Every year Kaimanawa Heritage Horses offers photographers and horse enthusiasts the chance to experience the raw beauty, grace and grandeur of New Zealand’s wild horses. This exclusive guided bus trip takes you deep into the Waiouru Military land where the Kaimanawa horses are allowed to roam free, an experience very rarely opened up to the public.
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to venture into the heart of the guarded Kaimanawa Ranges for one day to photograph the Wild Horses on one of these trips. The seemingly endless tussock hills set against the backdrop of a snow-capped volcano are as untamed and beautiful as the horses that aptly draw their name from this wild place.
I think we can all remember the first time we encountered something truly wild. The lingering electric feeling that seems to permeate from it and into you and back again. It might have been an animal, a storm, a mountain or a forest but the feeling is always the same: it awakens a dormant and primal part of you, unfettered by societal constructs and seems to whisper to the very fabric of your being: “freedom”.
The experience starts in the pitch black of predawn with 40 odd people crammed into a small room, nestling our hot coffees, browsing over the maps of the area on the walls and all brimming with excitement about our day’s adventure. I remember still being half asleep when a verbal ice bucket of water shocked me awake: “This is an active military base and there may still be live explosives out there.” (or something like that… this was years ago) It’s Major Pat Hibbs’ voice that brings my focus back to the safety briefing as he lays down the ground rules and safety instructions for our time on the military base. The Major is an ardent wild horse supporter and he serves as the link between the public and the army lands on which the tours take place. His local knowledge coupled with the history of the area and the operation of the New Zealand Army add a truly unique and informative component to the tour. In the words of Kaimanawa Muster Co-ordinator Simone Frewen: “He LOVES ‘his’ horses & takes their custodianship very seriously. We’re SO lucky to have him in his position!”.
Being able to see behind the closed doors of a nations military operations was also incredibly interesting in it’s own right and it’s tour I would have happily done even if there were no wild horses on the scene. But there were… and seeing them in the wild took my breath away.