After our West Coast adventures we drove down to spend a few days in Wanaka (pronounced with emphasis on “Wa”, not “na” as we were incorrectly saying the first half of the trip). The night before we left we were sitting in the hostel kitchen talking about what we wanted to do there. We hadn’t really made any concrete plans, so we were looking around online for things to do. We decided on a whim to book a horseback riding tour at Backcounrty Saddle Expeditions. My mom and sister, being the animal lovers that they are, thought it would be a lot of fun, and we found a good deal on bookme (New Zealand Groupon), so why not? Because none of us had any horseback riding experience and had no idea what the tour would even involve? Ha!
We drove straight from Franz Josef down to the Backcountry Saddle ranch in scenic Cardrona. We were supposed to arrive early, but there was a big triathlon happening in Wanaka that day, so we were a little late getting there. No matter though, the staff welcomed us and got us all sorted and ready to go right in time for the tour.
We were introduced to our horses and hopped right on. We were lined up in a specific order, which we would stay in for the duration of the tour (for the most part). My horse, Nevada, was in the back of the line. I was told that he tended to be a bit mischievous and might try to bite the horse in front of him, in which case I would have to hold him back. I was a bit worried about this, as I had no experience riding a horse, let alone keeping one well behaved. Anyway, he did try a few times, but I was able to catch him and it wasn’t too difficult to keep him in line. All the horses were “special angel babies” (my sister’s equestrian terminology), who were very well behaved, making only a few stops to eat grass, chug water, and jettison small mountains of manure to help fertilize the plants along the trail. I know this might seem immature, but if you’ve never seen a horse poop from up close, you’re in for a treat. It was like watching a portal to another dimension open up in front of you, out of which poured an army of fist-sized, greenish-brown pellets, bent on conquering the swath of land immediately beneath the horse’s rump. I’ve never seen so far inside a living animal as I did that day.
We set off on our walk at a nice leisurely pace. Our guide, Stacey, led the way, and we were joined by Angelo (game chef extraordinaire) and his dog (rabbit chaser extraordinaire). All you could see in every direction was mountains and blue sky, and it was just you and your horse, riding through the open country, flies bombarding any orifice you weren’t smart enough to keep covered, ah the glorious outdoors. Seriously, the views of the mountains were incredible, as they always are in New Zealand, but the added element of riding a horse made the experience all the more memorable. The weather gods finally deigned to smile upon us, and we had a pleasant, sunny afternoon, finally bringing our rainy streak to an end. The trail got pretty steep and narrow at some sections, but the horses were made for these mountains and so very sure footed. This allowed us to relax and enjoy the scenery. We learned a lot about the area and the horses. Fun tip we learned: if you’re riding a horse and it starts to go wee, stand up to relieve the pressure your over-sized human buttocks is putting on their bladder.
After a while, we learned how to do a bit of jogging (or whatever the horse equivalent is called…galloping?). The basic methodology involved standing up in the stirrups on alternating bounces. It seemed complicated at first, but once you got used to the rhythm of the horse and the feeling of standing up slightly it wasn’t so bad. Being in the back of the line proved to be a slight disadvantage now though, as both my mom and her horse didn’t seem to have much interest in picking up the pace beyond a feigned first attempt. It was fun though, even if only in fits and starts.
Towards the end of the tour, we got to stop and let the horses get a drink from a stream. They could only drink one at a time, so while we were waiting in line we had to make sure the horses didn’t munch on all the grass and plants around them. The horses had pretty strong necks, so you really had to give them a good tug to keep them from constantly snacking. You might think you’re strong, but compared to a mountain-climbing horse, you’re really not.
After about two hours we were back at the start. We hopped off the horses and they got to have a well deserved meal. We picked up some really unique honey and soap for souvenirs before heading off for a well deserved meal of our own at the historic Cardrona Hotel (recommended by our guide).
While riding horses might not be an experience unique to New Zealand, it was a really cool way to view this stunningly beautiful area of New Zealand. This added more evidence (along with our recent dolphin swim) to my theory that New Zealand has such an abundance of breathtaking scenery that the only way you can really enhance it is by throwing friendly animals into the mix. We all agreed that it was one of the highlights of our trip and would absolutely recommend it to everyone.
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