Rid­ing the fields of gold

Small ru­ral ar­eas find it hard to at­tract tourists and busi­ness, but a ded­i­cated group in Otago have turned the old gold­fields into the high coun­try ride of a life­time, and a way to sup­port lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Trudy Nicholson / Pho­tos Johnny Gil­bert

Why hun­dreds of peo­ple are ad­dicted to rid­ing the Otago cav­al­cade

When you run a cav­al­cade in dry, high coun­try hills at the end of a long sum­mer, you come up with some creative health and safety rules. “Cen­tral Otago in late sum­mer is pretty dry,” says cav­al­cade or­gan­iser Terry Davis. “Luck­ily, and through dili­gence to the sys­tems we have in place – smok­ing only al­lowed if stand­ing in the mid­dle of a river at least 5m wide – we haven’t started any fires yet.”

The orig­i­nal cav­al­cade back in 1991 was 220 peo­ple and 240 horses. It re­traced the his­toric jour­ney of the Cobb & Co Coach jour­ney from Dunedin to the Dun­stan Gold­field, via the Dun­stan Trail.

This year will be the 26th cav­al­cade, and to­day it’s a far big­ger op­er­a­tion. It is so pop­u­lar there are now nine dif­fer­ent trails, each with their own dis­tinct char­ac­ter. Most peo­ple still ride horses, but you can also choose to do it on a horse-drawn wagon, take a walk­ing or hik­ing trail, or – for the first time – cy­cle a trail.

Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of early gold seek­ers in

Cen­tral Otago has be­come an an­nual at­trac­tion for many peo­ple. There may not be gold in the hills any­more, but these mod­ern-day ad­ven­tur­ers do it for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. There’s the com­radely en­ergy of other par­tic­i­pants, the beauty of the vary­ing ter­rain with its tus­sock hills, jagged rocks and moun­tains, the wild roam­ing deer and na­tive fal­con. You get a sense of New Zealand as it was 130 years ago.

Be­hind the scenes is a team of vol­un­teers who do the vast prepa­ra­tion and en­sure ev­ery­thing runs well dur­ing the trails. Terry Davis says that the vol­un­teers who run the event do a power of work and take on con­sid­er­able stress and worry to make the trails hap­pen. Each one has a ded­i­cated crew: a trail boss, wran­glers on horse trails, and lead­ers on the walk­ing and cy­cle trails. There are landown­ers to per­suade, health and safety rules to take care of, ac­com­mo­da­tion and food for peo­ple and an­i­mals, all pro­vided for in the price.

“There are go­phers and first aiders who plan the trails, logistics, and look af­ter every­one for the week,” says Terry. “But the great­est thing they do is to cre­ate a feel­ing of fam­ily.”

The re­sult is some­thing very spe­cial.

“The chance to get into re­mote high coun­try sta­tions is such a priv­i­lege. We re­ally have to thank the landown­ers as it’s a rare treat these days. The scenery is ex­hil­a­rat­ing. Cen­tral Otago is like no other part of the coun­try.

“You spend six days with a group of strangers who end up be­com­ing firm friends. We ride with peo­ple who muster for a liv­ing and get to hear sto­ries from landown­ers about how the land was set­tled. It’s quite hum­bling to re­alise how tough life is in the re­mote high coun­try.”

Each year, the cav­al­cade starts from dif­fer­ent points and fol­lows dif­fer­ent trails through a range of com­mu­ni­ties. This year, it’s fin­ish­ing in Owaka, east of In­ver­cargill.

It’s a big deal for these ru­ral ar­eas. Many are the rem­nants of old min­ing towns and the ru­ins of once-thriv­ing com­mu­ni­ties. The cav­al­cade is a unique op­por­tu­nity for lo­cals to take part and raise money.

Back in the early 1990s, be­fore the Otago Cen­tral Rail Trail, ru­ral Cen­tral Otago was quite eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed. When the cav­al­cade was started by the Otago Gold­fields Her­itage Trust, Terry says they quickly re­alised it could play a big part in lo­cal tourism and fundrais­ing.

“The cav­al­cade was de­vel­oped, in part, to in­ject some cash into these small com­mu­ni­ties by get­ting them to pro­vide ser­vices and meals to the trails along the way,” says Terry. “A lo­cal school might earn sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars in one hit by pro­vid­ing din­ner for a group of cav­al­caders via donated pro­duce.”

Each year the des­ti­na­tion changes. Host towns get to show off their as­so­ci­a­tion with the Otago gold rush era, and raise money for the com­mu­nity. On the last day there’s a party at­mos­phere as every­one cel­e­brates their achieve­ments. It might be a dif­fer­ent town ev­ery year, but one thing stays the same, says Terry Davis.

“The real rea­son they keep com­ing back year af­ter year is that it’s just the best an­nual fam­ily gath­er­ing.”

“The com­bi­na­tion of shin­gle rock, tus­socks, shep­herd’s huts, big ex­pan­sive views with­out a road in sight, deer bound­ing across. It’s real New Zealand like it was 100 years ago.”

Sue Wor­thing­ton, trail rider

There are no cold beans on the cav­al­cade. You earn a good break­fast says reg­u­lar rider Sue Wor­thing­ton.

“On our trail we have an awe­some cater­ing com­pany, Rusty Car­rot, do­ing the cook­ing. The food is de­li­cious: fresh-baked bread, roast pork, sticky date pud­ding, and big cooked break­fasts. It's a wel­learned lux­ury!”

She de­scribes rid­ing a cav­al­cade trail as chal­leng­ing.

“But not su­per hard. The ride it­self is more than fun – it is ex­hil­a­rat­ing, even though it is a chal­lenge, slid­ing down steep slopes, go­ing through small bogs. One of the re­wards is you also form a huge bond with your horse who you have trusted to take you through any­thing.”

Like so many who do the cav­al­cade, she can't stop com­ing back.

“It's such a great time, and such good weather that you can't wait, ev­ery year, to come back and do it again. We have peo­ple from the States and Aus­tralia who come over, but mostly we get New Zealan­ders.”

THERE IS A ‘ TEX-MEX’, al­most High Chap­ar­ral feel­ing to the name Pintala. Rather than be­ing built in the Dal­las, Texas, area where Nick Bates lived, worked and stud­ied for 10 years, this stun­ning prop­erty is in the South Auck­land area of Wa­iau Pa.

The fact the prop­erty was close to Nick’s work­place in Pukekohe was one plus. The views out over the Manukau Har­bour, Awhitu Penin­sula, the Waitakere Ranges, and even Auck­land City, made the propo­si­tion ir­re­sistible. The added fea­ture, and bonus, was pri­vate pedes­trian and eques­trian ac­cess to the beach to ride over.

The name clearly has an ex­otic feel­ing and is an ac­knowl­edge­ment of Nick’s pas­sion for breed­ing and rid­ing Pinto sport horses.

The North Amer­i­can con­tri­bu­tion to the look and feel of the prop­erty is ap­par­ent.

“What in­flu­enced the de­sign and de­vel­op­ment was the con­cept, and idea, of liv­ing in a home sur­rounded by the eques­trian fa­cil­i­ties. Ac­ces­si­bil­ity to all these el­e­ments was a large part be­hind the in­fra­struc­ture de­sign.

“The fu­sion of rus­tic-con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture has long been etched in my mind for this project. The home was de­signed sim­ply and for func­tion­al­ity. For a smaller home we man­aged to in­cor­po­rate com­fort­able spa­ces with high ceil­ings in the liv­ing area to cre­ate a bit of drama.

“To me it en­cap­su­lates a coastal, eques­trian East Coast (Cape Cod) of United States look and feel. The con­trast­ing black ex­te­rior with pale join­ery was a big part to this. The rock el­e­ment helps ground the build­ings and will serve as a com­mon con­nec­tion from struc­ture to struc­ture as the project pro­gresses.”

WHAT: The Otago Gold­fields Cav­al­cade WHERE: var­i­ous lo­ca­tions, all fin­ish­ing in Owaka, 130km east of In­ver­cargill WHEN: Fe­bru­ary 24 – March 3 WEB: www.cav­al­cade.co.nz

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