Determined to do the Rob Roy Glacier day hike, allegedly one of the finest in the country, I headed to Wanaka, another lakeside town, where Otago meets Mt. Aspiring National Park. It’s not that far as the crow flies from Queenstown, aside from a couple mountain ranges in between, and has, fortunately, escaped the gross excesses of its neighbor. I was checking out a campground when the owner asked me if I was in town for the cavalcade.
I laughed and asked “Cavalcade of what?”
She gave me a long, hard look. “It’s a cavalcade.”
I wanted to tell her that, where I’m from, we only use the word “cavalcade” as a sort of gently mocking hyperbole, like “cornucopia” or “kerfuffle.” We do not actually have cavalcades.
In Wanaka, they do.
Every year, apparently, historic reenactors get together to recreate the Otago Gold Rush days of the 1860s, riding their horses through the mountains where prospectors once roamed in search of that elusive nugget.
Nugget is a funny word, isn’t it?
Anyway, the grand finale to the reenactment was a cavalcade down the main street of the town. I was going to do Rob Roy Glacier today, a hot, sunny, cloudless day, but you know, that glacier’s been around a while and it’s not going anywhere (well, it is going somewhere, the way of the dinosaur like most of our glaciers, but not in the next week or so). I decided to stick around town to see what all this cavalcade ballyhoo and brouhaha was about.
I figured, at any rate, it was about as close as I’d get to seeing a field of actual Rohirrim.
As luck would have it, my campsite was near a paddock where some of the reenactors were mustering. When I passed, however, they were all busy saddlin’ up and tethering and doing whatever reenactors do to their horses, which includes, apparently, yelling a lot. It was a little disturbing to hear several variations of “Dammit, I said keep still!” “or “Move it, damn you!” Another reason for me to keep walking.
The cavalcade itself was, uhm, mildly interesting and definitely not pleasantly scented. It was cool to see hundreds of horses together, filling the length and width of the entire main drag of Wanaka. They are magnificent animals, and I’ve never seen so many different breeds and sizes in one area. Some of them plodded along, some high-stepped like Lippezaners, but a lot of them didn’t seem to be having a particularly good time. It upsets me when you see them fighting the bit, eyes rolling back, stepping in any direction except the one the rider is urging them to go. I don’t know much at all about horses, so I could be completely wrong about this, but a good number of them did not seem happy.
Of course, I guess that makes it a particularly accurate reenactment, because I’m sure the horses used back in the gold rush days were looked upon as machines, tools to be used until they broke and were then discarded. Maybe the horses I saw today were just “in character,” or maybe, knowing nothing about the animals, I was just interpreting their behavior through my own value system.
In any case, after they passed, leaving piles upon piles of poop in the street (their revenge?), I felt conflicted about it all until I was distracted by the weekly farmer’s market and Manuka Smoked Eggs. I just read about them last night in one of NZ’s food magazines. The guy cold smokes eggs with manuka wood. The egg is still raw, so you have to cook it, but when you do it has this amazing smoky essence to it. They were selling open egg sandwiches and, after trying one, I bought a half dozen eggs. When I finally do climb to Rob Roy Glacier, it will be with Smoked Egg Wraps in my pack for lunch.
Another food note: one of the guys on the Rees-Dart Trail, during our long conversation about food, said anyone who went to Wanaka had to go to Red Star Luxury Burger and get the lentil burger. Today, I did. It was the size of my head, on a good, fresh bun. The lentil burger itself was eh, but they piled it with goat cheese, pickled beetroot, lettuce, sliced tomato, tomato relish and aioli. Wow. It was amazing. And the kumara (NZ sweet potato) fries with salsa verde and aioli were even better. Good thing I walked to and from town… given that I clocked about 16km round-trip, I think I worked off exactly one of those kumara fries.