Sunday, March 13, 2016

Tour de Coromandel, with eels

Note to self: a sleeping bag dished out by tourism people for a trip around Australia's Northern Territory in June is not thick enough for camping in the Coromandel in February. There's nothing like lying awake, shivering in the dark at around 3am, having put on all the extra layers within reach, for making you curse the classic Kiwi 'she'll be right' attitude. Sometimes, it backfires.

But Day One of the Tour de Coromandel dawned bright and clear - that's the literal, not cliched figurative, term, by the way. I was up at dawn. So was pretty nearly everyone else, as we will be for the rest of the week. It takes time, to get dressed while horizontal, have a cooked breakfast, make your lunch, pack up your dew-drenched tent, load your gear onto a truck, and get your horse groomed and tacked up for the day. Well, not groomed, as it happens - Lindsay, who kindly lent me a horse for the week, although he is fussy about some things, isn't one to brush and comb in the finicking way I was accustomed to as groom, long ago, for a Master of Foxhounds. In fact, a flick over the saddle patch with a hearth brush was it. Mane and tail dreadlocks? Trendy!

One of the things he was fussy about was not inflicting a metal bit on his horses, so eager little Shine wore a bitless bridle which works by putting pressure under his chin when you pull the reins. Seems to me that a running martingale would be a natural accompaniment to prevent him sticking his head in the air to avoid that pressure, but Lindsay had never used him for this sort of work before, on a trek with 60-odd other horses, so the issue had never arisen. There we were, then, clattering through Coromandel town with people watching from the footpaths, kids waving, much manure being donated free to local gardeners, and Shine jogging along with his nose skywards but still managing to glue himself to Bobbie, his paddock-mate. It was fun, though, and exciting to be setting out, and I was really glad to be there.
There was a long haul up the road out of the town that made me glad I wasn't one of the half-dozen bikers, or a walker or runner - though each time we passed any of them, they were smiling and cheerful, equally glad to be part of this trek. Next there was a track through bush, then across farmland where random granite boulders stuck out of the grass in a satisfyingly picturesque manner (or, would have done, had I been able to stop Shine long enough to take a picture) and clear streams lay across our path. It was quiet, and green, and so lovely to be riding through it all on a willing and well-behaved horse, in a saddle with a sheepskin on top of it. Luxury!
We clopped through tiny Colville, washed off the horses (who were horrified to find a friendly sow on the other side of the fence) and gave them a feed, and then went for a dip in the river, which was refreshing and cooling and cleansing right up to the moment someone saw the eels sharing the waterhole with us. And eels are, like sharks, always MASSIVE.
Dinner in the marquee was reassuringly good, with a choice of three main dishes, there was the presentation of the day's yellow t-shirts with the customary spray of bubbles, and then we went along to the little town hall, where we were genuinely captivated by quite the worst band any of us had ever listened to. They were so dreadful, it was truly entertaining, and we all thoroughly enjoyed their performance, even though we were distracted by equally strongly-held opinions about whether the lead vocalist was a man or a woman. The band they were warming up for was disappointingly good, but did get people onto the dance floor showing off their moves, fortified by complimentary banana cake.
And then it was out into the starry darkness, mist low over the river, to our tents and a quiet - and less freezing - night that was punctuated only by the plopping noises of our neighbours, the eels.

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