Travel: View from on High

The author and four young riders enjoyed a ride-and-stay adventure at Marlborough's Cape Campbell

The trekkers almost at their destination, with the North Island in the background

Fancy a holiday where you ride to your cottage, have a beach to explore and plenty of activities for the non-riders in the family?

The Peter family offer all this their 1340 hectare Cape Campbell Farm in Marlborough. With a lighthouse and a three-cottage settlement at their back door, Rob and Sally Peter have run a walkway business on Cape Campbell for 10 years and now have switched focus to offering a self-catering, ride-and stay experience for horse-trekkers. 

Daughter-in-law Mirella Pomeroy, herself a keen trekker, has taken on co-ordinating bookings since moving to Marlborough from the West Coast. The open farmland is far removed from the dense forest tracks she used to ride through in British Columbia when she and her husband Joseph worked as hunting guides. She loves Cape Campbell for the views of the sea and the vast open spaces.

“The trek is full of interesting spots like the radar station ruins, the Maori burial site and the quirky huts. It’s even stunning with a storm rolling in.”

Going up! The views are spectacular

A group of four Marlborough pony-club girls (and the writer) made the trek in December and all were impressed with the scope of Cape Campbell. The rolling blocks with grassy tracks were great for fast trots to settle the ponies. and the steeper hills gave the perfect opportunity for a bit of pony racing.

After leaving the floats near the Cape Campbell woolshed, the trekkers headed straight to the coast over country used by the Starborough Hunt Club. The Mussell Point hut, near a fenced-off Maori burial site on the beach front, made a scenic morning tea stop.

Despite a record dry spring, the sandy beach front was soft underfoot. The unshod ponies showed no sign of slowing and the riders had great fun jumping coprosma bushes and tussocks. The farm track then headed inland and up, across chalky white rock and then down into gullies where cattle rested near dams. The last big climb went up through tussock to an old radar station, used to watch for ships and submarines in Cook Strait during World War II.

From tussock tops to beaches; Cape Campbell has it all

On a windless day riders can take to the tops but there are markers to show a more sheltered route if the winds are strong. The last hour takes riders down a spur with a magnificent view of the sea and lighthouse. Although there were some jaw-dropping cliffs, they are largely fenced off and the track keeps a respectful distance.

The appeal of this landscape has been noticed by the movie world. The soon-to-be-released Light Between Oceans movie was filmed at Cape Campbell lighthouse. A rustic paddock was built for the movie-star goat and is now a safe and handy enclosure for horses. The charming lighthouse keeper’s cottage has been renovated to a post-war style.

The holding paddock built for the goat on a movie set is now a useful pony paddock

The beach front is an ideal place for gallops and there is a suitable swimming spot for horses on the very northern end of the beach.  Our pony clubbers decided to steer clear of the sea, showing a healthy respect for the turbulent currents. The cottages are a 30 minute drive from the farm and there are places to dive and fish. The horse trekkers’ dads came home with paua and tales of seals and blue penguins.

In true Cape Campbell style, the weather turned southerly the next day, making for a bracing trot down the south-facing beach road.

Trekking Marlborough’s old pack routes 

Letting your horse loose and following it down a steep scree slope is not everyone’s idea of fun. Sally Peter loves the physical challenge of high country horse trekking and has ultimate trust in her trekking horses.

She and her husband Rob have trekked through some of the most challenging parts of Marlborough; the Muller, Molesworth and through the Muzzle to Bluff Station at Kekerengu. For Sally the fascination is riding the old drovers’ routes and enjoying the flora, fauna and game. She and Rob spent Christmas on a 10-day trek with friends Sally and Eric Smith from Awapiri Station.

“We like to re-trace the old pack tracks and stock routes our fathers or other old-timers have used,” she says.

Aged 18, Sally and seven others rode across the Rainbow, Molesworth and the Muller to the Canterbury Saddle and into Glazebrook.

“We encountered the Wairau River running high and one of the group was washed away on her horse; very scary.”

Now with grown-up children and help on the two farms she and Rob own, they are once again back into trekking.

“Getting away from phones and civilisation for a couple of weeks is great.”

The horse team is growing. Sally’s favourite ride is her 15hh black draft/cob Jenny.

“She is strong and has fantastic feet.”

Jenny has almost walked the length of the South Island as a pack horse for Sally’s friend Hillary. Rob and Sally have two other young mares; an Irish hunter that prefers easy terrain and two stationbred horses that can handle rocks and bluffs. The latest addition to the team is the 12hh Welsh pack pony Pedey. At only five years he has already trekked almost the length of the South Island. Sally says he has everything: charisma, humour and muscle – and he crosses rivers and climbs shingle with ease.

“Pedey doesn’t need to be led as he is happy to follow his lady friends to the ends of the earth,” she adds.

Welsh pony Pedey is a fantastic pack pony, following Moko along without a lead

The couple’s son Joseph and his partner Mirella also love trekking and were employed as hunting guides in British Columbia for three months. This involved taking a party of up to 10 horses through dense forest, setting up camp sites and then trekking out to hunt for moose.

“Everything was packed in and out, and, as the horses were turned out for half the year, they could be pretty spirited,” Mirella says.

She learnt to hobble horses and how to load a pack horse properly. “The great thing about horses that they are good indicators of whether bears are around, as their ears go up and they turn skittish. You don’t need to worry about this at Cape Campbell!”

Sally’s trekking tips  

– Always get permission from landowners (we are willing to pay for the privilege).

– Leave the huts as you found them or, even better, with a new supply of firewood.

– Take maps and research the areas you intend to travel over.

– For day treks, tie a warm jacket on to the saddle. Purchase a good pair of saddle bags as you soon get sick of carrying a pack on your back. Take a first aid kit for people and horses, especially if trekking with horses that don’t know each other.

– Lead your horse down the hills.

Cape Campbell Horse Trek

Where: east coast of Marlborough, 20 minutes’ drive from Ward.

Length: minimum one night (two hours to trot the 10km in to the cottages via the old lighthouse road and three hour return across the farm or up the beach via Mussel Point Hut). Gear can be carted to the lighthouse cottages or send the non-riders in with the gear.  Riders can use the lighthouse accommodation as the base to explore the area.

Difficulty: easy to medium, suitable for leading inexperienced riders or a pack-horse.

Positives: trekking with your own horse. Fantastic views of the North Island and east coast Marlborough, large tussock blocks (few gates), sandy beaches, charming accommodation with a working lighthouse at your back door. Fishing and diving. Two sheltered small paddocks for six horses and some room for electric fence paddocks.

Challenges: the biggest is the wind, but there are sheltered options via the gullies.

Cost: $50/rider up to $400/night for groups over ten (for the three cottages) depending on numbers. $8/hay bale. Cartage included $100/rider.

Timing: February to early May best (less chance of wind).

Contact: Mirella Pomeroy (03) 578 4014 or Facebook Experience Cape Campbell.

  • This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of NZ Horse & Pony