It would not be strictly true to say that Heather Jones is back on her farm at Waipapakauri after 14 years in the saddle.

It is true, however, that she recently completed a trek from one end of the country to the other that took 14 years to finish.

It's not that she dawdled. Everyone who took part in the Great New Zealand Trek planned to take 12 years to get from from Cape Reinga to Bluff (or more precisely Slope Point, south of Bluff). It ended up taking 14 years, the North Island taking two years longer to traverse than originally expected.

Heather was never going to fail to make the finish line, but while she's keeping Wildflower, the horse that took her all the way, one of just four that started and finished the trek, she's sold her truck. She won't be lining up for the next trek, assuming there will be one.

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Last week she remembered thinking in 2006, when she started the trek, that she would be 81 when it finished, and could not countenance starting another that would take her through to 95.

Heather Jones and Wildflower on the road between Rawene and Pouto in 2007, the second year of the trek.
Heather Jones and Wildflower on the road between Rawene and Pouto in 2007, the second year of the trek.

She won't be hanging up her saddle though. An accomplished stockwoman, and hunter, she's been riding horses from the age of 2, and has one or two physical and mental scars to prove it. But there was nothing that had given her quite the same pleasure as the Great New Zealand Trek, with three days riding, a day's rest then three more days riding for each leg.

Of course each leg took more than a week. As each year's starting point moved south she would have to leave home earlier and earlier to get there in time, particularly once it hit the South Island, raising the prospect of delays in crossing Cook Strait (which she vowed she would not be crossing again; if her South Island trekking friends wanted to involve her in a get-together they would have to come to the North Island).

Even without ferry delays, getting to and from each year's trek could be a mission. On one occasion she was stuck in Blenheim for two weeks while she waited for spare parts her Renault truck, the third vehicle she had used to carry Wildflower to the starting line and home again since 2006, to arrive from France.

With friends — and horse paddocks — ready to welcome her from one end of the country to the other that was no major problem though, and her daughters, who were at home looking after the farm (and the cats), seemed to cope alright.

Heather, or #65 as she was known on the trek (which was completed by around 50 riders, along with walkers and cyclists, said she had been one of a small Far North "gang," along with Lyn Wheeler, from Waipapa, aboard Morning Glory (known to her friends as Gloria), Jenny Harrison, once from Lake Ngatu but these days living in Rangiora, and Eileen Young, from Kerikeri, whose husband Rod made sure her horse truck was waiting for her at each day's destination.

Some days were more memorable than others, she said, none more so than the occasion when Wildflower stepped up from the guttering that she was following under the Clarence rail bridge outside Kaikoura, and squashed her against the upper structure.

She "buggered" a vertebra that day, but fortunately it was the last day of that year's leg.

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It probably wouldn't have stopped her had it been the first day. A knee replacement, seeing off breast cancer and shoulders that don't work quite as well as they once did didn't stop her, and she wasn't likely to give in to a back injury.

She also had some kind words for Wildflower, who came into her possession at the age of around 3 weeks after she was found, motherless, in Te Hiku (Aupouri) Forest. Heather assumed the mother had been shot and the rest of the herd had moved on, leaving the foal stuck on the other side of a fence.

Bottle-feeding soon got her up and running, but she was "as wild as a little March hare," and age — she is now 18 — had not cured her of all her faults.

"She's got a lot of bad habits," Heather said.

"She is not an easy horse. You really have to ride her. She takes no prisoners. She's a tough little thing."

Whatever her vices, she had marched every step of the 2588km from go to whoa, and had contributed hugely to cherished memories for her owner.

"I've made some wonderful friends," Heather said.

"It's been an experience that I would not have missed for anything."