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Sunshine Coast Trail, South Africa – February 2019

Zara’s Planet, Test Ride.

On possibly the coldest day so far in 2019 (beginning of February) I left -7C in Scotland to head for the East Cape, South Africa. What a brilliant idea that turned out to be and travelling alone wasn’t a problem despite being the only Brit in the group of 8.

Caitlin, our host Jono’s daughter managed to scoop 6 of us up at the airport, and we set off. Lunch on the way where the best burgers on the East Cape were served; I’m not arguing with that. We still arrived at our accommodation in time for a short ‘get to know your horse’ ride along the beach.

Our accommodation was aptly named Paradise Lost, down a dirt track surrounded by bush overlooking the beach. Jono rents local houses but is building his own purpose built lodge, he showed us the site, truly another Paradise Lost. Our shared rooms were clean, comfortable beds, toilet and shower shared between us, perfectly adequate.
Off to find the horses which were waiting a short walk away with our local guide Aidan. My horse Abby a bay Boerpferd, turned out to be a polite, forward going reliable companion for the week. Snaffle bridles, mostly McLellan saddles.

We were on the beach in no time, the tide was high so mostly soft sand but it gave us an idea how hard these horses have to work in soft sand and how fit they are to be able to do so. We did get a canter and Aidan was able to reassure himself that we could control our horses and weren’t crazy riders, well not in that moment.

Back to the field, horses fed, we walked back to Paradise Lost where snacks, tea coffee, beer, cider, G&T and wine were all there for the taking. Jono had arrived with another guest. A short time to decompress, most of had travelled through the night, before dinner which was an enormous help yourself salad. A terrific thunder storm ensured, far better than fireworks. Apparently it went on most of the night but I was utterly oblivious.
Next day civilised breakfast at 8.30, tea coffee, juice, fruit yoghurt eggs cooked to order bacon toast, the whole shebang. Horses already transported along the coast and were waiting, tacked up and relaxed. Packed lunches, water bottles 2x 50ml, spare clothes into saddle bags, plus sun protection. We had been warned that even when cloudy the sun was very strong and factor 50 was advisable. Off we went straight on to the beach.

Everything sparkling, the sea never seems calm always restless waves. Our pace was determined by the sand, as soon as hard enough – canters, long slowish canters that the horses could maintain for what seemed to us to be forever. We could spread out, find our own line, preferably stay behind Aidan, in the water, at its edge or beside it. The horses do prefer not to have to canter in the water and diversionary tactics often happen as a wave comes in. Only a few local fishermen on the beach, sometimes a group of small children playing in the water in a sheltered area.

We stopped for lunch at a rocky outcrop, but not for long as clouds were brewing behind us, so the pace increased slightly and we arrived at Port Alfred just as a few drops of rain fell. Jono was there with the open top truck, all 10 horses up in no time (the record is just under 3 minutes). So 40 km along pristine beaches, Jono says he likes to give guests a ‘a good ride’ the first day.

Back to Paradise Lost, shower, snacks, grabbed a beer (or whatever) and Jono took us down onto the beach. The weather had cleared and we watched the sun go down and the lights of the offshore fishing boats come on. Mel, Jono’s wife had appeared whilst we were sundowning, had cooked dinner, local fish, chips and salad. Perfect.
Slightly earlier start to catch the tide in order to get round some rocks. Shorter ride, along the beach, long long canters, sun, sea, blue skies, cloudy skies. Stopped at another rocky outcrop, where rock pools were home to the BEST snails for eating according to Aidan. We found zilch, but Jono did find some the next day. Climbed through the bush to a viewing platform, had lunch, took in the vast coastline, watched a pod of dolphins go by, just chilled.

Back onto beach, then along tracks to where horses could overnight, and we were taken to our new accommodations in Kenton. Shared rooms, verandahs, with the occasional monkey, clean, airy, all good.

Jono had arranged a massage for us if we wanted, we did – bliss to aching bits and pieces. Mel appeared again, pasta with a veggie sauce, chocolate sponge. All alcoholic needs obviously met as well.

Today swimming day. Jono rode with us along with Caitlin and Aidan. Maybe 1.5 hours riding, then the river, rode upriver to a bridge where the van could take all our clothes and the tack. Life jacket on and an inelegant mount, Abby was not the smallest, and a bareback stroll to river mouth. Jono went to find the way, came back and off we went. All horses went in no bother, some better swimmers than others, when it does get deep enough to swim it’s a magical feeling. All arrived the other side, some with more elegance than others. A 5 km walk to river number 2. No problem, these horses know their job. Found the van with clothes tack and lunch so dried off in the sun before tacking up and a short ride to where the truck could pick up the horses.

Jono picked us up later in the afternoon, and we all piled into his motor boat for a trip upriver, Aidan in attendance with the cool box. Slowly upriver, had a swim, watched an elephant walk majestically along the shoreline. Turned back and along the shore Mel had set up dinner, a meat and veg fondue. Eventually back into the boat in the dark and home to our beds.

Onto horses again. Today passed a shipwreck with a story behind it, the Diaz Cross, where the first European landed in South Africa, another story and further along, fragments of pottery and mounds of sea shells left over from pre European times by local tribe, more stories. Stopped for lunch by a lagoon, another swim as horses were hot, not obligatory this time so some did and some didn’t.

A shortish ride to pick up, as everyone was feeling the heat. Jono came at 5.30 and we all walked to the beach, for sundowners which appeared from his rucksack. Overlooked our first river swim, we walked along further and came a lovely restaurant and had superb pizzas.

Today, a no horse day. Off by mini van to Addo National Park about one hour away. As soon as we were in the Park we began to see elephants, later on we saw a group and a youngster was feeding from her mother, we were so close we could hear the slurping. Warthogs, various antelope, zebras and even the rare dung beetle and tortoises. Had a picnic lunch in designated area. A relaxing interesting day, Jono is very knowledgeable and has facts galore about the animals. Back in Kenton, Jono cooked a BBQ on the verandah, excellent.

Last full day. Riding in a nearby private game reserve. A quiet ride, seeing what could be seen, but looking specifically for water buffalo and elephant. Water buffalo do not like horses so that was an interesting encounter, and the horses hadn’t seen elephants before and that was equally interesting. A good short day’s ride with lots of interest and that evening we sat down to a great curry, yum!

Last day, a early start 7.15 breakfast, a short fast and furious ride, basically a full gallop along the beach and another back again. Brilliant. And that was that, everyone had planes to catch or other things to do so it was a very sad goodbye to all!

Why should anyone do this ride? Although it was mainly a beach ride it has so much more to offer. The beaches are simply stunning. Jono has put together something unique in the variety of things on offer, all included, and he wants to give people a real taste of what this part of South Africa has to offer. This is not a luxury game reserve ride, but a genuine attempt to give guests a complete experience and I think it succeeds.

SPECIAL DISCOUNT

From now up to October 2019, we are offering clients a 20% discount on this ride. The ride price drops from £1,165/1,350Euros/$1,525 to £932/1,080Euros/$1,220.

I can’t tell you how much value for money this is – includes all the riding, accommodation, meals, drinks including alcohol, plus the game drive and ride!

Click here to book https://www.zarasplanet.com/travel/sunshine-coast-trails/

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