“You should come on the May autumn muster to Lake McRae.” said Jim Ward, Manager of Molesworth high country Station.
What an invitation; for those that know Molesworth Station you’ll understand the significance of such an invite! For those that know Lake McRae (see map at bottom), many will regard this as a holy land of sorts. To join in on the annual cattle muster to push 400 cattle over the Inland Kaikoura Ranges to their traditional winter pastures is epic. Not only is it regarded as one of the highest cattle musters in the world (at over 1400m/4700ft), but it’s also one of the most remote seldom visited spots in New Zealand. With three stockmen & horses involved, and small backcountry hut, it’s also a very few lucky folks that have ever participated in this 100 year tradition. More folks have climbed Everest than been here. This is not a commercial trip, but a unique rare opportunity to join the stockmen on part of their annual work programme in the high country.
“Would love to Jim, thanks” was my response, adding “I’m a bit of a green horn on a horse though. “Don’t worry, there are horses that don’t like people too” Jim shot back as I was leaving. I just hope I’m not given one of those horses I thought. This is the story of the amazing adventure, including learning to ride, that followed (youtube video of trip now available, so have a read of this & then click here to view the short vid to get a real feeling for the place)…
For the last 18 months I’ve been working on a book about this historic high country station with Harry Broad. Lance McCaskill wrote a seminal book about the first 50 years of Molesworth history. We’re bringing the history of this fascinating iconic high country run up to date. It’s New Zealand’s largest farm at 500,000 acres and sits nestled amongst mountain ranges between Blenheim, Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura.
Back at my office in Wellington, Nina, my Business Manager, was excited. She’d grown up with horses and rode professionally back in Sweden. On weekends she trains riders and horses. You will be fine, I’ll teach you she said.
So started a wonderful bi weekly programme designed to advance me from newbie to competent horse rider in less than a month, but most importantly to toughen up my softer spots. Each Tuesday and Thursday we shut the office at noon, headed for Wainuiomata and climbed on horses. My third lesson as cantering bareback. They pushed me hard to learn on the crash course but I’m very grateful now. Luckily I apparently picked things up fast, learning I think more about animal behaviour and psychology than staying on Red, Ray, or Teddy, the three boys I learnt to ride on. Bruce and Kelly’s property in Wainuiomata had a great variety of steep hills and trails to explore between flat work. Things started to arch and hurt in places you’d normally only see with a mirror; apparently a sign you’re doing it right. Weird that.
One Sunday night the phone went; it’s Jim. “Can you get down tomorrow? We’re bringing it forward due to weather”. I hurriedly finished my GST tax return, a quick pack and assemblage of equipment and I was on the ferry heading for the South Island.
I arrived late evening, got a bit of gear organised, hit the hay around midnight, to be up a 4.30am for breakfast with Jim & Tracey and the three stockmen that I’d be riding with for the next 3 days, Andy McLachlan, Cory Hollister and Tom O’Sullivan. Nine months before I’d met these guys on their first week on Station as they learnt horse shoeing from visiting farriers so they could look after their horses in the remote out stations through the year (a skill we’d rely on later…