She’s a hard job finding the perfect Cavalcade trail.
That’s why Waiareka Valley farrier Malcolm Oakes puts in so much time before the annual trek across Central Otago’s back country.
The Goldfields Cavalcade is celebrating its 25th birthday this year. Nine trails – three of walkers, four of riders, one of light wagons and one of heavy wagons – are wending their way towards Omakau, arriving for festivities on Saturday, March 4.
Mr Oakes is leading the “Overland to Omakau” riding trail. His preparation included scoping out potential routes departing from the North Otago hill country. His “right-hand man”, Chum Chamberlain, helped him plot courses that cover 30km to 40km a day, entailing about eight hours’ riding.
Mr Oakes said first and foremost, thanks must go to the farmers who make their land available to the Cavalcade. Community support is also invaluable to its ongoing success.
With permission secured, his trail of 75 to 80 riders and 55 horses is meeting at Mt Dasher Station on Sunday afternoon. On Monday, they ride across the head of the Duntroon gold-mining water races towards Ben Ledi Station. Tuesday’s ride takes them through tussock terrain to Glenshee Station in Danseys Pass.
Wedderburn is Wednesday’s destination, then they follow the water race to Falls Dam and Hawkdun Station on Thursday. Friday’s ride to St Bathans passes the old town of Tinkers and the Drybread cemetery, leaving just two hours in the saddle to reach Omakau on the Saturday.
This is Mr Oakes’ 12th Cavalcade. He was a wrangler many times before becoming a trail boss for the past four years.
Taking the right horse and looking after it is “a bit of an art”, he said. His 7-year-old horse Pete is “number one – he’s doing all the work”.
As well as riding ability, a trail boss needs “good people skills, stockmanship, and a sense of direction”.
Weather conditions can force last-minute changes during the Cavalcade so the boss must guide participants safely to their stop-over, where a team of caterers will have meals ready.
The riders have varying experience and come from all sorts of professions, Mr Oakes said. His posse includes two groups of North Islanders and people who have been caught up in the Canterbury fires. Cantabrians who went on the Cavalcade after the earthquakes found it therapeutic, he said.
He is chuffed that local people are also riding his trail, which he sees as a vote of confidence.
Mr Oakes is full of praise for his “great team”, comprising five wranglers and three gophers. And he said he “couldn’t do it” without the support of his wife, Trish.
“I can’t thank her enough.”