. There was still lots of long grass there, but they weren't going to touch it. Instead, they mowed the short grass, closer and closer. Ask any farmer - horses are fussy feeders.
I decided that during the day I would put a hot tape along the side of the road, where there was long grass and wild herbs growing. When I discussed this with Averil's neighbour, racehorse trainer Fred Spring, he told me the traffic on the long straights of Seadown Road was far too busy. Instead he offered me a 2ha paddock for them instead. Wonderful!
On the Sunday morning I rode D'Artagnan without a saddle, just sitting astride his cover, leading Doug. Doug was delighted to be out of the paddock, and kicked up his heels, bucking as we rode through the stables. I was hoping he was going to behave - we had a busy highway to cross, Brae was running alongside, yapping, and I'd forgotten how to ride without a saddle. But it all went well; in fact, it was fun.
Finally, on the Monday, I hoped the weather was improving as they'd predicted on the news. The night had been starry, in the morning there was low cloud, but I doubted if it would come to much. As usual, I planned to leave about 10am. But that was without planning for disasters.
Firstly, I caught and groomed the horses. No problems there.
Then I got Doug's saddle out, and was surprised to find the britchings - that's the wide strap that goes under his tail preventing the pack saddle from slipping too far forward when he goes down a steep hill - was in two pieces. I looked more closely - and a triangle shape had completely disappeared, with teeth marks from a large dog around the ragged edges.
I realised what had happened. Saddlery is made from leather - dried cattle hide. On that part of the britchings, Doug had stained the leather with dung. Leather and shit are a dog's favourite combination. The dog probably thought I'd left him with a delicious chewbar to eat when he should be sleeping in the garage. (It wasn't Brae!)
I phoned Tony Shaw the helpful saddler in Timaru. He would be happy to make a new britching if I could get it there. I hailed a taxi, tied up Brae, covered and released the horses, and was off. At the saddler's I found part of D'Art's gear had been eaten too. Tony fixed that and then took a look at the pack-saddle. He agreed - it did need repacking; it would be hurting Doug's back. Perhaps the dog did me a favour.
A courier took my gear and Tony agreed to get the saddle to Tinwald for repacking, which would take a few days' work. Then I caught a taxi back to the horses and prepared to leave.
That was Drama No. 1. Now, clear the stage for Drama No. 2.
Doug (clever little **** that he was) had developed a really bad habit, although he wouldn't agree. As we rode he would often put on his brakes, put his head down to eat, and I would lose hold of the lead rope. Lately it had been getting worse, and he wouldn't let me catch him again. He would dodge D'Art and I doggedly, so that neither from D'Art's back, or on foot, could I catch him again.
Lately he'd stood on his rope so often that now his rope had frayed badly, I'd replaced his lead rope, hopefully with one that was stronger.
We'd just crossed the railway line in Seadown Road and were cantering along, when he did it for the last time. However, before I could dismount and catch him, he discovered that he was being chased by a gleaming, white snake. He took off at a spanking trot with the snake chasing him even more determinedly. He started to canter, something trotters don't often do, and as the snake got faster, sped up to a gallop, disappearing in the distance back towards SH1.
D'Art meanwhile started bucking indicating his displeasure at being left behind. I got off. And now cars were racing along the road towards me. Flagging down the first driver I warned him of the danger ahead. At the same time I reached for my cellular and dialled (me again!) 111, asking for the Police in Timaru.
I warned the Police that motorists on SH1 might encounter a runaway horse being chased by a snake, and pictured them getting the Armed Offenders Squad into gear with shotguns, to quell the danger. Walking down Seadown Road, I continued to flag down motorists and was relieved when the first one came back to tell me he'd caught Doug and tied him to a gate. Instant relief - better than a painkiller.
Well, Drama No. 2 had its positive side too - I had a wonderful jog on D'Art who was so keen to be reunited with his mate. And I think Doug might have learned his lesson too. There he was, tied up at Fred Spring's gate. We were back where we started.
I finally left at 12.15 pm. This time I tied a loop in the end of the lead rope and threw that over the horn (raised front) of my saddle. Not the best thing to do - people will tell you that the lead horse could pull mine over, but I thought this risk was minimal, compared to the danger of a runaway horse.
We had some long trots, trying to make up time. I knew it would be a long ride, and we'd left later than we should have. We had two longish bridges to cross on SH1. On the first no-one gave me an inch despite my hand-signalled requests to slow down. Sometimes I even wonder if it enticed people to drive quicker: "Stupid woman, who does she think she is, asking me to drive slower!"
The second bridge, a woman sat behind me, about 8 metres away, keeping all of the traffic behind her at bay. I gave her a big thank you wave as we came off the bridge; it was much appreciated. Motorists might have been delayed motorists 20 seconds but it meant everyone arrived a lot safer.
At Temuka I turned off SH1 and found a side-road which paralleled the highway. Lined with huge oaks, it was probably the original road; there were many pretty brooks and ponds near a very old, stately home. Beyond the oaks the line of Southern Alps extended far to the north and south, so that they appeared to be on three sides of me. They looked majestic, with pristine snow glistening on top. And the traffic along SH1about one kilometre away rushed by, missing it all. I could laugh!
I kept the horses trotting for about 7km, averaging 10km an hour. So it wasn't long before we rode into Winchester. I had been preoccupied with my thirst now for about half an hour, so was delighted to spot the pub.
Looking through the window, I gesticulated that I'd like a drink. The publican told me there was a paddock around the back and I joined the folk at the bar. They asked me lots of questions about where, what, when, why I was going. With my Speights in my hand I sat down by the piano which was being played by an oldish man. Grey hair, red cap, blue-green home-knitted sweater, khaki farming trousers and gumboots. However, he played the piano well. It was delightful.
Then it was back onto SH1 but not far before we found the side-road running once more parallel to the railway line, and just after the Southerner train past us with much waving of hands we turned into the home of Robyn and Harry Hewson at Orari.
Harry and Robyn were retired farmers on a small block of land where Robyn kept some horses and Harry trained sheepdogs. One thing that had always fascinated me was how one person can train a dog then sell it on to someone who doesn't use the same commands or whistles. Harry gave me a demonstration the next morning of Tom, a young pup he was training, herding half a dozen chooks and a duck that thought it was a chook.
I left the Hewson's at 9.45am as it was to be a long ride that day and there were three busy bridges on SH1 to cross. The first was Victoria Bridge at Orari, and I crossed without hassle. Whilst the racing traffic on SH1 veered left I chose to ride straight ahead down the Old South Road, a long, straight route with wide grass verges and enjoying lots of canters and trots.
I realised that this way I missed one of the bridges, as I rode through a long stony ford, dry at this time of the year. I phoned the Police at Ashburton to ask them if they'd help me across the Rangitata River bridge, and they agreed to meet me there at 1.30pm.
I was at the bridge at 12.45 - thirsty and hungry. I used the phone (how could I have managed without it?) to suss out what establishments there were back at Rangitata township - about 2 kilometres down SH1. I wouldn't have time to ride down, but thought if the shop wouldn't deliver then I might tie the horses up in a paddock and hitchhike back.
At the Rangitata Oasis the woman I spoke to was 'on her own' but then remembered her husband was on his way out to test drive the car he'd been working on. He delivered some sandwiches and a drink to me. Great service. And then the policeman turned up and escorted me across the second bridge, almost one kilometre long, and I waved goodbye to him gratefully.
From there my options were to ride down Ealing-Coldstream Road or to continue along SH1 where at least I had the 'entertainment value' of traffic whizzing by. I was glad I chose the latter as there was a wide bank edging the irrigation channel carrying water down from the mountains to the farms in the vicinity. Once more we could canter and trot for long spells.
Doug by this time was getting freaked by some of the trucks that raced along. I realised it was the shadows on the ground that were upsetting him.
We turned off the highway into a side-road, and hundreds of ducks shot up from a pond as the horses trotted past. Farmers working with their sheep in the yards let me get some water for the horses; I didn't like to ask them for a drink for myself, but crossed the road and there were another couple in their garden who said they'd be happy to get me a glass. It was much appreciated.
They asked me where I was going, and I told them my story.
"Oh", said the woman. "You're the girl who's riding the length of New Zealand! We've heard you on Radio Pacific. We do like it when you phone up and tell us what you're doing!"
Pine and eucalyptus trees edged the road, better than riding through a forest, the road underfoot was lightly metalled. The day was hot, there was no wind and the sun was beating down on my back. I took off my woollen sweater and basked in the sun in my polypropylene underwear. There was no-one around.
Throughout Canterbury I was noticing more and more of the irrigation ditches - and at times smaller channels, made of concrete, would run over larger ditches carrying the main flow of water further towards the coast. Down to Boundary Road, and then it was straight all the way to Alison and Wayne's home.
Alison I'd first met five years earlier, when she came and stayed with me at Merriemont for several weeks. From England she liked New Zealand so much she returned and met Wayne who was farming not far from where I lived. When they married they shifted down to Hinds, where they have 40 ha raising bulls for beef.
Suddenly, around the bend came a dairy-farmer on his four-wheel motorbike. I thought it was Wayne, it certainly looked like him, and waved. He stopped, but it wasn't Wayne. We chatted, and I crossed my arms over my chest, self- consciously. I just hope I didn't look too 'undressed'.
Well, from here it was straight all the way to their place - but not quite plain riding. I knew there was a river to ford, and last time I'd come to visit in a rental car the ford had been washed out. Maybe I'd have to go 'round the block' - another 5km.
Down the last little bit of road to the ford, there was a large sign: "Road Closed" so I phoned directory service to get the number of the name on a letterbox. The farmer told me he'd taken his tractor the previous day 3km down the river to launch his boat at the beach, and reassured me that I would get across, but it might be 2 feet (60cm) deep.
When I arrived at the ford the river was running swiftly and it was difficult to tell where the bottom was. The horses were keen to get in there and quench their thirst. Whilst they drank I scanned the opposite bank but where the ramp for the ford had been there was now just a 1.2m drop. We might be able to clamber up a rough, muddy bank beyond a deep pool, with shingly bottom, overhung by low willows.
It looked bad. One of those times when my brain is filled with 'what ifs'. I phoned Alison to tell her where I was, and said I'd phone again in a minute if we made the crossing and didn't get swept out to the Pacific!
The horses crossed the river well, and then I dismounted. Trying to keep out of the pool, I led them around the edge and clambered over the tree-trunk, feeding the reins around the trunk. D'Art scrambled up the bank, with Doug right behind, floundering around in the pool. We made it!
Then it was another short canter down to Alison and Wayne's home. Alison brought baby Ashley to meet me - ten months old, she was a real sweetie, and Mum and Dad's pride and joy.
The horses had carried me 40km that day, so I gave them an extra hard feed before putting them into a lush paddock, all ready for cows due to calve any day - maybe that night. We went inside to enjoy dinner and some Canterbury Draught beer.
Wayne and Alison were anxiously awaiting one of their cows to calve - she was overdue, overweight and they had the hunch the calf was going to be a big one - a disastrous recipe. The calf hadn't arrived the next morning when I left, riding along more long straights towards Tinwald where I was to collect the repacked pack saddle. Doug was to be put to use again!
I could see several cars parked on the grass verge some distance away and when I reached them found they were outside the Willowby School. This school I'd been told about, they had quite a programme protecting the environment and beautifying their district - which of course taught the children to be more responsible for their environment too.
I was very impressed with both the school and its mission statement (to improve today, with the acceptance and understanding of yesterday, the ability to confidently survive tomorrow). The children all came to the gate and talked to me.
Young Mark Horne, the son of the people with whom I was to stay that night, introduced himself to me, and held Doug whilst I talked to the school.
As I talked with the children Brae felt he deserved to be the centre of attention, so he jumped up time and again on the stone wall, and from there onto D'Art where he tried to plaster me with kisses, before I put him down again to repeat his scene-stealing act.
I then rode into Tinwald, the southern edge of Ashburton. I had just dismounted and was about to cross the road when a friend from Paparimu spotted me and came over to chat. Raewyn and Ernst are now dairyfarming near Ashburton, so it was nice to catch up with them before I left the area.
With Doug resaddled I crossed the railway to get away from the traffic and enjoyed the peace on the other side of the tracks, riding down to a low subway ducking to ensure I got through!
It was then time to cross the Ashburton River with an approach to the bridge that was railed and with no shoulder. I wondered what I could do - I had Brae to get across too and there were no lulls in the traffic. I saw a local taxi go by, and thought I would ask the company if they would help. When I explained my predicament to them they sent out one of their staff who put Brae in his car and followed me across the bridge with hazard lights on.
On the far side Allan wouldn't accept any payment for his good deed but I hoped he realised how much I'd appreciated his assistance.
There were wide grass verges through Ashburton but they were mostly planted with flowers and neatly mown so I chose to ride down the main street rather than SH1 on the other side of the railway. At the end of the town I crossed towards the racecourse and found a sign depicting 'no horses' where the two routes merged to form SH1.
Then where was I to ride? Where didn't they want me to ride? This was confusing.
However I soon found there was a bridle path and mountain bike route in a 50m wide forest - superb riding through lots of conifer and specimen trees. The Acacia baileyana were all in flower - fine silver leaves and brilliant yellow flowers - so beautiful. As I brushed under the conifers I was dusted by pollen - the saddlebags and saddles were covered. On occasion there were aquifers to ford, and the track wound in an out of hollows and humps.
The forest, now all conifers, continued beside the road all the way to Dromore where I was staying, but at times it was fenced off and our way was impassable, and at other times the forest floor wasn't clear, so D'Art had to do a bit of bush- crashing. We also found several 'farm roads' right at the back of the forest giving farmers access to their neighbouring paddocks. It was all much more fun than the highway.
At last I reached the 3ha property of Lynne and Greg Horne and their family - Mark (12), Glenn (9) and Chanelle (4 and a half). All three children had a ride on D'Artagnan before we turned them loose.
Next day it was a short straight ride crossing the railway line and SH1 at Dromore Corner, through a picnic area where I could clearly identify the various mountains in the Southern Alps, including Mt Cook away in the distance. The road we were taking was a straight one all the way to Rakaia and the first 5km were grass, delightful riding, with paddocks and occasionally forestry on either side of us. We met a racehorse breeder, and a man out training his trotter - this sort of road was ideally suited for the purpose.
Grass roads are adequate in Canterbury where they are used as farm access, as the district has little rainfall over the year, relying heavily on the irrigation system that had been set up here.
I arrived at Rakaia just after 1pm and found the WWOOF home I was staying at for the night, James and Wendy Atkinson lived on 3ha, James a design engineer and Wendy teaching remedial reading at local schools. When I heard the persistent and heavy rain in the night I knew I would be extending my stay but it was good timing; James and Wendy had tickets to see Roger Hall's new play "Market Forces" at Christchurch, so I accompanied them to see the show.
Afterwards we had supper at a delightful Italian restaurant in Cashel Mall "Via del Corso" and when we arrived home at nearly 2am I tried to stay alert on the sofa to watch our New Zealand equestrian eventers in action at the Atlanta Olympics. It was worth waiting for; Blyth Tait took the Gold, and Sally Clark the Silver - an exciting performance.
The next day I awoke tired but keen to get moving under the Winter sun and blue sky. Arrangements had been made with the Police to meet their escort at the Rakaia bridge at 11.30 am. Wendy agreed to bring all the gear as well as Brae in the van.
I was nervous as I approached the police car; this bridge was 1.6 km long, and no more than two lanes. It had been my 'bogey' now since I'd first imagined the ride, some twenty years ago. But it couldn't have gone better.
Near the approaches to the bridge I met the very friendly and reassuring constable. The traffic was reasonably light despite horse-floats going to the races at Ashburton. There were no problems - apart from my being very breathless and dry from having trotted that distance.
We took two strides off the bridge before plunging down a steep bank into the rest area, enabling the constable to speed away and into the car-park. A bus was right behind him, and by this time about thirty or forty vehicles had queued up behind. I waved signs of thanks to the drivers and passengers as the constable came back.
"Wasn't so bad, was it?" he said.
I thanked him and we parted company. Wendy arrived to deliver Brae and we began our ride down the Old North Road, about 1km to the east of the Rakaia bridge. It ran straight for 3-4 kilometres before it met SH1 at an angle. There were long grass verges beside the road and as I cantered along Brae frequently got side-tracked chasing rabbits.
Approaching the junction with SH1 I thought I could see movement on the other side of the crossing. At times it looked like a horse, then merged into a blob - but as we got closer I realised it was a pony and cart - Rene Blanchet, who had sold Tom to Lisa, had come to meet us with Pongo, her little pony.
It was delightful to see them again, and she told me how much Pongo had been pining for Tom.
Colin, her husband, works on a huge family farm, 400ha, sheep and cropping. They live in what was the old Wright homestead, a huge two-storey settlers home built in the 1860's. I could just imagine the bullock carts trundling past, taking settlers south.
Colin was already three weeks into lambing, and it was a particularly busy time of the year for him. There were also mobs of sheep being strip-grazed on turnips, and the fences had to be moved each day.
The next morning Rene and Pongo accompanied me as far as the banks of the Selwyn River. We rode down to the river bed, hoping it might be dry enough for me to ford. Usually, Rene said, it was a dry river, except in the Spring and in heavy rain.
However, even before we reached the river bed we had broached two huge 'puddles' across the road. The water level came right up to the floor of the pony-cart and Pongo struggled to pull it through the water. When we saw the river proper it was a raging torrent. It looked as though I had to join the traffic and go over the bridge.
This time I had Brae aboard D'Artagnan so we walked quietly across the bridge hoping the traffic would slow down. Of course it didn't - As we left the bridge, the bank down to ground level was to steep to ride down, but there was a track which required doing a U-turn as we left the bridge, and riding back alongside but on the outside of the bridge. A huge tourist coach thundered towards us, and Doug, unsettled, trotted forward in front of D'Art. He came too close to D'Art pushing my leg up and over D'Art's back.
I fought hard to regain my seat just before we slid down the bank. If only these vehicles would understand that horses are animals - and can have fears and emotions just like children.
There was a wide strip of disused land between the railway lines and the highway, and it was only a kilometre before we would veer away onto side-roads again. But it was enough time for Brae to get into trouble. He could smell rabbit (sssshhh! Don't read that word aloud, in case he can hear you!) and was off across the paddocks, yipping and yapping with great delight. I called and called, but he just answered with more cries of joy.
Finally in desperation, I called out: "Bye, Brae" and he returned within seconds to trot meekly by my side as we headed Leeston way. There were once more long straight stretches of our journey to the Nationwide Horse Depot at Prebbleton and Brae found more delightful scents; some days he would cover three times our distance.
Before long, however, he was definitely limping although it didn't slow him down or stop him from exploring. I phoned Rene (bringing the packs through to Prebbleton) and arranged for her also to collect Brae. Then it was a matter of carrying him until she arrived.
We rode with Brae aboard for perhaps 10km. Like an athlete that doesn't know when to stop, when to rest he begged me to get down again. His nose was darting around in the air in front of me, lured by the scent of rabbit.
We rode through the forest and lots of subdivision - ten acre blocks and suburban development. Christchurch was spreading south to greet us. Rene arrived and took Brae, who then whimpered in the vehicle begging to be allowed out. However now Doug, D'Art and I could canter and reach Prebbleton before dark.
The folk at Nationwide Horse Transport were very obliging. I had used them to transport the horses throughout the trip and they'd done me proud, always arriving promptly and efficiently with the horses safe and satisfied.
My home for the next week or so would be the Groynes Motel again. The taxi driver who took me back to Prebbleton the next morning liaised with me over the best route to take through Christchurch. I wanted to keep away from the heavy traffic on the ring road - the horses didn't mind the slow-moving traffic in the suburbs. And so we winded our way through light industrial areas, past shops and houses, around by the racecourse and eventually the Groynes.
It was great to be able to catch up on washing and other housework and to have the rental car the next day - the weather was diabolical, frequent hail showers and an icy wind. But the day after dawned frosty and cloudless - a beautiful day for riding.
I rode D'Art and led Doug around to the Donquest Kennels, where both Brae and Doug would wait. Doug and D'Art whinneyed out to each other as we rode away - in fact D'Art kept up the calls throughout the day as we rode to Woodend on the northern outskirts of Christchurch.
To console him I called in to an apple orchard and got us both crisp, fresh apples to eat. It didn't cheer him up, but he was a willing ride through the streets of Belfast and along the Old North Road over the Waimakariri (which means icy cold river - and it looked it too) through the delightful little town of Kaiapoi.
This place looked worthy of a visit. Just off SH1 it reminded me of a small Californian fishing town; boats tied up in the river, including the large MV Tuhoe which takes passengers out cruising. An old pub and some notably old houses - yes I could go back here.
Further along there was a magnificent white monument erected to mark the site of a pa (Maori village) occupied by the Ngai Tahu tribe about 1700AD. The site was almost completely surrounded by swampland and water with canoe access to the Ashley River. Last century it had been the scene of the siege by Te Rauparaha's warriors when many lives had been lost.
I found overnight grazing and hitched back to the motel; it had taken us 2-1/2 hours to ride but it took me only ten minutes to return in the car with D'Art's cover and a slab of hay for him. He was standing in the corner of the paddock gazing out into the distance. Similarly when I went to retrieve Brae from the kennels, there was Doug standing sadly at the gate. I tried to tell them it was only a few days of separation but I dont think they understood.
The next day it was a matter of driving in the rental to reach D'Art, riding him to Amberley, where a kindly man said I could leave him in his paddock overnight.
Once more I hitched back for the car. The ride this time was with an unkempt, unshaven, foul-mouthed but kindly man in a car with the windows wound right up and the heater jammed on full bore. I'm not too fond of hitchhiking - and was wondering if I'd been wise on this particular occasion.
And so my ride of the South Island was finished - now for the North Island.
© 1996/97 Jacqui Knight, all rights reserved.
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