If Aucklanders sip soy chai lattes in Ponsonby, the ultimate stereotype of the South has to be the Speights adverts with horses saddled up and riding off into the hills. The riverbed stretches wide in both directions while the snow capped mountains stand guard to either side, ensuring the viewer recognizes that the chill in the air makes this particular camp no boy scout jamboree. Last weekend some friends and I passed a rite of passage and became true southerners by virtue of a clydesdale horse trek that took us right into the heart of the mountains at the end of the road to a place where there was not a café in sight.
Having successfully forded three streams and arrived at Erewhon in one piece, the first challenge was climbing into the saddle. The Clydesdales looked very handsome when grazing in their paddock, but up close their overall form was eclipsed by sheer size. My head was near level with its shoulder, and even with the aid of a step stool I had to pull off some advanced yoga moves to get my leg over the steed. They never show this part in the adverts, but those Southern men must have a rigorous pilates regime before bed each night in order to cope come mustering time.
Other depictions of the terrain were true to form and we soon came across a herd of shrek-like sheep. Heavy with wool, they blended in with the sandy tussock and matagouri as they scattered out of our way. There was no handy iceberg to shear theses specimens on, but the glacier up the valley was a passable stand in and also doubles as a handy stock boundary between the station and the West coast.
I’ll admit that Mid Canterbury felt like a backwater when I first moved down from Auckland, but this took things to another level. No cell phone reception, no television, and not a chance of nipping into town for teabags after dinner should supplies run low. However, what it lacked in updates on international conflicts the station more than made up for with its rugged beauty and vast open spaces.
The river stretched wide in both directions, its lazily braided streams lulling the uninitiated into a sense of false security. This trickle is capable of swelling into a torrent in a very short space of time, and many a Sunday hunter has been caught out by an upstream downpour. Unless you’re wearing a cowboy hat and swanndri ensemble, ‘she’ll be right, mate’ is not always enough to ensure safe passage.
Luckily for us, our steeds were more than happy to go for a paddle and the trusty four-hoof drives carried us to the other side and up the ridge, where we hitched them to a fence post to have a breather. Then all that remained was to enjoy a cold one in the midst of the legendary landscape. There’s an awful lot to be proud of down South, alright.
Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian