Wait, wait, wait. Why am I reading about horse trekking in Franz Josef when there is a bloody great glacier to explore?
Franz Josef is known for it’s glacier helicopter flights. It’s deemed as the ‘thing to do’ here on the the West Coast of New Zealand. Yes, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to walk on the Franz Josef glacier before it is gone forever, but at $325 for the Ice Explorer package it’s maybe more appealing to appreciate the snowcapped peaks of the Franz Josef area from a safe-for-your-wallet distance. So what activity is a budgeting backpacker to do in Franz Josef? South Westland Horse Treks offers a view of the mountainous surroundings of Franz Josef all from the back of a hoofed beast. The two hour “Glacier Magic Trek” is usually $99 – I paid $90 with Kiwi Experience.
Our group of four ranged from avid horse riders to a beginner, so the trek is doable for all abilities, although not entirely comfortable for some beginners as we soon found out. The horses worked like clockwork as they had done this route umpteen times before. For example, at one part of the trek the horses broke into a unison trot because we were told this would usually be part of their routine. Obviously this made our beginner, who was trying to conquer her fear of horse riding, more than a little uneasy.
With a helmet that appeared to swamp me and a horse called Jet chosen to suit my basic abilities, the guide had us quickly ready for the trek. In terms of how to actually ride the horse, this went as far as: “Pull left on the reigns to go left, pull right to go right. Pull back to stop.” This limited advice didn’t help when we went into a trot and our beginner had to deal with the frightening prospect of getting over her fear while feeling out of control. The fact that she had to ask what she had to do when the horse went faster, shows our guide was a little incompetent at giving us riding advice. The ride took us across fields away from the stables, to the entrance of a small rainforest. The guide stopped us for a photo opportunity with a mountain backdrop – perfect to please us tourists!
On entering the forest, it was evident that Jet hated me. She dragged me through every tree branch, eating the leaves along the way, and then squeezed us between trees providing comedy entertainment for my friend trekking behind me. There was an adequate trail just next to us, Jet! I used all the knowledge the guide gave me, but Jet was clearly too hungry to obey my horsey commands. Her grazing didn’t stop at eating tree leaves, either.
Although horse trekking provided some nice photos, the ride felt pretty chilled – a complete contrast to the adventure activities I had taken part in up to this point in the New Zealand adventure. Some more trotting or galloping would have made the experience more exciting that’s for sure. For me, that’s what would separate a horse ride from just walking with my own feet and appreciating the view.
The trek came to an end. We helped lead the horses back to their field after I got my own back on Jet.
After a few years, it was fun to get ‘back on the horse’. Although I was dragged though the rainforest, this was the most enjoyable terrain to ride through out of the trek. The views were stunning across farmlands we would have otherwise not been able to access. A little more riding advice wouldn’t have gone amiss. As the bar is set very high for activities in New Zealand, South Westland Horse Trekking doesn’t rank too high on things to do. Dare I say, I have had more enjoyable horse riding experiences back in the UK?