Waitangi Regional Park covers 300 hectares of land between Awatoto and Haumoana, linking the Tukituki, Ngaruroro and Tūtaekurī Rivers as well as Karamū-Clive waterways and coastal reserves, with multiple entry points along the Hawke’s Bay iWay.
This narrow five kilometre strip of coastline is a vital, dynamic ecosystem – a breeding ground for inanga (whitebait) and home to multitudes of birds, including the little egret (a small white heron, uncommon elsewhere in NZ) and a colony of rare tarāpuka (black-billed gulls).
On a restless, windy day in September we set off on horseback to explore the East Clive stretch of it.
Our journey starts off School Road in Dzidra McHenry’s sub-tropical garden, ringed by stands of rustling nikau palms and eclectic outdoor sculpture, horses grazing the lawn. Dzidra wears a ‘fair dinkum’ Australian oilskin coat that flaps down to her shins. She hands me one to wear too to keep out the wind and the salt, as we make our way to the hitching post.
Her coastal Boutique Horse Trek business wins Trip Advisor accolades from her clientele, mainly overseas tourists who’ve never ridden a horse before, while the late afternoon, afterwork rides she expressly offers women – “to take the stress out of their day” – are popular ‘therapy’.
Dzidra’s horses are fully trained and sweetly tempered; they know exactly what to do. Forget everything you think you know, she says, it’s all about body language. She briefs us on natural horsemanship: the movements to make to signal left and right, to stop, to slow down, how to modulate our voices, when to lean forward and when to pull back – no crop, bit, spurs required; in place of a bridle, a rope loosely held.
I’m on Nugget, a pretty ‘stationbred’ dun with kohl-ringed eyes; Florence on the gelding, Paddy, heroically takes photos from the saddle.
We step quietly up the road (the horses have yet to be shod for summer), past paddocks with new calves and lambs, a potter of pukeko, and tidy new-build houses. Past the Hastings waste water treatment plant, where every day 35,000-70,000 cubic metres of Hastings District’s flushed sewage (more, curiously, at the height of the horticultural season) flows through a biological filter process before being pumped 2.7 kilometres out to sea.
We file across the embankment and limestone cycle trail, and along a dirt track between wetlands, in the estuarial “edge zone” between low-lying coastal farmland and – beyond stones and scrub and random, industrial concrete piles – the wild beach.
We see black swans with cygnets, paradise ducks flying low in formation, a white heron, shags. It’s too early now in the season for welcome swallows, but soon, here, you’ll be able to watch their flit joyous swoop for bugs. It’s a great spot for birding.
We turn to the beach and ride along the edge of the sea, the wave-scoured, gravelly shoreline, through the white, frothing end-swirl of waves. We look past concrete groynes (an attempt to staunch coastal erosion) towards the Awatoto smoke stacks, and beyond to Mataruahou, Napier Hill, shadowed by the trace of the bay curving round to Whirinaki and Tangoio. We pass the Tsunami Bar –a driftwood shelter, high up on the beach, and a guerrilla art-beautified ‘bunker’, the word ‘Arohanui’ writ large.
Picking our way back across stones towards Clive River in late sunshine, everything is suffused with gold light. Looking inland, I am struck once again by the horse-shoe shape of the Bay, the way our alluvial plains are circled by hills, from Cape Kidnappers and Te Mata to Kahuranaki, the Paki Paki lime works, Roy’s Hill, Poraiti, and beyond the Kaweka and Ruahine ranges. The land ripples out, like some geological metaphor, from Waitangi Estuary where the Tākitimu waka landed some 1,000 years ago, and where William Colenso’s mission station was built in the 1840s.
The horses wade through a stream, stopping to paw the water for fun. Out on the Clive River mouth there are waka ama teams and rowers training, a lone kayak. Further out on the sandspit, cars parked up, a line of rods, the silhouettes of people fishing. As we bend in our saddles to the river and the horses bend their heads to eat the rich grass, we bask for a moment together in the day’s glorious outbreath, under a big sky where the Heretaunga Plains and its major rivers meet the Pacific Ocean.
It’s a sedate ride back – we’re relaxed yet alert. For riding keeps you in a continuous, quietly active relationship with the horse: adjusting position, trying to read the horse as the horse reads you, like Argentine tango – an improvised dance communed through the subtle shifting of pressure and weight. In that moment of relationship and the quiet joy of an equinox spring evening, all our workaday concerns dissipate in the lilac light – the sky turns slowly purple before indigo as the wind drops away into an unexpected stillness.
You can walk this stretch of coast anytime, starting for example from Ever-Swindell Reserve at the Clive bridge or Richmond Rd Reserve near the waste water plant. By horse: for a coastal horse trek to the Clive river mouth, a horseback winery tour to Te Awanga, or a bespoke trek by arrangement, Dzidra and her horses can be found at boutiquehorsetreks.co.nz