Sometimes our best memories of travel are from being in the right place at the right time. Here, Candace remembers a new adventure on the east coast of New Zealand, all while overcoming an old fear.
Sam nudged me awake at a quarter to six. The sky was still dark and I fumbled blindly around for a sweatshirt. I followed him and Alex to the stable, where we collected the horses: Major, Daisy and Wai, the older mare I’d be riding. We mounted them quickly and set off.
We didn’t want to miss the sun.
I was in the middle of a month-long roadtrip around New Zealand’s North Island, and had just reached the remote East Coast, famously known as the first inhabited place in the world to see the sunrise. I was running behind, as so easily happens on the road when the best-laid plans of our itineraries go awry. The night before, I’d located Eastender Backpackers, one of only two hostels in the area.
Just inside the fence, five figures sporting cowboy hats were lounging around a fire pit when I arrived. Had I somehow stumbled upon the Wild East of New Zealand? I joined them as stars appeared above and made an off-handed remark that the only thing missing was a guitar. Miraculously, one was produced from inside the lodge. Acoustic strumming soon filled the air.
We slept outside, raiding the dormitories for thin mattresses and old duvets from which to build cocoons of warmth for ourselves. Sam donned a headlamp and cut a stock of firewood. We built piles in front of everyone, so that we could keep the fire going through the night without having to get up. I fell asleep tracing the four points of the Southern Cross.
The stars were gone in the morning, I noticed, my hips moving in sync with Wai’s steps. We reached the top of the cliff just in time to see the sun break over the horizon. There wasn’t a cloud in sight, just an endless ocean set ablaze, and the primeval cliffs glowing, distant hills shrouded in the early morning mist. We watched the sunrise on horseback, the moment augmented by the knowledge that we were the first in the world to witness it.
But our adventure didn’t end there. Sam headed down a path that seemed too steep to be safe until we leveled out on the gloriously deserted beach.
“You ready for this?” he asked me.
Truth was, I wasn’t. It’d been a long time–six years–since I’d last been on horseback. Much of this had to do with a college friend of mine who was paralysed from the waist down after being bucked by her horse. Unsettled by her accident, I hadn’t yet attempted to ride again.
And yet here I was, making Sam wait until I could shakily nod my head and pretend I wasn’t afraid. Sam edged Major up to me and Wai until we were side by side. Suddenly, he took off down the beach before I could manage to protest.
Wai was harder to get going. “Give her a kick!” Sam yelled out in front of me. I stood up in the saddle, digging my heels into her side, leaning forward like a jockey until I was flying. My fingers clutched Wai’s mane like the fear surging through my chest gripped my heart.
“C’mon, get into it!” Sam shouted, louder this time.
“Yah! Yah!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. Soon I was laughing, soaring through the surf on a cantering horse, imagining that I alone was responsible for ushering in the sun.
Sometimes, all it takes is giving our fears a little kick in the side…