Tuesday, 20 November 2007

And In The Darkness...

JUST because I am a tourist in New Zealand does not mean I want to throw myself out of a plane, alright?

Welcome to Queenstown, the adventure capital of "the world". The birthplace of bungee and home to many thrilling activities such as jet boating, skiiing, river boarding, white water rafting, skydiving, luging, parasailing, paragliding and hang gliding, it certainly is a happening place, nestled in a corner of the beautiful Lake Wakatipu. Faced with all of these exciting options, and little time to experience them, what would I choose?

Yes, that's right, today I went horse riding.

Those of you who know me will already be aware that the last time I went horse riding things did not go smoothly. Thus it would seem an unusual choice for me to have made, but I was genuinely enthusiastic about it. Not only did I want to prove that I can ride a horse and can enjoy it, but I wanted to get out into the countryside, away from the roads, so that I could soak up the unfairly gorgeous landscapes from a unique perspective, rather than through a bus window. As an added bonus, this happens to be where a lot of Lord of the Rings was filmed so my inner geek was to be appeased also.

I was picked up from my hostel at 8am by a lady whose primary characteristic was the ability to seamlessly change the subject, in effect having a conversation with herself for the 40-minute journey to Glenorchy. "My eldest entered a skateboarding competition last week," she would begin, "but unfortunately they ran out of gas so the balloon had to descend, which was a terrible waste of $20, and they make such an horrendous profit on the carrot cake. Oh look, the Misty Mountains!"

In amongst the numerous threads of conversation I could understand - her boyfriend has a speedboat; she worked in America without a Green Card; she broke a weed-killing pump spray yesterday (all of these were mentioned in the same sentence) - I gathered an understanding of where I was: ahead of me were Middle Earth's Misty Mountains, and a swamp down below was the inspiration for the Dead Marshes. However the Department of Conservation withheld permission to film there as rare species of birds were nesting at the time, so Peter Jackson's team had to superimpose images of the swamp onto the actual filming location - a car park in Wellington.

We arrived at High Country Horses, where I met the staff and the horses, was kitted out and seated atop Winston, an ex-(failed)-racehorse, described from the outset as 'a bit stubborn'. They told me that he is the smartest horse they have, and in observation I could draw many parallels in him with myself: he is a thinker, so much so that he thinks many things may be dangerous and thus refuses to give them a try. Such as walking through water. At one stage we had to cross the fast flowing Rees River, which required enormous effort on everybody's part - Winston to gather the confidence to keep walking, and everyone else to cheer him along.

Elsewhere he was a temperamental fellow, always stopping to eat and on occasion bolting for no particular reason. He was certainly a handful. Plus, just to cement my reputation as 'useless with horses', he headbutted me as I lent forward to trot, nearly breaking my nose, and then unexpectedly accelerated into a canter, nearly throwing me off (the owner of the company came by to congratulate me after for somehow saving my fall).

Yet for the majority of the three hour ride everything was fine, or possibly even perfect. The sun never stopped shining, and New Zealand never stopped delivering beautiful scenery. Here we were following an alluvial river bed, charted by a sinuous cyan river, bordered by snowcapped mountains and pristine forests with not a cloud in the sky. I wish I could do it more justice in my description, for nature doesn't get better than this.

We skirted around the setting for Lothlórien in Paradise Valley, and were just the other side of a mountain from the filming location for the final battle in Return of the King. Nearby was the location for the death scene of Boromir. Along the way our guide told us stories from the set, such as the beards and mustaches used on riders having to be imported from Germany at a cost of $2,000 each!

It was a very enjoyable morning. However I now ache tremendously and smell of horse, and shall hereby vow that if I ever feel the urge to go into the middle of nowhere once more, I shall do it on my own two feet.

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