Experiencing Pakiri Beach on horseback is an ideal way to spend a summer's day.
City dwellers might not easily equate what they have in the big smoke with the joys of riding a horse along a white sand ocean beach, but the reality is that a mere 90 minutes from Auckland, pleasures like this are there for the taking.
Pakiri Beach Horse Rides has been around since 1981, and today has more than 60 horses to suit riders of all sizes and abilities. Mine, on a glorious Saturday in early summer, was called Beckham. A placid skewbald gelding, he loves his position behind his pal Ronaldo and when number three, large lolloping Joe, decides to try his luck and push in, he gets well and truly told off. Likewise Ronaldo knows he's number one and woe betide either Beckham or Joe if they forget it.
My long-distant pony club days could be used to exert authority over Beckham's love of Ronaldo's flank position, but in the end everything is too beautiful to do anything except sit quietly and enjoy the scenery. Pakiri Beach, for those who have never been there, is worth a visit simply because it feels so remote. With little shelter along its 13km length, sunglasses, sunblock and long sleeves are recommended, but the extraordinary colour of the water and the dazzling white of the sand somehow add to the feeling you could be a million miles from anywhere, rather than just a few kilometres from the busy shores of the nearby Goat Island Marine Reserve.
About halfway into our two-hour ride we turn up into the dunes and at our guide Sue's suggestion venture into a canter. Poor Steve, pounding along on good old Joe at the rear, is feeling it and even my long-atrophied calf muscles know they are working hard.
But all becomes peaceful again as we wend our way through the dunes under pines and down the bank into the tidal stream that cuts through the farmland leading back to the yards. The horses enjoy this cool off and so do we as we pull our boots up out of the water and look forward to something equally cool back on the shady porch at the PBHR's own cafe.
A quick drink and we head onward to lunch at the Leigh Sawmill Cafe. Known for its live music and friendly accommodation as much as for its micro brewery and restaurant facilities, this has been a local institution since it was converted from a fully functioning sawmill in 1995. Relaxing in its peaceful garden, each with a beer brewed just over the fence and a gourmet pizza in front of us, we reminisce about memorable nights spent there over the years and vow to not to let another decade go by before we return for more rides just up the road.
* Pakiri is 90km north of Auckland and takes approximately 1 hours from central Auckland with a short stretch of gravel road to negotiate at the end.
* Pakiri Beach Horse Rides: Taurere Park, Rahuiriri Rd, Pakiri Beach, ph (09) 422 6275. Rides vary from two to six hours to seven days. Two-hour ride $110, half-day ride $165. All are accompanied by an experienced mounted guide. Horses of all sizes and friskiness are available, but there is a 100kg weight maximum. No children under 5 allowed on beach rides although paddock rides are available for them. horseride-nz.co.nz
* Leigh Sawmill Cafe and Accommodation: 142 Pakiri Rd, Leigh, ph (09) 422 6019. sawmillcafe.co.nz Pakiri Beach Horse Rides has more than 60 horses, for all levels of riders; after your exertions, refuel at the cafe.