The Happy Hackers of the Far North

For five out of the last six years the Happy Hackers have made long journeys on horseback. They have traveled from the East to the West coastlines of the North Island and from the Northern most tip of New Zealand to Kai Iwi Lakes near Dargaville.

These journeys have taken the Hackers from Cape Maria Van Dieman, the length of Spirits Bay and on to North Cape (now closed to public access).

They have traveled through gum fields to the Parengarenga Harbour and down Great Expedition Bay. Passing the wild horses of the Aupouri Forest, the Hackers have journeyed to Waipapakauri and beach races. Their horses have even carried them across the Herekino Harbour. Each year a different trail and a new adventure.

This year the nine day journey began at Maungamuka and took the Hackers to Mitimiti on the West Coast. Led by local guide, Jake Dunn, the group rode from the entrance of the Hokianga Harbour and the sand dunes opposite Opononi up the beach to Mitimiti. North of Mitimiti they headed inland and over an enormous range, through the Warawara State forest, to the Whangapae Harbour.

The Warawara is a 6913 hectare forest, heavy in mature kauri, perched on a steep sided plateau. Even after 150 years of European occupation not all of this forest has been penetrated. In the mid 1970's a tramper came across a group of giant kauris never before reported. Rated among the largest surviving specimens, they are still only accessible to experts in the bush. (Historic Trails of the Far North by the late EV Sale of Te Ngaere Bay, BOI.)

As the Happy Hackers climbed upward it was obvious that parts of the bush had been well milled over in the past. Piles of logs lay abandoned to be eventually covered by the regenerating undergrowth. Although the day was cloudless, the bush shaded path afforded a coolness through punga and fern, nikau, karaka and manuka (tea tree). The earthy aroma of the bush was breathed in by riders and the horses exerting a huge effort with the steepness and length of the climb.

Hokianga farmer Brian tries out the Parelli style of riding.

Hokianga farmer Brian tries out the Parelli style of riding.

One small fixed wing aircraft circled back and forth, over and over the area possibly searching for illegal crops. Once the plane departed it was as though the clock had been turned back 100 years. After so long in the saddle this journey had become timeless and the stresses of another life seemed remote beyond description.

At the summit the Hackers and local guides rested. The panorama of virgin bush extended below, over a sheer cliff face. Jake handed the expedition over to Joseph Campbell, the Pawarenga guide, and the journey continued, descending into the Whanapae Harbour.

Happy Hackers avoid roads. They see the best parts of New Zealand that few people are even aware exist. Dulcie and Brian Achison provide support, trucking bedding and food to prearranged overnight stops.

The horses are fit, fine looking animals seemingly quite accustomed to the exertion each day requires.

Wherever they have been, people have welcomed and helped the Happy Hackers.

The friends they make on the way always seem to ask, "When will you return?"