Long faces are nowhere to be seen when trekking on Waiheke, discovers Pamela Wade.

I wasn't surprised to learn that Orlando Bloom screams like a girl when he's frightened. Nor that Tom Cruise only has one pace: fast. What made it special hearing all this was that I was wearing Orlando's boots at the time, and sitting where Tom sat.

This is the sort of thing that distinguishes an outing with Steve Old on a Waiheke Horse Tour from your usual trek. Of course the island's scenery is gorgeous - bush, farmland, views towards the distant city and over the turquoise sea in Te Matuku Bay - and it's a treat to be away from the traffic. Our route lay along private roads, up bush tracks and across paddocks.

Not that we were riding all that time. Steve offers a number of options, including picnicking under a gnarled pohutukawa, but this one had the particular attraction of lunch at Poderi Crisci, the Italian vineyard down the eastern end of Waiheke. It's not the sort of thing to hurry, and even though we weren't having one of Antonio's famous Sunday long lunches, we still settled in on the terrace for a leisurely appreciation of his home-grown vegetables, tender lamb and deliciously chocolatey dessert. And of course there was wine, a crisp rosé - it would have been rude not to.

So far, Steve hasn't had to cope with inebriated riders on the way home. The horses are so well-behaved that it probably wouldn't be an issue: certainly the novice rider in our group felt confident on Marmite, who looked after her well.


My horse was Felix, a handsome chestnut who starred with Tom in The Last Samurai, with Martin Freeman in The Hobbit, and Danny Huston in The Warrior's Way as well as other movies. He's not big-headed about it, though, and carried me without any fuss; but we all saw that he was a star, when he lay down for Steve to get on and off during our initial briefing.

Steve himself was riding Trappeur, a handsome Percheron stallion: big, grey, shaggy, with a real presence, and also a Hobbit star - a long way from his humble beginning as a TradeMe purchase. Working with directors including Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg is also quite a jump from constructing portable showers, and it's a fascinating story how Steve progressed from supplying ablution blocks for the actors, to becoming the animal wrangler on a series of huge movies.

It was no surprise, then, after listening to all these tales of fantasy and improvisation - ponies wearing hairy, padded onesies - to get back to the yard and find goats clustered around a flying saucer, and a fat eel called Fluffy under a bridge. Waiheke Horse Tours are not your usual trekking operation.


Details: Waiheke Horse Tours has a variety of options for riding treks, lessons, winery tours and picnics for up to four people, and Steve will arrange transfers to and from the ferry. Phone (027) 532 7688. Poderi Crisci can also, of course, be reached by more conventional means.

The writer was a guest of Waiheke Horse Tours.