We were nearing a clearing in the bush and I could sense our horses were becoming restless and excited. They picked up their feet and quickened their pace. Soon we found ourselves on a long stretch of white sandy beach, the horses were practically dancing now as the fresh salty air whipped through their manes.
Anna, the leader of our trek, called us all together and told us that we were now preparing for a gallop along the beach.
“Don’t worry about trying to stop the horses” she said, “They will stop on their own when they come to the end of the beach.” The end of the beach? I looked out into the distance across the sand; it seemed to go on forever. Where was the end of the beach?
I had always dreamed of galloping along a beach, the soft sand and white spray being kicked up into the air as I went, but now that I was actually here, I was beginning to feel a little nervous. I had never actually galloped before. “Ok” said Anna, “ready…”, but before she had even finished talking, the horses had whipped around and were racing down the beach.
I had arrived early that morning for my trek through the Paporoa National Park in Punakaiki, to the foot of the famous Pancake Rocks. There were about eight of us all together. We had begun the trek slowly and peacefully riding into the tropical forest – lush green covered mountains all around us.
Because we were on horseback it was a great way to get close to the New Zealand wildlife.
“You will see many native bird species on our trip,” explained Anna “The Paradise duck, Kereru wood pigeon and the gorgeous Pukeko are just some of them.” Emerging from one side of the forest we came upon a valley with a wide river running through the middle. All I could see for miles and miles were soft green-carpeted mountains. There was not a house, road or car anywhere in sight.
Without a moment’s hesitation, the horses waded into the river with us on their backs and the cool mountain spring water sloshed against my feet. Dripping wet, but immensely refreshed, we came out onto the other side of the bank and trotted back into the leafy forest. Back in the shade we stopped at a small wooden hut for a rest, a cup of tea, and some ginger biscuits – the perfect pick-me-up.
“Sometimes we do a three or four day trek and visitors sleep in the hut” explained Anna. Inside, the hut was complete with a small kitchen and bunk beds. We boiled fresh river water to make our tea and settled down on some logs to rest. The air was quiet and still, and all that could be heard was the faint call of birds across the tree canopy. After a restful stop it was time to get back on the horses and head on to the beach where the famous Pancake Rocks stood.
The Pancake Rocks, true to their name resemble giant stacks of pancakes. They are layers upon layers of water sculpted limestone which have been formed over thousands of years.
As we wound our way around the bottom of the rocks, I could see giant geysers spouting high above us through the water worn passages. The day before, I had walked along a coastal path around the top of the Pancake Rocks and had seen the geysers and blowholes shooting many feet into the air. Now, however I had a completely different view of the spectacular rocks, riding around the base I could now appreciate their immense size, while watching the sea water rush in at the bottom and get sucked out at the top.
Before I knew it though, I was galloping faster and faster away from the rocks to the end of the beach, sand, stones and sea spray were being kicked up and thrown into oblivion.
I had a perfect view, as I was galloping far ahead of all the others. My horse seemed to think it was in a race and was thoroughly enjoying himself, snorting at the waves, the wind tugging at his mane and all the while gathering speed, faster and faster. My heart beat wildly as I stood up in the stirrups and squeezed tightly with my knees, the wind blowing through my hair.
We were nearing the end of the beach now and my horse made sure he made the most of by coming to a skidding halt at the very end. Again I didn’t have to tell him to do anything. Just like Anna had said, he stopped all by himself.
I found out later that my horse had been an ex race horse, which explained a lot. Our group, now back together, twisted our way back up to the road and back towards the stables, which had been the start of our trek, each of us already reliving the amazing ride we had just had.
Want to experience it for yourself?
Esme Fox went trekking with Punakaiki Horse Treks. For a trek lasting two and half hours it costs around $145 New Zealand Dollars pp. They cater for both beginners and advanced riders. Riders should wear long trousers and closed-toe shoes.