Host: Lawrie & Jenny O'Carroll
When: The main season for trail riding begins in October and runs through til May, although rides are taken all year round.
Length: We have rides lasting from 2 hours to 11 days. An 11-day itinerary is provided below to provide an idea of what can be expected.
Number of guests: One to several
Fee: A 3-day ride costs NZ$498.00 per person. The 11-day ride described below costs $1,980.00. Prices for other rides can be provided. Prices are quoted in NZ Dollars and include GST. A deposit of 25% is required with bookings, the balance payable 30 days prior to commencement of trip.
The horses are bred and raised on the hill country, so are sure-footed in all terrains, and fast-walking from their Thoroughbred background. They carry more physical characteristics of a Clydesdale though, with hairy legs and strongly built - great for use as pack horses.
Turbo Charge was the sire of over 25 of our foals, unfortuantely dying from old age in 1987. Luckily, he had left a legacy in Nikau, who was the second stallion producing his own 8 foals before retiring as a stallion to become a riding horse for the safaris. As a replacement for Nikau, two new stallions were bought in 1996, a sire and his progeny, the sire dying just 1 year later after producing two foals for us. His earlier offspring was the other stallion, Wainuka, bought as a yearling, but at 3 was put to work and by the age of 5 had already given us 15 new foals.
In 1996, we also sent one of our brood mares to be artificially inseminated with semen from Jaguar, a well-known Belgian Warmblood dressage and show-jumping horse of the North Island. This produced our other current stallion named Toru, born in 1997 and first serving mares in 2000.
In total there are about 60 horses at Waitohi Downs, and this number is ever-growing. 35 are used as riding horses for stock work and also on the safaris, 10 or so are brood mares, and there are about 15 yearlings, two and three year olds. These younger horses are constanly being handled from an early age until they are broken in at 3 years old. They are slowly introduced to the safaris, often being used as a pack horse and for mustering first to make sure that they are quiet and able to cope with any events that may occur during the rides.
The horses here are not stabled, but live out on the hillside and in paddocks all year round. They always have plenty of feed in the paddocks but in the winter months (May - September) when grass is sparse, they are supplementary fed daily with red clover or Lucern hay, made here at Waitohi Downs in the summer from the lush grass grown on the flats. Before rides, they are given chaff to keep their energy levels high, and there is always a fresh supply of water available from the numerous creeks scattered across the farm.
The saddles we use are all of the Australian Stock Saddle design, some being Sid Hill saddles, but have all been made to order to our own specifications to make them exactly how we want them. We use a military style tree as this will never rub a horse's back, with deep seats, comfortable for long rides. When designing the saddles, we have ensured that they are of the same traditional structure as they were 100 years ago, when they had to be of the best quality for constant use.
As part of the design, the saddles have many D's and rings on them to tie our coats and oilskins onto, and they also provide a place to clip the saddlebags to. We always carry an oilskin and waterproof leggings on the saddle, and any additional objects are carried in the leather saddlebags, as clothing tied around the waist or backpacks can be dangerous when riding. We have riding helmets for everyone's use, and although this is not compulsory in New Zealand, we recommend if you are any less than an experienced rider that you wear one. This is purely for the safety of the rider, and for the same reason we also match the correct sized stirrup to each rider's boot, to prevent it from becoming wedged.
On our rides, we also carry First Aid Kits for both humans and horses. These are clipped on to either side of the saddle at the back, and means that we can treat most injuries satisfactorily until help arrives. We have a current Red Cross, First Aid Certificate so that we can help to the best of our ability if anything should happen, and we always carry a mountain radio so that we can contact help if it is ever required.
We also have to carry shoeing equipment in case any horse loses a shoe on a ride. Lawrie has always shod his own horses here at Waitohi Downs, using shoes that are built up with hard-faced weld to make them stronger and longer lasting. Without this weld, the shoes would only last for one 11 day trip, whereas with it, they last for two. Most of our horses take size 6 or 7 shoes, but the pack horses need bigger, heavier shoes up to size 9, which we specially shape and design here.
We usually take 5 or 6 pack horses away with us, and each of them have their own pack saddles. We have also helped in the making of these, and again they are the original, traditional design, as used years ago in the pioneering days. We also use the traditional method of packing the horses, always ensuring that the weights on either side are even and well spread out between the horses. They carry our specially designed tuckerboxes, and electric fencing gear to build temporary paddocks for the horses at night. All of our swag rolls are also carried by the pack horses, each swag holding a sleeping bag, clothes and any personal belongings we might need on the trips. Again, all of this gear is regularly checked to ensure that it is always safe for both the horse and the rider.
TRAIL RIDING INFORMATION:
On these trips we stay in mountain camps and musterers huts, and where there is little room we also carry tents to sleep in with airbeds for your comfort. In most of these huts we cook over an open fire or gas cooker, preparing meals like roast lamb, smoked chicken or beef steaks, with a variety of vegetables. Vegetarians can also be catered for if we are told in advance. In the warmer weather we often sit around a camp fire under the stars talking over the day's events with cheese and crackers and the beverage of your choice, whether it be billy boiled tea, beer, wine or port.
On the actual rides, we walk the horses at all times, although there are places to trot and canter at the discretion of the guides. Again, safety is paramount, and we will only allow you to do what you are capable of. We spend about 6 hours in the saddle most days (about 32km per day) although this may vary depending on conditions. We prefer to leave early in the morning and arrive at our camp not too far into the day, so that we have time to relax and explore during the afternoons. This also gives those with aching legs and behinds a chance to recover a little!
Lastly, one of the most important things to remember is that we ride in the high country where you can experience 4 seasons in one day, so warm clothes are absolutely essential, even in the warmer months. Strong boots, like tramping boots, are also essential as we lead the horses down steep terrain. In addition to this, we have compiled a list of things that you need to bring, and what we supply. We just ask that you bring the minimum possible, all of your belongings must fit into one swag roll, or it will be left behind! More details of what to bring would be sent on confirmation of a booking.
AN 11-DAY ITINERARY
We ride over the saddle to the Glencoe River, passing hill country of native scrub and scattered silver tussock on our way to reaching the Mandamus River once more, We travel up the east bank, crossing for our last time and follow the track through dense manuka scrub into Organ Stream where our first night is spent in the Valley Camp Hut.
Day 2: Leaving the Valley Hut at approximately 8.30 a.m. and head up the pack track through beech bush onto a saddle and down to Darkies Gully, follow the pack track through a beech forest to Gorge Creek Saddle. Descend down a steep face into Gorge Creek, follow down the creek for approximately ˝ mile and take the track on the west side of Gorge Creek.
Ride onto the top of the Little Organs Range. From here a magnificent view can be seen of Glynn Wye Station, the Lewis Pass Road, also views up the Doubtful and Hope Rivers with the Southern Alps in the background. Glynn Wye is owned by Cliff and Lorraine Cox. It covers an area of 24,300 hectares (60,000 acres) running 16,000 sheep, 1,400 cattle and 1,400 deer.
From here, we descend down leading spur to the mouth of Gorge Creek and onto the Lewis Pass Road, across the Hope River to Glenhope Station where we spend our second night. Glenhope Station is owned by Rod and Charlotte Milme, covering an area of 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) running 4,000 sheep and 350 cattle.
Day 3: Leaving Glenhope at approximately 8.30 a.m. we ride north up to the Waiau River viewing the water 150 m below us. From here we wind our way in and out of gullies passing through native beech forest until we arrive at the Tin Jug Hut at approximately 12.30 p.m. for lunch and welcome a cup of tea brewed over the open fire.
After lunch we ride through scenic bush, which opens out to a large valley of flat land. Rugged mountain faces on one side and on the other, a native beech forest running to the valley floor like a large expanse of carpet. This is the Magdalen Valley, altitude of 2500 ft above sea level, our destination, the St Andrews Hut in the middle of this beautiful landscape
Day 4: Breaking camp we ride up the pack track, onto a 4 wheel vehicle track, over Charlies Saddle back to the Edward’s and up the river past Scotties Camp to Peters Pass, down Peters Valley to St James Station where we spend the night.
St James Station is owned and operated by Jim and Audrey Stevenson. It is the largest privately owned station in New Zealand, covering 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres). Stock run on the property is predominately cattle totalling 2,500 head, 1,000 sheep are run on the Edward’s Country. Horse are used for all stock work and about 120 are bred in the Ada and Henry Valleys.
Day 5: Leaving St James we ride north up the Clarence River on Molesworth Country until reaching the Fowlers Camp, where we stop for lunch. Continuing after lunch we ride up one of the finest and best kept pack tracks in the country to the top of Fowlers Pass.
We are now at a height of 4,250 ft and surrounded by many different species of alpine plants. A breathtaking view can be seen of the Spencer Mountain Range with Mt Una towering high above the other peaks and the Faerie Queene with pockets of frozen snow cemented on its slopes all year round.
We descend from Fowlers Pass down a zigzag track of broken rock and greywacke scree. On reaching the bottom, we meet up with and follow the Stanley River down to vast areas of swampy flats where in the distance lies the Stanley Vale Hut. Our accommodation for the night.
Day 6: Saddled up and ready to go we ride north-west ‘til we catch a glimpse of Lake Guyon, surrounded by bush on 2 sides and with a magnificent view of the Spencer Range reflected in the lake. A must for a photograph. As we ride round the edge of the lake through Manuka and Beech forest, we can see fat brown trout lazing in the shallows and gliding quietly into deeper water when they see movement. Riding on we cross the Waiau River and head to the Ada Homestead, an outstation of St James. To the west is the magnificent Ada Valley stretching up to Ada Pass and further on to Cannibal Gorge. This is the area where the bulk of the stock are run. The cows calve out here and calves are marked in the Ada Yards. Every second year the horses are mustered into the Ada Yards, where the 2 and 3 year olds are drafted out and driven up the Waiau River, over Mellings Pass, down the Clarence River to St James Station yards for sale. A distance of 33 miles. These horses are well sort after by discerning horsemen for hunting, showjumping, dressage, and general hack.
We leave the Ada and ride towards the Henry River, following the pack track down the Waiau River past Paradise Lake and have lunch at Dumpy Stream. Continuing down the Waiau River we cross at the mouth of Jones Stream, follow the track along the terraces until Edward’s River, down the pack track, cross the Waiau River and back to the Tin Jug Hut. We follow the track up Steynings Stream into the Magdalen Valley. Our destination is the St Andrews Hut in the middle of this beautiful valley
Day 7: Today is a relaxing day where you can either go for a tramp in the bush, listen and admire many different species of native birds, catch up on your laundry, or take a ride up the Boyle River to the Boyle Hut.
Day 8: Departing at 8.30 a.m. and leaving the St Andrews Hut and Magdalen Valley behind us, we ride to the Lewis Pass Road where we enter the Poplars Station managed by John and Margo Brady. The Poplars Station is a property consisting of high country and vast flats running up five different rivers, the Boyle, Lewis, Doubtful, Hope, and Kiwi. An area of 7,200 hectares (18,000 acres) running 7,000 sheep and 1,600 cattle.
We then ride under the Boyle Road bridge and follow down the Boyle River crossing the mouth of the Doubtful River to our lunch stop, behind the Engineers Camp. From here we ride across Windy Point to the Hope River and follow it up until we reach the Hope Kiwi Lodge.
Day 9: After saddle up,we ride from the Hope Kiwi Lodge up the Kiwi Flats to the start of the Kiwi track where we leave the Poplars Station. Climbing very gently to the Kiwi Saddle, passing through a Mountain Beech forest abound with bird life. Small fantail flit around the horses, follow us through the track. Bellbirds thrill one with their magnificent song and an awesome screech from a Kea keeps everyone on the alert. From the Kiwi Saddle we ride towards Three Mile Stream, passing a lookout where a postcard view of Lake Sumner can be seen. The track, through terraced beech forest, finishes at the head of Lake Sumner, where we enter the Lake Station. Run by Ted and Sandy Phipps, covering an area of 8,100 hectares (20,000 acres) running 12,500 sheep and 900 cattle.
We follow around the shores of Lake Sumner crossing the Hurunui River to Taylor Stream, over the Catherine Saddle and down to the picturesque Lake Mason.
Just as we arrive at the Lake Mason Hut, our bed for the night, we enter Lake Taylor Station owned by Dave and Rosemary Gunn. A property of 7,200 hectares (18,000 acres) running 6,500 sheep and 300 cattle.
Day 10: With swags rolled, horses saddled, pack horses loaded we ride out from Lake Mason towards the south branch of the Hurunui River. We cross over to Nosewiper Pt on to Eskhead Station, owned by Peter and Helen Heddell, covering 16,000 hectares (40,000 acres) running 11,000 sheep and 600 cattle.
Riding towards Eskhead homestead we pass Sugar Loaf, Homestead Fan and bush camp, arriving at Deep Creek for lunch. A two hour ride takes us along some beautiful north facing sunny country into the station where we camp at the cook shop in the shearers’ quarters.
Day 11: Unfortunately every trip has a last day, the horses know they are on their way home so stride out at a cracking pace. Through the scenic Maori Gully and along the banks of the Hurunui River, back to Waitohi Downs where we started from, eleven days ago. When the horses are unloaded and unsaddled all the gear is returned to its rightful place in the stable ready for the next trip. The horses get hosed down and returned to their paddock until it all starts again.
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