Me, Paul, Snipps and Thallis

Me, Paul, Snipps and Thallis

Over a year ago, for 2013 Christmas, Matt got me a day’s horse riding as a present. I’ve gone on horse walks a few times in the UK and enjoy it. I’ve been quite slack and not got around to going this time, waiting until it was cooler than summer, and then not wanting to go in winter and being busy. In January I had some time between jobs, so it seemed like a good time to go. Matt didn’t want to come with me (he doesn’t trust horses), but luckily my friend Paul was free and keen to go riding.

The plan was always to go in the Blue Mountains, and we chose to go to Centennial Glen stables in the Megalong Valley. You can read about them here. 

We went for the all day ride option (about 6 hours on the horses) with a stope for lunch at the Megalong Valley tea shop in the middle.

The weather had been a bit wet a few days before we were due to go, and the forecast was for a chance of showers, but we decided to head on up anyway and keep our fingers crossed. On the way up I learnt Paul was actually a pretty good rider, having spent a year working on a farm riding horses for part of his job! After a quick stop for some coffee and second breakfast, we headed down into the Megalong valley. Neither of us had been down fully into the valley before, and it was very scenic with bid cliff faces on each side. We appreciated it even more on the way back once all the low cloud over had cleared up and we could see properly.

When we got there we met our horses. Mine was called Snipps (or Mr Snipps or Snippsy) and Paul’s was called Thallis. It was just us on the ride which was great, along with Jim our guide riding Sam the horse. Jim was really friendly and talkative. The horses knew all the different routes they normally go on, and started to try and go on the shorter ones, but after some encouragement and direction we were well on our way.

Before we got to the first gate I had to try some trotting to get the hang of it. I had trotted once or twice before on purpose, and once when my horses decided to do it of his own accord! I found it quite tricky at first becasue you have to move up and down with the horse, whilst also leaning forward with the tops of your legs balanced against the front of the saddle and your arms out forward holding the reins, not grabbing the saddle. Mainly it was pretty painful for my bum which kept hitting the saddle and after some time my knees too, which didn’t like being bent all the time. Over the course of the long ride we trotted wuite a lot so I gradually got better at it. A few of the first time I could feel myself slipping to one side which was pretty disconcerting. After the ride Paul said to me something like “You got much better at trotting Elly. The first few times I really thought you were going to fall off!”

Horseriding in the Megalong Valley

Horseriding in the Megalong Valley

I like horses and the ones we had were generally pretty well behaved. We learned from Jim all about how they train them, what they cost to buy and all sorts of other things. Mr Snipps did have some character traits which made the trip interesting:

  • He didn’t like being behind Paul’s horse, so each time he got close Snipps would strt cantering to make sure he satayed ahead and i kept having to pull him back. He seemed to slow down when he wanted though, not when I told him!
  • A small part of the ride was on roads, but mainly we were on tracks and going through fields and countryside. On the downhill rocky and steep parts Snipps seemed to go faster to get them over with rather than slow down so it was nice for me!
  • Snipps kept trying to bite the bum of Sam the horse in front of us, including when he was trotting along. In the end Jim got  a big stick to whack him with when he got too close!

Along the ride we saw a lot of wildlife, including a lot of kangaroos hopping around, really bright crimson rosella parrots and lots of other brightly colours birds. We had dry-as-a-bone jackets like proper bush-people rolled up on the horses. I put mine on at one point when it got wet on the way back and it really was super warm. Going back along the valley was really scenic.

By the end of the ride we were both pretty worn out, even with the refreshment tea and pie stop at the tea shop! After the ride we went and saw the little ponies at the stable. My knees hurt during the ride but were OK the next day. The day after my bum was pretty painful though, and my legs and back from using all the different muscles I’m not used to. It was a great day out though, and probably good it wasn’t too hot and sunny or we would have been burnt. I think it would be really good to learn to canter properly, although luckily for our bank balance there aren’t any places to do it near where we live.

Horseriding in the Megalong Valley

Horseriding in the Megalong Valley

 

 

Matts backslap plaster

Matts backslap plaster

March was going pretty well, and then Matt had a fall one evening when he was bouldering and broke his ankle! I started this post before that, so here’s some information on the other things we were doing before we started hanging out in the hospital!

Liking: We recently went to the fun fair and the water park. It was good fun screaming and giggling like a child on all the rides!

Disliking: Obviously all the broken ankle hospital faff tops the list here. But also the two week scaffolding is still on our balcony after 5 weeks. Grrrr. We helped out this year with the Rockies Climbing Club for Clean Up Australia Day and picked up a LOT of rubbish from a climbing area in the south of Sydney. The fact people dump so much rubbish annoys me. Apparently you have to pay here to take anything to the tip, so probably that doesn’t help the problem, but the Council do pick up junk from collection points outside people’s houses so there is really no excuse.

Watching: We saw Jupiter Rising at the cinema, which was OK. We’re also nearly finished on the final series of Breaking Bad. I’ve also been loving both the Comic Relied Bake Off (some of the celebs baking are atrocious) and The Casual Vacancy. I read the book of the Casual Vacancy a fair while ago. The series is so West Country sounding it makes me nostalgic.

Playing: Out latest game is Forbidden Desert, where you play explorers lost in a sand storm in the desert and have to find all the broken bits of your ship to escape without dying of thirst or getting buried in the storm. Its quite simple but good, and conveniently fits on a hospital table.

Reading: I’m on a free kindle book at the moment – not particularly noteworthy.

Consuming: A very yummy High Tea and the HydroMajestic hotel in the Blue Mountains and a pretty good (if I say so myself) lemon yoghurt poppyseed cake made by me! Matt’s been eating hospital which he scored about 2.5/10. Maybe my food will get extra good scores when he gets home!

Cake!

Cake!

Buying: Not a lot really. I bought a big 20 litre jerry can water container for remote camping trips, but we wont be needing it this weekend now I don’t think!

Thinking about: How accidents can mess up your plans and your health. And changes to our plans for the weekends coming up, most of which need two functioning ankles!

Visiting: We’ve done some more canyons including Fortress Canyon which has a truly awesome view of a 70m waterfall at the end, and Bowens Creek Upper South, which had an exciting cave section. I’ll do a whole post on canyoning soon.

Canyon2

Missing: We’ve been watching Top Gear on iPlayer, and on one episode they were playing Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 in the background. I miss Jeremy so might have to catch up on his radio show online soon. I also randomly had a thought about Mr Kipling fondant fancies the other day which you can;t get here. In fact I haven’t seen any kind of fondant fancy and now I want one! I’ll put it on the list for our visit in June. More recently I’ve been missing having Matt at home!

Looking forward to: When Matt gets out of hospital and when his cast finally comes off!

 

On Christmas Day evening we arrived at the campsite in Waitomo and set about having a Christmas BBQ. Like a few other people seemed to have done we had some yummy steaks, as well as some sausages, peppers and mushrooms. We had far too many leftover sausages, but they made good breakfast for Matt! It wouldn’t be a Christmas dinner without leftovers anyway. Our Christmas cake was a pretty exciting versoin of a caramel slice. It was two big squares of chocolate chip shortbread with caramel in the middle – yummy!

Christmas BBQ

Christmas BBQ

Waitomo is famous for its glow worms, so that evening once it got dark we went on a short drive up the road to do the night time glow worm walk. It was a really excellent walk, and turned out to be one of the top 10 short walks in New Zealand. It went through a forested area with a river (which you could hear but not see becasue it was dark). The walk went though tunnels and into lots of caves with stalactites and stalagmites, as well as heaps of glow worms. They lined all the banks by the sides of the rivers too. The walk was a really good mini-adventure and we even saw a possom.

Glow worm walk by Waitomo

Glow worm walk by Waitomo

The next day (Boxing Day) we were signed up for 8 hours of caving adventures with the Legendary Black Water Caving Co. They had a deal on when we booked, so we did the 5 hour, dry Black Labyrinth in the morning, and the 3 hour, wet Black Odyssey in the afternoon. We seemed to have got a really really good deal as when we got there to pay they said we had the ‘old’ prices and should have been paying more, but they honoured the quote I had via email which was good.

There were three of us on the Labyrinth Tour, and three guides (one of whom was learning the tour). We were lucky as they normally take up to 6 people at a time.  Before we were allowed on the trip we had to crawl through a wooden tunnel in the reception, so show we were OK with tight, dark spaces! After getting kitted up in our boiler suits, wellies, harnesses and hats we set off on the caving via Ruakuri Cave.  Ruakuri means Den of Dogs, which is from when the cave was first discovered by Maori hunters 500 years ago. They do a walking tour in the cave too, so the start was the same with a very cool lit-up spiral ramp down into the cave.

Caving in Waitomo

Caving in Waitomo

The guides were really friendly and very talkative.We had a clipping system like for Via Ferrata, which worked with magnets and was set up so you always had one clipped at any time for safety. The caving started walking through tunnels and then gradually doing more squeezing and climbing as the spaces got smaller! Some of the climbing was a bit tricky, mainly becasue of wearing wellies rather than proper shoes. We exploired a lot of the caves and saw lots of cool formations and lots and lots of glow worms. The guide explained to us they are actually “shiny sh*t maggots”, but that that doesn’t sound so good to the tourists!

The caving included a few abseils including one fairly long one down a slot above the river inside the cave which was cool. A couple of times we were above the people doing the wet tour, so we had to stop and wait for them so we didn’t distract them or kick dust into their faces.  There was a ladder to walk up too, and a monkey bridge to go across. There were a couple of cool flying fox swings, which we did in the dark with our torches off for added excitement! the whole thing was really good fun. When we came out into the daylight we realised we were where we had walked on the glow worm walk the night before.

 

Caving in Waitomo

Caving in Waitomo

After the trip we got free soup and bagels for lunch, and had some kumara (NZ name for sweet potato) chips too to fuel us up for the next adventure!

The second trip we did was the Back Odyssey which is the most popular one. We had a group of 12 (I think the limit is 14). This time it was a wet caving adventure, so we got dressed in our swimmers, wetstuits, wetsuit jackets and smaller boots. We each got given a black rubber ring, in different sizes. The tour was basically all about floating along the river inside the caves in the tubes, including jumping off waterfalls, going down some moving water, floating through tunnels and looking at more glow worms.

When the trip started the guide asked if we all knew the trip involved jumping off some waterfalls – ummm, no! It turned out they weren’t too high, so I was OK. We did a practice jump off some steps outside into the river, and then nice and wet got the bus down to the start. The first waterfall jump was pretty soon, and I managed all of them without loosing any of my contact lenses which was handy! You have to jump off backwards so you land in your ring – scary! The water was very very cold. If I did something like that again I’d be tempted to take a thermal! Allegedly there was an eel in the cave which Matt saw. There are photos of it, but I’m still sceptical!

Black water rafting

Black water rafting in Waitomo

We rafted up into a chain to go through one of the tunnels and all turned out lights off so we could look at the glow worms while the guides towed us along, which was good of them! There were really masses of glow worms (maggots!) At another point we ditched our rings and crawled through a little wet tunnel called the laundry chute! Near the end we all turned our lights out and had to paddle to the end of the cave without turning them on which was quite a weird experience as there wasn’t a lot of current.

Black water rafting in Waitomo

Black water rafting in Waitomo

I definitely preferred the dry caving trip by quite a long way, mainly becasue it was more like a climbing adventure, involved more skill, wasn’t cold and didn’t involve chucking yourself off a waterfall backwards!

The next day we headed back to Auckland and flew back to Sydney ready to meet the Shorts for New Year.

Rafting the Kaituna

Rafting the Kaituna

After our trip to Hobbiton, in New Zealand, in the afternoon we went rafting on the Kaituna (Okere) river. It has the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world on it, with a 7m drop. The rafting lastest about an hour, with several waterfalls and a lot of rapids.The raft was very bouncy and floaty. Our raft did some crazy flip spin thing going down the waterfall, so the guide and I both managed to fall out and have a swim in the water becasue we were on the same side! It made me feel better that he fell out too! We bought the photos of the trip which came on a raft shaped memory stick with Matt particularly appreciated.

Rafting the Kaituna

Rafting the Kaituna

After a busy day, we headed into Rotorua and found some dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant. They were very friendly, the food was yummy and they had entertaining place mats – Matt’s had a flow chart on it for working out what type of pasta your pasta was!

The next day (Christmas Eve) we headed to Te Puia. This is a geothermal area with bubbling mud pools and geysers, as well as a lot of Maori culture including carved houses and giant canoes. We booked tickets to the cultural show in thee big carved meeting house. Before it started we gathered at the meeting point and were greeted by our Maori guide. She explained we weren’t allowed in until the Maori people had determined if we were friendly or not. We nominated a leader for our group, and the Maori warrior ran at him with a giant spear. He performed the Hakka and made him an offering. Our leader accepted it, they rubbed noses in the traditional way and we were allowed in. The performance was really good with a lot of traditional signing, dancing and ball spinning. The men performed the Hakka and explained about it and then had a lot of the men from the audience join them on stage to do it together.

 

The Hakka

The Hakka

After the show we joined a guided tour of the park to learn a bit more about it. We saw the Prince of Wales geyser erupting and lots of bubbling mud pools, steamy areas and craters from old geysers too. The whole place was pretty smelly of eggs which reminded me of parts of Iceland. We saw a kiwi bird in the kiwi house too and had the biggest cheese scone i’ve ever seen for elevenses!

Te Puia geysers

Te Puia geysers

 

We had a talk on weaving as part of the tour. At Te Puia they also have a state sponsored Maori weaving school and a carving school to make sure these traditions continue with the younger generations.

Modern Maori carving

Modern Maori carving

After Te Puia we drove down to Lake Taupo. We found out about an attraction called the Prawn Park – a prawn based theme park! You can go fishing for prawns, go on a prawn themed ride and play prawn golf. We really wanted to go, mainly becasue it sounded so cheese but unfortunately we got there late and it was closed the next day for Christmas. Instead in the evening we walked from near our campsite up to Huka falls. Huka means foam in Maori. Its a very impressive falls with 220,000 litres of water a second going over the falls. Most of the falls is quite a shallow gradient down a 15m wide slot in the rocks, with the actual main drop only about 12m.

Haka falls

Huka falls

The next day was Christmas Day. We started off with a walk around Aratiatia rapids. The rapiuds are next to a dam, and about 3 or 4 times a day they release the dam which makes the rapids fill up from hardly any water to massive rapids over anout 15 minutes. We watched the dam release, and the water level actuially went up a fait bit slower than I expected. It was cool to see. They filmed the barrell scenes from the Hobbit 2 here, where the dwarves and Bilbo escape from the Elves in barrels down the river. I guess they could contorl the dam release how they wanted for that which made it safer for filming.

Rapids

Aratiatia Rapids

From there we drove over to Wiatomo, via the Tongariro National Park. Its where Mt Ngauruhoe is, which was Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately it was quite a cloudy day, so we couldn’t get a good view of the mountain. We did go on another short walk to a nice waterfall with a plunge pool though, and drove up into the ski fields where we found some actual Chrismtas snow!

NZ17

Christmas snow

 

Carrying on the drive we went past this T-Rex made of driftwood, and a giant sculpture of a man shearing a sheep in Hangatiki, the sheep shearing capital of the world!

Driftwood T-Rex

Driftwood T-Rex

Stay tunes for next week’s post on our Christmas evening in Waitomo and Boxing Day caving adventures!