Horse trekking business kicking off in North Taranaki
Seven years after it closed, a popular Taranaki horse trekking business is back.
But while it's run by the same horse-lover and still covers the same area it did in the past, the new Horses at Pukatea Hill is nothing like the old Okau Horse Treks, owner Lisa Garrod-Waite says.
Getting to Garrod-Waite's 104 acre farm means driving down the rough and windy Okau Rd in north Taranaki, through a tunnel and past a few slips, before getting picked up in a 4WD for the steep climb up the driveway to the shed on the top of the hill she calls home.
Garrod-Waite's 14-year-old daughter Leisha Garrod-Ramage and her friends Heidi Pease, 12, and Simone Zehnder, 14, have spent the first half of their school holidays roaming bareback around the property and are still riding as we drive up.
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You can't turn up to Garrod-Waite's place and expect to jump straight onto a horse; instead, she prefers to start with "ground work" including brushing and saddling the horse.
It's a good way to get used to a horse for someone who hasn't been that close to one for at least five years.
While she used to take large groups with Okau Horse Treks, Garrod-Waite said she wanted to keep it more personal with her new venture and was instead focusing on smaller groups.
"What I can do now is different to what I could do. I've got to be able to look after people which is why I do small groups," she said.
"At the moment the most I would even consider doing is four, because I can do that myself."
That's not for a shortage of horses, with 43 roaming around the large property, with some rescued Kaimanawa horses among the mix.
The biggest change in starting up her business again was how big social media and video had become, Garrod-Waite says.
"I know what I've got wrong through my website is I haven't got the word trek on it, I've tried to avoid it.
"But I've done it on purpose. I want it to be about the horse journey, I don't want it to be a horse trekking place so I avoided it. It's a journey, it's an adventure, it a experience, I've used all those words and not trek."
Thunderlight, my horse for the morning, doesn't even move as I clamber on and from there it doesn't take long to get the hang of riding.
Garrod-Waite instructs us to keep our grip low, turn by moving our hands out wide and when we want him to move: "give him a good squeeze with both legs".
Before heading out on a trek, Garrod-Waite takes visitors through an obstacle course to show new riders a few skills and to give more experienced riders a feel for their horse.
We navigate between two wooden poles, ride up a hill and practise turning around a few tyres before heading back down the hill and through a small pond.
And then we're off, heading along a ridge high up above the valley floor and looking out across the rugged back-country hills.
"I think I'm the richest person I know," Garrod-Waite laughs, looking over her humble abode that also doubles as her office.
"I've got running water, so that must put me in the top one per cent of the world."
Riding through the bush on the back of a horse takes you back decades, to a time when settlers were just beginning to explore the country and using four legs to get around was quicker than two.
While Okau Horse Treks had been going strong for about 12 or 13 years, Garrod-Waite decided to close it after her and her partner split up.
Since then, she had bought out his share of the farm, got married and now she "just felt ready" to start up again.
Over another ridge, Leisha and Heidi point out the pond where Simone had fallen off a few days before.
"We dropped a 75-year-old Grandma into the water once," Garrod-Waite says.
"Her family thought it was hilarious and she did too."
In another valley she points out where she wants to build a teepee campsite for overnight trips, complete with outdoor wood-fired bath.
"It'll be great," she says.
After what feels like minutes, but was actually hours, we're heading back to the house to dismount and unsaddle, before giving the horses a well-deserved spray with the hose.