photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014
Leaving town in company with a small group of Waimea Plains parishioners, we walked past Ted and Shirley’s place, where had stayed the night before, and on to the newly formed Round the Mountain cycleway. The path sits on top of the stopbank of the Oreti River for a few km. It is broad and flat and has a pleasingly firm surface so walking was easy. About 3 or 4 km out of town a few people from Te Anau joined us, and a little further on, so did Dot Muir and one or two others from Invercargill.
Dot had brought Ezra, a 19 year old donkey and his paddock mate Rocky who is a small pony. Ezra has had a hard life, or at least he did until he was fortunate enough to be rescued by Dot a couple of years back. He was pretty anxious about Te Harinui, having some unpleasant memories involving people with sticks. Knowing that he also was a bit nervous about men generally, I bribed him by feeding him a couple of handfuls of scroggin before clambering clumsily onto his back. I rode him for a few km down the path. He wouldn’t go anywhere without Rocky, so the pony was led and the donkey followed.
The short jerky vertical rhythm of riding a donkey is a bit different than the slow rocking motion of sitting on a walking horse. Ezra had an authentic Ethiopian donkey blanket on his back with a small cloth loop for hanging onto but we got on just fine and he never did anything that required an emergency grasp. John had a turn, his first time ever sitting on the back of a quadruped, and Phil tried, unfortunately synchronising his climbing on with one of Ezra’s unpredictable bolts forward.
We had lunch at the Five Rivers café before switching to a less interesting, more reliable form of transport: we broke out the bikes to continue on to Nokomai Station. The others wished us well, but shook their heads gravely and warned us of the difficulties of biking over the Jollies. Whatever they might be. We continued on the still unfinished cycleway for an hour or so, negotiating the odd bridgeless creek and the occasional electric fence slung over the path, until with the addition of hi-viz vests we turned out onto the main road. Immediately there was a steepish downhill, on which it was possible to gather enough momentum to carry us up the modest uphill which followed. A bit of a grind later we stopped for a breather and learned we were at the top of Jollie’s Pass. Pah! Apart from one of our number lying gasping on his back, the Jollies held no fears for this intrepid band!
From here it was downhill all the way. There was an exhilarating sweep down a number of long curves and then a right turn onto a 12 km stretch of gravel. We rode down a widening valley with mountains towering on every side with increasing majesty until we reached the station. There was nobody home at the homestead, a modern two storey brick house, so we followed instructions and went inside to find rooms and shower and make tea. Our hosts Ann and Brian Hore arrived by light plane from a trip to Dunedin a few hours later.
At 38,000 or so hectares, Nokomai is one of the great New Zealand high country runs. Brian and Ann farm beef and sheep, and the family has a passionate interest in horses which live in paddocks close to the house. In years gone by Nokomai was the scene of extensive gold mining operations. The pleasant valley in which the main buildings sit was quite recently extensively excavated but it has been restored to better than new condition and apart from a large pond, now covered in paradise ducks, nobody would know there had been a digger near the place. There is an accommodation business running near the homestead with several discretely landscaped cottages sitting around the exquisitely restored old stone homestead.
We had a short 4X4 tour of the land a look at the old buildings. We had a magnificent dinner and an evening of conversation. Here we are a long way from civilisation, but it all seems very, very civilised indeed.