North Island, New Zealand in the 1870s. George Meredith signed on “to help take a mob of cattle through to Napier, where there is a demand for store-cattle for fattening purposes.” The herd was driven north along the coast because, in the absence of inland roads, that was the easiest route available at the time. On his return, Meredith wrote to his family in Tasmania.
We had a great trip with the cattle. It was risky swimming them over the rivers. If the cattle fail to make for the opposite bank the leaders may turn back and start “ringing” in midstream, the cattle in the middle of the ring being forced under water and drowned. At first it is difficult to get a clean swim-over; but the mob soon gets used to it. One of the first camping-places was Castle Point. Here there is a wonderfully flat beach over a mile long, on which races are often held. It makes an ideal racecourse, but must be rather distressing for the horses, as there is no elasticity in sand.
‘Adventuring in Maoriland in the Seventies’. G.L. Meredith. Angus & Robertson Ltd, Sydney. 1935.
The tradition continues today, weather and beach conditions permitting. The Castlepoint Racing Club holds one meeting a year in March – this Saturday (11th) if you’re in the area. Meredith needn’t have worried about the horses’ welfare. Races are run on wet sand, between tides, and they show no more discomfort than on any other soft track as they come thundering down the beach.
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