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New Zealand Holidaying: Riding Trails across the Tasman

While travel restrictions limit us still, the Land of the Long White Cloud is now a reality. SONIA CAEIRO ALVAREZ armchair travels to New Zealand’s North Island and a unique, and long-established riding destination which is now a possibility to experience!

Only 90 minutes from Auckland on the pristine sands of the Matakana Coast in Wellsford is a riding experience developed lovingly by the Haddon family for over 40 years. Pakiri Beach Horse Rides was established in 1981 during a severe downturn in the New Zealand agriculture sector.

The downturn, coupled with a deep farming recession, was a bleak period. Farmers walked off their lands with little or no prospects for the young, and the Haddon’s were forced to diversify. “We were making nothing on the farm and were breeding Arabians at the time,” Sharley Haddon tells me.  “Horses were too expensive to run then, and strangely we were receiving lots of requests to trail ride. After deep discussions my husband gave me an ultimatum – we had six weeks to see whether it might work.”

The operation started with no capital whatsoever, just two ponies and an Arabian guide horse. Pony by pony they built the herd, one pony paying for the next. From these modest beginnings Pakiri built up a substantial herd and was featured in the Lonely Planet Rough Guides and Getaway television programs, as well as its famous inclusion in the BBC publication Unforgettable Things to do Before You Die.

Guests can choose from a variety of 1-2 hour rides, half, full day and sundowner rides along superb beaches, through coastal forest and over snow white dunes. With views extending out to the islands of the Gulf, many trails include sighting coastal sea birds and occasional orcas and dolphins frolicking in the surf.

Other day rides, such as the Tomarata Te Arai Ride, encompass beach and forest trails to freshwater lakes, where riders can swim with their horse, enjoy a packed lunch then head over Te Arai Point and its spectacular views of endless white beaches stretching as far to the north and south as the eye can see.

On the Sundowner Beach Ride held in summer, guests ride along the beach sands as the sun sets below hills magically draped with pink and gold.

For those who can’t bear to leave after just one day, Pakiri Beach Horse Rides also offer a range of longer two to five day treks along beaches and through high country, forest and native bushland encompassing some of New Zealand’s most breathtaking seaside headland views.

An ultimate five-day experience, the Warrior Trail of beach, forest and coastal high country riding, follows the ancient trails of Maori warriors,. The ride concludes with a visit to Te Kiri Marae – the ancestral home of the local Ngatiwai and Ngati Manuhiri people – before overnighting in nearby boutique accommodation.

Pakiri offers a variety of intimate and larger family style accommodation including private riverside, beach view and dune nestled cabins, a beach house and lakeside chalet. The four bedroom Ngapeka house on a pristine beachfront location features spacious and comfortable open plan living with a fireplace for toasty winter stays, and a breezy outdoor flow with BBQ and entertaining areas for relaxed summer breaks, including an outdoor bath to relax and stargaze after a long day’s ride.

Invigorating mini-breaks include delicious homestyle meals, allowing guests to truly wind down, connect deeply with their horse and absorb the grandeur of the landscapes. Native bush walks to the rear of the property, with views to Little Barrier and Great Barrier Islands, are near a small cafe and bar, perfect for guests seeking a little more social activity.

As well as riding and bushwalking, the area is a popular destination for surfing, fishing on the beach, and kayaking in the estuary. Nearby are the renowned Matakana vineyards and wineries, five golf courses, tennis courts, the world famous Goat Island Marine Reserve, Matakana Village cinemas, shopping, weekend farmers markets and excellent cafes and restaurants at Matakana, Puhoi and Mangawhai. After all that activity riders may be tempted to end their day at the hot pools and natural spa of Waiwera.

There have been changes in New Zealand, with many expat buyers cutting big properties into small blocks. This has brought the future sustainability for long trail ride businesses like Pakiri into question – although Sharley hopes to find a solution that will safeguard her legacy. “Maintaining large riding properties like this have become challenging. We have great rides and great horses, and before COVID we had riders visit from all over the world. They represented almost 50 per cent of our custom so revenue was halved” Sharley says, “so, in order to pivot we no longer do nose-to-tail beginner treks, or our long coast-coast seven day tours, although we still occasionally host school holiday camps for horse-mad 11 to 15 year-olds during the summer.”

Pakiri Beach Horse Rides currently has 60 trekking horses, as well as Arabian stud horses ridden by guides and by experienced riders on multi-day treks. The natural herd is managed on two spacious 40 acre grassy properties and in winter strip graze like dairy cattle. Two Arabian stallions and young stock being weaned or shown are stabled, but only at night.

The Pakiri Beach horses are chosen for their kind temperaments and unflappable attitudes. “We keep them kind by rotating their work schedules and treating them well. Those used on the long multi-day rides are chosen for their courage, fitness and dependability in all and unexpected situations,” Sharley tells me. “They are unshod, and we very rarely have any issues. I handle most of the veterinary work myself, unless it’s a dire situation, and I also have a great barefoot farrier on hand.”

Although it’s unusual to see a large herd so relaxed, they’re happy to just lie down and simply bask in the sunshine together. “If we do have a problem horse, the older girls in the herd generally sort them out, which is interesting, but it tends to calm them all down,” Sharley says. “We also don’t tie up on cross reins to saddle up – we just move amongst the herd to prepare for the rides. There is no skittering, or any nervous mounts. They are also full forward going rides, not plodders.”

Running the business alone after the passing of her beloved husband seven years ago, Sharley scaled down slightly and, with her five loyal staff, focuses on competent and experienced riders of at least an intermediate level. At the age of 74, the remarkable Sharley still maintains the workload she has had for the past 40 years, and while COVID has been difficult she has kept the horses in work, “otherwise they turn into naughty little fellows,” she says. “My dad was Australian, and my sister still lives in Sydney. I travelled the country when I was younger, and I remember clearly riding in native bushland in regional Victoria quite close to Melbourne. The tree ferns, tea-trees and other flora here seemed so familiar I could have almost been back home.”

And so, as we turn to the possibilities of a trans-Tasman bubble making New Zealand one of our first overseas destinations, Sharley is enthused by the possibility of welcoming back NZ’s nearest neighbours. “Australians are hands down my favourite guests by far,” she says. “I’m very much looking forward to having the Aussies back at Pakiri as soon as possible.”

Want to know more? Visit www.horseride-nz.co.nz to plan your Pakiri Beach experience.