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Paradise Found

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what's in our latest issue, click here.

Ten-minutes in the saddle and we were already crossing rivers - © Chloe Chadwick

Ten-minutes in the saddle and we were already crossing rivers.


We horse people are a lucky lot. In a world moving at breakneck speed, our horses give us the chance to take a deep breath. What better way to unwind and get back in touch with the natural world than to swing on up into the saddle.

WORDS AND PHOTOS BY CHLOE CHADWICK

IN FAR SOUTH New Zealand, following braided rivers down to the western edge of the Otago region, I found Paradise… it’s not hard to see how the place got its name! During my time riding here, in a place that I previously could only have imagined, I lived both the most exhilarating and tranquil equestrian experience.

It has always been a dream of mine to photograph some of the most beautiful places in the world from the back of a horse. I consider it a bucket list goal, and I’m glad New Zealand was the inaugural entry in my inventory. A small and uniquely beautiful country, it manages to infuse enormous beauty into a tiny place, with mountains falling into rivers, then crashing into the ocean. I only managed two days of riding this trip, and yet it doesn’t seem to matter how long you have, as you are guaranteed to have your breath taken away, riding on the edge of pristine wilderness.

 

Under the spring sun as we ride towards Mount Alfred - © Chloe Chadwick

Under the spring sun as we ride towards Mount Alfred.



High Country Horses is based an hour out of Queenstown, a drive tracing the edge of Lake Wakatipu, crossing the numerous rivers, to the edge of Rees Valley Station, where Deana Irvine and Duayne Insley run their stunning property. Deana has been operating High Country Horses since 2004, with the company itself existing as Glenorchy’s oldest trekking company, having been operating since 1986. It has grown in scale since then, with 50 horses now part the team, and Duayne coming on board in 2006 (his adorable pup-person-wannabe Mr Jones now runs the show!). The business is thriving, thanks to the South Island’s place as a bustling tourist destination, which has been bolstered by the starring role the region has played in several Hollywood blockbusters such as Lord of the Rings and the X-Men films.

Let’s get down to the details. What can you see in just two days of riding? The question really ends up being, what didn’t I see? Riding the circumference of the mighty Mount Alfred, only 10 minutes in and just starting to get comfortable, you are already plunging through the icy Dart River, gently trotting onto the rolling green carpet of New Zealand’s lush pasture. The group of riders is so small, and the horses themselves so responsive, that you enter your own realm of peaceful awe; tumbling water stretching up to lace-capped mountains, the endless blue blanket of a crisp spring sky above.

 

Both Rusty and myself appreciating the view - © Chloe Chadwick

Both Rusty and myself appreciating the view.



After being paired with our horses -- I was fortunate to score a little chestnut gem by the name of Rusty -- the ride starts gently. Shaun, our guide, checks everyone’s experience and ability over the first few hours; the company is committed to making sure everyone has an incredible time but also a safe one. There is room for everyone to go at their own pace, whether you’re after a steady plod or have a need for speed.

As a group, we traverse the floor of the Dart Valley, crossing streams, slowly making our way toward the looming Mount Alfred. We stop for lunch under the shade of some trees overlooking the river, mountains going forever, and even a couple of glaciers shining bright-white in the sunshine. Everything is provided -- from sandwiches for us and apples for the horses -- and then we continue on our way. The scenery changes quickly; riverbed and scrub give way to rolling pasture and endless sheep (yes, New Zealand lives up to its reputation). As the afternoon sun closes in, everything golden and impossibly more picturesque, we begin our ascent up the side of the mountain. This gives a chance for me and another of the riders to go on ahead, picking up speed as we wind our way to the crest. The two other riders that weren’t as used to riding for long periods came behind us with our guide at a steadier speed.

 

Rusty and I at the top of the world - © Chloe Chadwick

Rusty and I at the top of the world.



We are able to grab a photo opportunity when we reach the top of the climb; the views are some of the most spectacular you will ever see, with the valley floor rolling out below, the river twisting like turquoise ribbons below, whilst the mountains tower, imposing in height. The water -- I am told, aided by the glacial minerals -- is so incredibly blue, someone comments that “it looks like Gatorade!”

The group then descend the mountain for the evening, riding through the stunning Paradise Trust forest to a place where the woodland flows into the edge of Diamond Lake. Here is a very cosy cabin in which we stay the night. We are able to take the horses down for a bit of a wade and a wash in the lake before putting them to bed in a paddock (with quite the view!). Following an amazing New Zealand-style barbeque, the day is topped off with an incredible walk in the forest to see some glow worms. The next morning allows us a chance to have a quick walk in the fairytalesque forest in the early light before we set off again. We are able to walk through places where countless famous movies have been filmed: only a week before, the place had been alive with film crew shooting Taylor Swift’s newest music video.

 

Time for a drink - © Chloe Chadwick

Time for a drink.



As the trek sets off again, perhaps a little stiffer than yesterday morning, we begin the ride around the other side of Mount Alfred. We ride around the side of the lake, cross the deep Rees River, and weave our way through a small forest. The group ascends the side of Mount Alfred, having lunch at the top of the world. A steep descent down, and then we are back on the river flat, heading for home. We cross numerous rivers again; some deep enough to have a short swim if you are keen to plunge into the glacial waters. We end the final day’s riding under the light of a spectacular sunset, the pasture, river and mountains lit by soft purple, pink and gold: it was an incredible way to end two days of mind-blowing natural beauty. Giving Rusty a huge hug (and an apple: thanks Rusty!), it was then off home and back to the real world.

 

The river valley below, with the group on our tail - © Chloe Chadwick

The river valley below, with the group on our tail.



Again, we horse people really are some of the luckiest. In a small space of time I was able to see some of the most spectacular sights, all from between the ears of a new horsey friend. If you need a place to relax and quieten your mind, don’t hesitate to jump in the saddle; you’ll probably find what you are looking for!

 

Our amazing guide Shaun and Quiz reach the summit - © Chloe Chadwick

Our amazing guide Shaun and Quiz reach the summit.

 

 

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