If you had told me 4 years ago that I would be working as a Horse Trekking guide in the stunning Dart Valley near Queenstown, New Zealand, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’d been to university, got the degree and landed what I though was the ‘dream job’. I was making good money and adapting to city life and all the perks of being a young professional. But after just 2 years of the 9-5, I started to get a feeling down in my shoes and realised it was a severe case of itchy feet.
I wanted to be outside, and in the words of Bilbo Baggins, one of my many inspirations for choosing New Zealand, “I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, Mountains!“. So I booked a one-way ticket to New Zealand, and after two years of living in the land of the long white cloud, I haven’t looked back.
I started off with a bus tour through both islands; it was my first time travelling alone so I was nervous about just turning up without a plan. The tour was a great way to meet people and we saw all the usual touristy sights and incredible scenery that NZ has to offer, I figured I would just enjoy the tour and then go back to the place I liked the most to find a job.
Becoming a horse trekking guide was pretty straight forward. When I arrived in Queenstown I knew it was where I wanted to be; I went into the i-site (tourist information centre), found a leaflet for a local trekking company, called them up and asked for a job. Simple as that. The next day I went for a trial and the day after that I started as a full time Guide.
I have always been a rider and horses have been a pretty big part of my life, but I never imagined that I could get paid to ride through arguably some of the most beautiful scenery in the world every day.
I would spend between 4-6 hours a day in the saddle, riding through the Dart and Rees Valleys, but that was usually the easiest part of the job. The real tough part was looking after the horses; grooming, feeding, tacking up, un-tacking, cleaning gear… so at the end of a 10-11 hour day it could be pretty tough going, but the riding makes it all worth it. The clients are usually happy since they’re on holiday, so as long as you can judge their riding ability to keep the ride safe and entertain them with facts and commentary then you’re usually in for a good ride.
Like any job there are bad points; rude customers, difficult managers and miserable weather conditions. No job is perfect. My first summer there was the best summer of my life. We had a great team, great weather and beeeaaaautiful scenery. I will never forget cantering along the river beds through the lupin flowers, with mountains rising up all around me, crossing the crystal clear glacial rivers and looking in awe at mother nature at her finest.
For about 4 months I lived in a house-bus about 100m away from the shore of Lake Wakatipu, with no heating, no tv, an outside toilet and incredible views of the mountains. We would spend our days off hiking in the mountains and kayaking down the rivers and on the lake. There was a feeling of absolute freedom, and a laid back atmosphere that I’ve never experienced anywhere else.
It didn’t take long to adapt to an outdoor job and the lifestyle did great things for my health. I was fitter, stronger, healthier and happier in myself. Even my eyesight improved (I wear contact lenses) and my optician said it because I was focussing more on distant scenery than on a computer screen!
For anyone who thinks they may want to quit their job to get and explore the world, do it!
I’ve met a lot of travellers over the last 2 years and I’m pretty confident that nobody is thinking ‘Man, I wish I was still sitting in my office all day!’. Don’t get me wrong, it requires a little bit of planning and saving up some money definitely helps, but it’s nowhere near as scary or expensive as people think it is. I saved up enough for the flight, the initial bus tour and and some savings so I could buy a car when I settled but then I got a job, so you don’t need thousands in the bank to make it work. You also make the best friends travelling! A lot of people are in the same position, they turn up knowing nobody and want to go on awesome adventures, so you find friends fast, and in my experience they’re going to be friends for life.
So make sure you live a life where you can look back and say ‘I’ve just had the best two years of my life’, and if you can’t, do something about it….
You can follow my adventures on Instagram @s_biddles.nz