We fell asleep easily in our warm bunk beds after a long night around the fire and woke up to the stunning scenery of Blue Duck Station. I elected for an afternoon activity and was finally allowed to sleep in for the first time in several days. It felt so good to rest and slow down for a moment. Bus tours are an amazing way to travel but sometimes it feels good to stay in one place for a bit.
Once I dragged myself out of bed, I set out with a few girls for an afternoon of horseback riding through the Whakahoro valley. After a steady and steep climb past orchards and grazing sheep, we traversed the tops of the hills with an incredible view of the blue-toned valley.
Did I mention it was lambing season? We encountered dozens of newborn lambs with their mothers and the occasional groups of goats on the steep hills. Goats and pigs are actually considered invasive species and are openly hunted on the Blue Duck Conservation lands. Goats in particular destroy the native bush that protects endangered species like the blue duck (yes that is really an animal). Controlling the goat population helps regenerate the native bush here and in many other places in New Zealand.
My horseback riding girls! It got surprisingly hot in the sun, a lovely treat after days of cold and wet weather.
The hills surrounding the aptly named Blue Duck Station seemed to emit a subtle blue light, creating a dream-like landscape. The packs of lambs running around the hills only intensified the surreality. New Zealand continued to surprise me with its variety of landscapes and this was no exception.
After a couple hours of intense hill climbing, we took a break and tied up our horses in a small flat field. While the horses rested, we followed our guide Jack over a cross-bridge and down to a hidden waterfall. We admired this little slice of paradise and skipped rocks on the smooth surface of the water. As we climbed back up the muddy embankment, my friend Sam lost her shoe in the thick mud and I had to save her from toppling over into the muck. Close call!
I bonded with my horse buddy in the sunshine. By the end of the day this guy was getting tired and lazy and kept tripping up on the rocks! That was a little scary. But I would be tired too after three hours of steep hill ascending and descending. As for me, my bum was hurting something fierce by the end of the day.
When we finally returned to the lodge after brushing our horses, we were pleased to find our group playing with two orphaned lambs. The kids were absolutely adorable and much larger than I expected, bleating loudly and jumping around with unbridled joy. When they finally placed one of the lambs in my arms, I tucked my face into her warm fleece and swore I would never let go. She smelled like a cozy wool sweater. It was a magical moment that I will never forget. Linda however refused to hold the lambs because she felt awful that they might become dinner haha. Oh well, more lamb snuggling for me.
After copious lamb snuggles, we were all exhausted and yet rejuvenated by our day at Blue Duck Station. To be honest, I never wanted to leave. But tomorrow was our biggest and most challenging day of the tour yet, the Tongariro Crossing! I was excited but terribly nervous about this eight hour trek over 19.4 kilometers past “Mount Doom” from The Lord of the Rings. Would I be able to do it? What had I gotten us into?
We spent the evening carefully packing our daypacks for the hike while letting off some nervous energy goofing off with our bunkmates. When most people went to bed, I stayed up late by the fire with my friends, too nervous to go to sleep at a reasonable hour despite the impending 4:30am wake up call. I needed to soak up the quiet energy of this magical place.
And I did.
Catching up? Don’t miss anything…
New Zealand 1: Rain, Wine and Waiheke in Auckland
New Zealand 2: Boarding the Stray Bus and Raglan Beach
New Zealand 3: Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Doing the Haka
New Zealand 4: I’m Going on an Adventure… Hobbiton and Lake Aniwhenua