How wonderful to have reached the ripe old age of ‘comfort’.
That age between old enough to no longer to care and not so old that you need to be cared for.
So when two friends I recently met invited me to join them with their girl friends on an annual weekend ride;
I didn’t analyse why; I didn’t second guess their motives; I didn’t worry about whether I would snore or not (I know I do); I didn’t stress about whether I was a good enough rider (I know I am not, I don’t even have my own horse);
I just thought how lucky I was to be included and said yes.
Of course that was 6 months ago and suddenly, here was the weekend away with strangers and I was to all intents and purposes, a stranger , perhaps even, a gate crasher !
Except, that’s the point.
Trail riders are not really strangers.
Within 10 minutes of meeting, with the common anticipation of 2 days riding together, we were bonded.
I knew nothing about them, not even, if the truth be told, their names (as my memory lets me down in that department), whether they had families, what they thought, what they did when not on horseback – nothing.
Except that they loved horses and riding and that is enough.
That is enough to enable 7 strangers to buckle up, and ride into the Howqua river with, yes, you guessed it –
Which for anyone who knows me, must surely be a first.
I LOVE words.
I love working out their origins, the way they look on paper; their shapes and rhythms. And I love the way they can have multiple meanings, depending on context, dependent on the company, the glint in an eye, the emphasis on a syllable, the quickness of response, the back and forth.
Words can bind or divide with such ease and speed they become almost the most powerful tool available to us mere mortals.
But I digress –
words, they confuse, confound and cause all sorts of meanderings.
Like our meander into Glenorchy Back Country, South Island, New Zealand.
And for those who don’t know where New Zealand is, the bottom of the planet, almost in the Pacific Ocean. I think God created the world from the top and as he moved down, his artistry became more and more breathtaking; his masterpiece complete at Glenorchy.
And that’s the point – this trip was SO amazing,
So breathtakingly beautiful.
So filled with laughter and energy and love and caring and support that
WORDS FAIL ME!!!!!
No really, they do.
From our first meeting for a drink, which ended up including a dinner, we knew we were in a special place, where like minded people understood the words spoken, the words unspoken, the meanings behind them.
People who immediately saw the laughter in an eye, or the nervous hesitation in the curve of a mouth.
We knew, without any hesitation that we were heading for a special 5 days and we were right.
Although perhaps heading wasn’t quite the right word, try meandering.
As some of us did on the way home via a fairy light boat or two (see blog All grown up? Really?) but to bed we went, finally.
Surprisingly, despite creaky heads for some, we were all up and ready to go as planned, bright and early referring to the day and time, not necessarily the people. See what I mean about words ?
And that was the beginning of a Real world:
no internet, no radio, no news, Facebook:
sometimes not even lights.
But again, words – there were lights, just not the ones we normally think of when using the word.
The sky was alive with lights, THOUSANDS of stars, breathtaking, moving, shimmering, glimmering, glowing, even flowing….. just endless stars that kept us spellbound.
A walk in the dark one night, clambering down the side of a cliff in total darkness trusting Bijmin our leader, lead us to more lights.
At first we thought they were stars, but they were not.
They were glow worms – THOUSANDS of them, hanging under a huge cave like boulder across the river, which in the dark was invisible to us, and creating a second heaven of starlight.
We gawked, silenced and humbled by the enormity and power of our universe and thought how easily we could have missed it except we dared to brave the dark and damp.
We rode around mountains, seeing glaciers, snow, water as blue as the sky, and then as transparent as glass so that you couldn’t be sure what was reflection and what was mountain.
We rode through forests.
With Beech trees as tall as cathedrals, moss and lichen dripping,
streams and waterfalls a constant surprise.
At times the forest was so silent we felt like the first and only people in the world.
At other times it was so full of bird sounds it made me laugh for joy.
The forests were filled with dreams.
Thoughts of dinosaurs, ogres, goblins, Bilbo, Gandalf, Frodo.
You name it, they were there.
Silent, watching us feeling them.
The waterfalls, the walks, the views –
We scrambled up and down, feeling, smelling, sensing the forest
We camped in cold, clear places and warm snug places.
We shared our meals with our beloved horses.
We brushed our teeth in public, and even had a bath with a view.
Making lunch was always such an adventure
Lunches a fun affair….
Brushing teeth was an adventure 🙂
so warm and welcoming
What remained after a horrific fire 😦
We lunched along river banks and on grass hills, we talked, we laughed, we giggled, we lay in the sun, we rode bare back, we swam our horses in glacial pools.
Returning from my first ever swim, bareback…..
We cantered, we jumped, we fell (or at least I did – twice in the first hour of our ride!!!!) we laughed again and shared- stories, drinks, food, fears, loves, joys, life with a capital L
We felt like children on a school camp, in the moment, thrilling to the joy of being alive, overwhelmed by the beauty of our surroundings, humbled by the generosity of spirit shown by our horses, stripped to our essence camping together and always laughing and playing.
Our little group, from worlds as far apart as Tuscon Arizona, New Hampshire, South Africa, Nebraska, California, Sydney, Noosa, Melbourne were united, bonded forever by this experience.
Bonded by a thread as smooth as silk and as solid as chainmail.
Linked through our connection to our horses.
Joined by an experience that cannot be put into words and that cannot be replicated, nor understood except by those of us who were so fortunate to have experienced these remarkable animals, so patient, so responsive, so willing, so kind, so powerful in a country of such extravagant beauty.
Photos are thanks to ‘the crew’ – I can claim No credit for them – very grateful team
Okay, so I’lll admit there was a time when I indulged in a few holiday romances, but that was many years ago.
Now I am older and wiser and a whole lot more cautious.
After all, the broken heart following such affairs is deterrent enough for me not to venture into those waters again.
So I approached this relationship with grown up attitudes. We would be together for 5 days, we would enjoy the time we had together and go our separate ways with no strings attached, no expectations and therefore, no pain. Nothing could be simpler.
And so it was that we danced around each other, assessing how far we could push ourselves and each other.
We tested which buttons would produce a joy of such magnitude I cannot begin to describe it, and which buttons were clearly going to be a no-no with me left deflated and hanging on the ground, foolish and stunned by the speed of the whole chain of events!!!!
Still I persevered, thinking the whole thing would be so worth it for 5 days. And I believe he did as well as he stuck by me – faithfully and quietly. Never looking elsewhere, always waiting for me to join him.
But he was not boring; not submissive, quick to challenge me and turn a ho hum moment into an adventure. There were times when he was confronting, prodding and dare I say it, even went so far as to goad me into losing my ‘cool’.
It was at moments like these that the encouragement and support of my girl friends kept me ‘in the game’ so to speak and made it all worthwhile.
And then it was all over and I had to leave.
I had been preparing myself for this moment from day one, but still, it was SO much harder than I had expected it to be.
A long kiss, and I walked away.
But no, not too far.
I came back for another cuddle and a whisper and he gave me a kind, soft, lingering nuzzle which left me oh so warm and fuzzy.
I was ready to leave him.
It was after all, just a holiday romance.
I stalked him the day after I left to find that he was happy, content, eating well and showing little sign of distress.
Was I relieved?
Just a little.
But hurt too, did it really mean so little to him,
this holiday romance?
At home again with a slow heart I did the washing, hung it up to dry
and there it was!!!!!!!!
He had not just walked away casually without a backward glance.
He had left me a locket of his beautiful hair.
Well perhaps not quite a locket.
Rather a whole lot of auburn, russet short hairs.
But still a secret parting gift to remember our precious time together,
those stolen moments when we swam unhindered,
bare backed, not even socks or shoes;
in a delicious spine tingling icy glacial pool with no one around
They were there, clinging to my leggings – the leggings I wore on that special ‘bare back’ day.
Even After the washing machine had done it’s work.
Clearly, I had meant something to him, since he wove them so firmly into the cloth of my, was going to say soul,
but really just my pants and jackets.
Still, a gift from him to me.
So Just Perhaps, this wasn’t merely a holiday romance,
but a whole lot more.
The Big question now is,
do I live with ‘him’ around me for a little longer,
or do I use the band aid approach to purge all memory
Otherwise how do I explain a night out on the town – Queenstown to be exact with strangers?
Well Mum, it was like this you see, “ I Had to meet the people I was going to ride with – I mean I had No choice. So we met and I had to have a drink, just to be polite.
Turned out they were a lovely group of 👫 people, you would totally have approved Mum and we were really good and just had the one drink and then went to get some dinner. We totally planned to finish early because we knew we had to be fit to ride the next day.”
“Well after a great dinner with wine ‘and stuff’ ….
Well some Grappa, and some Kahlua and some Amarettos and some, well I think that’s all ….
Well I was on my way back to my Juicey Snooze (love saying that 😉) when my friend said she didn’t want to go to bed yet. Honest, I didn’t want to hang out but she did and I couldn’t leave her alone now could I?
So she took me to this fairy light boat to have a quick drink and she had never had mulled wine and so how could I say no?
And so we went, and we met these amazing young people who were such fun and it would have been rude to leave.
So you stayed?
Yes, well what else could we do? It would have been So rude to leave And we had such fun drinking mulled wine till they ran out …..
And now it’s the next day and we have 🐴 horses to ride!!!
Such is the strangeness of the English language. Or rather the vicissitudes of the New Zealand weather.
A very early start, compounded by the complexity of daylight saving switch (will I be an hour early or late, does it go back or forward; no not the time I get that – spring forward, fall back; but the actual watch)
Fortunately along with my sleeping pod, juicy snooze (I just love using that name) offered me a wake up call so I left the time forward/back calculation to them.
So bright and early I stood at a bus shelter along with a large number of sleepy Chinese tourists. No I need to make a correction- the tourists need no correction, the brightness does. There was none, for almost the entire day.
We stood silent in the dark and rain waiting as instructed for ‘the bus’ which arrive and with it the brightness of my travelling companions, John and Carla.
Brightness is as much a thing of the heart as it of the sun and so with brightness in our hearts we set off.
To Doubtful Sound because it was doubtful we could get to our planned Milford Sound for fear of avalanches.
Which made us more confident about than Captain Cooke was when he named it and refrained from taking his ship, the mighty Endeavour in for fear he would not get her out. Ever cautious he was.
And so was our bus driver as he wound his bus along Lake Wakatipu, a huge dark mass of water (400m deep!) on one side and cliffs reaching up into the dark in the other.
From Queenstown to Kingston to Garston ( the most inland city in NZ) to Mossman to Manapouri – such a mix of names) we saw through the rain and mist, fields and fields of grass so green it reminded me of a melted green wax crayon – intense, solid. Lambs so newly born they could barely stand on their wobbly legs, sheep shorn in anticipation of the spring weather so forlorn wet and I would swear shivering as we and they prayed for clearer skies.
Freishens, thick coated heads down, backs to the wind (producing 50 000 Litres a day 😯)
We drove through old fairy tale forests- beech trees 1000 years old; gnarled, misshapen with long tendrils of moss and lichen. These trees hung of to the edge of mountains so steep that when you looked through them you saw nothing but the darkness of the rock. Definitely fairy tale forests, in this weather of the Brother’s Grimm variety.
And everywhere water, from the heavens, from the rocks, from the snow and sometimes it seemed from the very bowels of the earth
(Trivia 7-9 metres rain a year!) felt like we had most of it today 😉🌧
Oh and did I mention the wind?
Or the laughs?
Or the wine?
We went on buses, boats, buses, footbridges and buses and boats and through it all – had the most amazing time
And to round off a perfect day – the sky turned blue, the sun winked at us; the lambs on our way home were playing, the cows grazed, the passengers snoozed, and we had an extra hour of daylight to savour the gift of nature in all her disguises
Here’s hoping the weather plays ball tomorrow when we start riding
I know I know, my Jess travelled half way round the world all alone on busses and things – but still her 60+ year old mother feels grown up today.
A lovely last walk around Mount Albert and coffee with Desna found me at the airport – alone.
Well not quite alone; I was accompanied by ‘my stomach’. Was it a butterfly 🦋 (or two, or a hundred)? Was it a knot? Or was it the excitement stirring energy? Hard to tell.
We all know I have a mixed reputation when it comes to catching flights. Add to that the modern way of phone boarding passes that scanners seem to have endless trouble with and you will understand my sense of achievement at getting onto the plane and in the right 💺 seat. Such a grown up thing to have done 😉
So all set I was – Queenstown here I come in my ‘paid extra for window seat’ because the view you understand is worth every cent. Well yesterday it was, today is raining and clouded over from whoa to go 😯 but still yesterday the view was So amazing
A municipal bus ride into central Queenstown, short walk up the hill and here I am – totally the wrong age for Juicy Snooze. But what fun
A Tiny pod of a room (most are shared – think backpackers) with a shower 🚿 that would not cater to a large soul but in that score I am fine.
And so if the rain stops, the adventure may take a different turn but for now it is coffee and the AFL grand final
A walk to the station, (So Easy to buy a ticket , So quick, So cheap – Melbourne take note !!!!) and a ride to Britomark at the harbour
Hot coffee at Botswana Butchery (nothing to do with the country – go figure) and a glorious ferry ride to Rangitoto island saw us start
This island erupted from the sea about 600 years ago – a New volcano 😯
An iconic landmark in Auckland’s skyline- symmetrical cone of 260m looking over the Hauraki Gulf.
The black lava dominates and yet vegetation is taking root and the island is a mass of green, black and more green, steep slopes and amazing views in all directions.
There is a single ‘road’ built by prisoners. Interestingly there were not POW but regular prisoners in the 1920’s who,for the last 6 months of their sentence were taken to the island to work.
The whole island is a conservation area now and very tightly controlled with the reintroduction of indigenous bird life eradication of rats and the cleaning of boots and sealing bags mandatory.
The Tui serenaded us almost all the time as we walked the boardwalk to the top of crater
An amazing day finished off with a return ferry ride, G&T to share notes and thoughts and impressions in the sun at the harbour; a delicious meal , gentle train ride and good walk up the hill to home from home
And when I work out how to post the video of the Tui, I will 😉
She is so engaged with the orchestra, with the conductor, with the audience- she takes you along with her
But who is She, that I am raving about?
Anne Sophie Mutter.
Ten years younger than me. I remember the talk about this amazing musician, throughout the years while I was still trying to learn the basic Fur Elize on the piano, she was wowing the world with her artistry and at 13 was invited by Herbert Van Karajan to play with the Berlin Philharmonic !!!!!!
She owns 2 Stradivari’s – I do not know which one she used when I saw her.
Oh and she only wears Galliano outfits when she plays for comfort 🙂
And that, dear friends, was just another Friday morning in my Melbourne.
Now that we had mastered the art of cattle mustering
(in 2 easy lessons you understand 🙂 )
We moved on to ‘greener’ pastures.
In the bus, with horses in tow, we left our beautiful Mount and drove through Gympie, where once again we made a pit stop, this time, not at the bottle shop, but rather at the ‘bandaid’ shop (aka pharmacy) to attend some rather painful nether parts which one of us had acquired which offered as much mirth to the group as it offered pain to that region. 🙂
Task accomplished we stopped at the Best pie shop Ever.
Truely you can take my word for that.
And the chips were not half bad either.
near Widgee was our home for the next few days,
with such cute tents awaiting us and more lovely views.
The team here were Unbelievable
I really need to give a shout out to Rod, Ash, Jake and the rest of the crew.
Here we arrived, greenhorns every one of us, and with their welcome, and patience, we actually understood this camp drafting competition and learnt more or less:
(some of us much less, or perhaps I should one of us, much less – you can guess who that was. The others much more 🙂 )
Our amazing crew
Now for those of you who have no idea what campdrafting is, (I was one of those until a few months’ ago). Allow me to elucidate briefly.
In the days of large scale cattle mustering there was always the banter about who had the best horse, who rode the best, who could ‘tame a beast’ the best etc. And so a sport was created. I believe exclusive to Australia, called campdrafting.
In this, the competitor is in a ‘camp’ with several ‘beasts’ (aka cows) and on his horse he selects one and ‘dominates’ it by isolating it from the others and heading it towards the front end of the camp where there is a gate into a large arena. When the competitor is ready, he calls ‘gate’ and the gate is opened, the cow races out, as does the rider who then attempts to ‘steer’ the ‘beast’ around two pegs in a figure 8 and through another set of pegs (the gate) – all within 45 seconds.
Sounds easy? Well yes, when you see an expert, you hold your breath but they do make it look easy. None of us were experts!!!!!!! So just like us, you now understand what we are to do. I will attach below 2 videos, an expert (our lovely Helen) and a wanna me – yours truely for comparison purposes on condition no one laughs please.
And so our days were spent being taught to chose our ‘beast’; dominate our ‘beast’; turn our horses on a dime; stay in the ‘arc of vision’ of the cow –
not too far behind because all the ‘beast’ will hear is the sound of you chasing and it will go forward – Fast.
not too close or you will clip it and you and/or your horse and ‘the beast’ will go down – Hard.
so a bit like Goldilocks, just right.
Finally we move from the practice runs to the Real Arena – where we had surprise after surprise as our ‘beasts’ roared through the gate and straight across the arena to the opening at the other end, before any of us knew what had happened.
Our horses on the other end knew exactly what to expect and bounded across the arena at fast gallops chasing the cows. Our first rider, who shall remain nameless let out a yell of surprise, you can probably guess and found herself at the other end of the arena before the word was completely out of her mouth such was the speed of her trusty steed!!!!
Thankfully our next attempts were less ‘startling’
Slowly, with the amazing patience and coaching from Jake, Ash & Rod, we all started to improve – of course some did so a lot more than ‘others’ (you can guess who those ‘others’ are – and if in any doubt, refer to the score sheet from our final day competition)
It was all such fun.
Until it wasn’t
Sadly one of the team fell – at the far end of the arena and we watched, helpless, as she bounced and lay still. A sober reminder that this is, still, a risky sport. Thankfully, with a nurse in the team, an ambulance from Gympie and a little bit of luck on her side, her injuries were not life threatening although serious. *
It was a quiet evening for the rest of us – with conversations muted; all aware of how easily it could have been any of us; how quickly things can go from normal to tragic; how fortunate we each were that it wasn’t us (and how awful to think that at the same time)
Then another day dawned
We were back for our last day of campdrafting –
This was a very serious competition
with much shouting and encouragement from the sidelines
as each of us attempted to win the coveted trophy.
Here is a video of our lovely Helen showing “how it is done”.
Here for prosperity is a video of yours truely, showing how a greenhorn does it…. or rather doesn’t
On the day, I am SO pleased to say that our favourite John, won.
Never was a team more pleased for a winner.
and in case you thought it was all chasing beasts, there was also ‘washing them’
And suddenly – it was all over, we rushed back onto the bus for the trip back to airport where we all went our separate ways with Great Memories.