An Unforgettable Adventure: Two Women, Three Horses, and a Journey of 932 Miles in Four Months

In an incredible tale that could easily be mistaken for a Hollywood movie, two women have recently recounted their unforgettable adventure on horseback, which took them across a staggering distance of 932 miles in New Zealand.

Nicole Kumpfmueller, 27, and Karolin van Onna, 31, embarked on an extraordinary adventure, riding alongside their trusty horses Moose, Rasta, and packhorse Alex. Together, they embarked on a remarkable three-and-a-half month journey spanning the entire length of the South Island of New Zealand.

Popular destinations are being overwhelmed by over-tourism, which is causing concerns about personal safety and environmental degradation. While these places may not live up to the picture-perfect first-class getaways we often see on social media, the reality is far from glamorous.

In recent times, certain measures have been implemented in various tourist destinations to address the challenges posed by mass tourism. For instance, Kyoto in Japan has taken the step of restricting tourists from entering specific neighborhoods. Similarly, access to the iconic Machu Picchu Inca trail has been limited to 500 permits per day. Additionally, in an effort to preserve its unique charm, Venice has prohibited large tour groups from visiting the city due to concerns related to its gradual sinking.

Kumpfmueller and Van Onna’s travel style stands in stark contrast to the conventional. They deliberately veer off the beaten path, always seeking out unique and unconventional experiences.

New Zealand’s travel and tourism industry played a crucial role in the country’s economic recovery following the pandemic. By the end of the financial year 2023, there was a significant rebound in the number of international visitor arrivals, surpassing 2.2 million compared to the previous year. However, this surge in tourism also presents a range of challenges.

In 2021, the tourism agency of the country initiated a campaign with the aim of discouraging influencer-style photoshoots at popular tourist destinations.

Comedian Tom Sainsbury starred in a humorous advertisement that cautioned against the dangers of “traveling under the social influence.”

In an effort to ensure the safety of tourists, there has been a growing concern regarding the dangerous risks people take in the pursuit of capturing the perfect vacation photo. This includes activities such as dangling from dangerous heights or walking along deserted highways.

The tourism board also aimed to inspire individuals to explore unique experiences beyond the popular trends.

The friends’ trip is definitely one for the books. It all started with a deep conversation between two friends, who happen to be from Germany but crossed paths in Cromwell, New Zealand.

“I’ve been living in New Zealand for eight years now, and I run a horse tracking business. Horse riding has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember,” Van Onna shared with Newsweek.

They hit it off instantly when they first met six years ago, bonding over their shared dream of exploring the country on horseback.

“We were captivated by the idea of exploring New Zealand on horseback,” Van Onna reminisced. “We would often discuss it, dreaming about the day when we would turn that idea into reality.”

Kumpfmueller chuckled as he recalled, “Initially, it was just a joke, but soon enough, it turned into something more serious.”

They decided to put their jobs on hold and, with the help of Kumpfmueller’s boyfriend Sam who documented their adventure, embarked on a journey that was both incredible and challenging.

The adventure brought to mind the courageous cowboys of the American West, who would travel great distances on horseback, carrying all their necessary supplies.

The cowboy aesthetic is currently experiencing a surge in popularity within the fashion and popular culture realms. This can largely be attributed to Beyoncé’s venture into country music.

After her stand-out Super Bowl single release, searches for items like “cowboy hat” on Google saw a significant increase of 215.5 percent. Similarly, searches for “cowboy boots” also experienced a notable surge of 163 percent.

However, the truth is not as glamorous as it may seem. Instead, it involves muddy trails and nights spent sleeping in a tent, which is quite different from the picturesque image we often associate with it.

The journey of a lifetime, riding between 10 and 18 miles a day, pushed their resilience to the limit as they embarked on an adventure with their skilled trekking horses.

“When we embarked on this journey, we knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but we were unaware of the specific obstacles that lay ahead,” Van Onna shared. “We approached it with a sense of adventure, even though we lacked experience in Backcountry riding. We had meticulously planned our route and sought advice from seasoned riders, but we were still venturing into uncharted territory.”

As they went along, the duo acquired skills on the fly, from coaxing hesitant horses to navigate river crossings to mastering the art of reading maps and setting up tents.

One of the most memorable challenges along the route was encountered near Mt Hutt and Lake Heron in the South Island. It involved navigating dense forests, scaling steep mountain passes, and braving unpredictable weather conditions.

They encountered swampy terrain, which prolonged their expected two-day journey to five days.

“It was an enormous swamp, and the horses were sinking up to their butts. It felt like a never-ending nightmare,” reminisced Kumpfmueller. “We had to navigate our way up treacherous mountains and then descend again.”

During their journey spanning over 932 miles, the friends found accommodation in various places, including setting up their tent on hillsides and taking breaks at some of New Zealand’s high country stations.

In farming and rural areas, these stations have a rich colonial history and are primarily used for raising animals such as sheep, deer, and cattle. Interestingly, many of these stations also offer on-site accommodation for seasonal workers, which the friends were fortunate enough to take advantage of during their journey.

Van Onna expressed her admiration for the people of New Zealand, highlighting their incredible hospitality. He was pleasantly surprised by their warm and welcoming nature, which exceeded his expectations. When asked about his favorite aspect of the experience, Van Onna immediately recalled the remarkable hospitality shown by the people of New Zealand.

The trip shares similarities with “Tracks,” a book and film that was initially inspired by Robyn Davidson’s National Geographic article.

In 1977, Davidson embarked on an extraordinary journey through the vast outback of Australia, covering a staggering distance of 1,700 miles. Accompanied solely by four camels and her loyal companion, Diggity the dog, she ventured into the rugged and unforgiving wilderness.

Van Onna expressed that they had spent an extensive amount of time together, emphasizing that they were practically inseparable for three and a half months. They were in constant proximity, spending every hour of the day together, which was an experience they had never encountered before, even with a romantic partner.

As they journeyed across the South Island, Van Onna and Kumpfmueller’s friendship blossomed. However, they have no plans to embark on another long expedition across an island in the near future.

Van Onna expressed her thoughts on her previous experience, stating that she wouldn’t repeat the same thing but would love to return for further exploration. She mentioned that it would be exciting to venture through the North Island on horseback, allowing them to claim that they have covered the entirety of New Zealand in this unique way. Although it is not currently part of their plans, she hinted that it may be a possibility in the future, emphasizing the unpredictable nature of life.

“But on the flip side, it did give us a sense of strength and the realization that we are capable of achieving anything when we set our minds to it. It’s empowering to know that you have the ability to accomplish whatever you put your mind to,” she added.

As they reflect on their journey, Kumpfmueller ponders, “When we look back and discuss it now, we often wonder, how did we manage to accomplish this? How did we survive?”

Correction, as of March 18, 2024, at 6 a.m. Eastern Time, the story has been updated to rectify the error regarding the number of miles traveled, which is 932.

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MBS Staff
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