They still have a long way to go, but Larissa Mueller and her 9-year-old stationbred horse Sprite are on course to notch up another milestone in their circumnavigation of New Zealand when they reach Cape Reinga on Saturday.
The 31-year-old outdoor instructor set off with a second horse, 6-year-old Kaimanawa bay Popeye, who was part of the team from Wellington to Taranaki, but from there it's just been one woman and one horse, with no packhorse and no back-up crew.
Her trek around the New Zealand coast is in aid of the Leg-Up Trust, a charity that reaches out to disadvantaged youth who suffer social, behavioural or emotional problems by teaching them how to engage and communicate with horses.
Larissa and Sprite prepared for their trek up 90 Mile Beach after a stay as guests at Ahipara Horse Treks, where the local horses formed a welcoming committee while Sprite had a roll and found a good scratching tree. Larissa caught up on admin, before settling down with takeaways.
She also availed herself of the Kaitaia laundromat before being joined at Ahipara by three friends and their horses, who are accompanying her to Cape Reinga, from Auckland.
She has already "done" the South Island, after setting off in January last year, and is now anticipating the finish line in Hawke's Bay, after two summers in the saddle.
Why was she doing it?
"Why not," she said, "but also to fundraise for the Leg-Up Trust. They are based in Hawke's Bay, where we started, and work with at-risk youth, pairing them with horses as a medium for communication. It's really incredible what they do, and how much the students benefit from it. I couldn't think of a more deserving charity to fundraise for.
"These young people have been put in the too hard basket, and the Leg-Up Trust gives them a second chance in life: increased confidence, life skills and something to get up for in the morning.
"These young people have often been through incredibly difficult times. Some have suffered abuse, are at risk of suicide, or are young offenders. Leg-Up provides strong and clear boundaries so that the young people develop a sense of right and wrong and learn to focus on positive attributes. The children are nurtured and unconditionally loved. All other avenues have failed with these children, so we dare to be different.
"The horses are the therapists; we humans are the facilitators.
"I'm aiming to raise $14,083.70 on the rest of the ride to bring our total funds raised to $20,000. Every cent counts, so if you think you could spare the price of a cup of coffee please head over to their Givealittle page (https://givealittle.co.nz/org/bennyboy). Make sure you mention homefree in your comment so I know to add it to our tally."
Larissa and Sprite cover 20-30km a day on average, and she aims to give Sprite at least one day a week off. She spent up to half her day walking, depending on the terrain and how comfortable she was finding the saddle. With a tent, cooker, food and all other necessary items in the saddle bags she was quite independent, but the one thing she could not carry was fencing, so she looked for a paddock at the end of the day so Sprite got a good night's rest.
"Sprite wears Renegade Hoof Boots and Scoot Boot hoof boots, and is ridden in a rope halter," she added.
"She doesn't get any special feed along the way except the odd slice of hay. What she finds on roadsides and in paddocks is more than enough. I do carry a salt lick to help replenish her minerals.
"I eat very basic dried foods like porridge, crackers, rice and lentils. The only vege I carry is a supply of carrots, which Sprite ends up getting if I don't eat them fast enough. I don't carry meat except the occasional salami."
Larissa's progress can be followed via GPS tracker (https://aus-share.inreach.garmin.com/homefree) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/homefree).