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Saddle up with Korohe Horse Treks: a family adventure

From the start, John and Sammii Ellis anticipated their Korohe Horse Trekking business would embrace all their offspring. However, they did not expect to gain more than a dozen extra family members along the way.

The couple is adamant every one of their steeds is considered part of the whānau (family), alongside children Makaia, Jade, Wiremu and Whiri Ellis.

“What gives me joy is knowing the bond we have with family and animals and the land,”

John Ellis

“That’s very big for us. We’ve always cared a lot about the welfare of our horses, but we’re more in tune with the animals now. We understand their needs even better, and I feel the animals are wanting to be with us more.”

Like children

He says gates are now left open on the rural property, and resident horses are free to come and go as they please. Sometimes, a horse will disappear for a month, then willingly return to its paddock.

“That’s the kind of relationship we have now, our animals are our babies. We’ve been learning about body mechanics, what they’re capable of, the impact different riders can have on their bodies, making sure we’re reading what they’re kind of telling us. We know them the way we know our kids.”

Both Makaia and Jade Ellis can greet guests before guiding them on any of the treks that begin next to the family home. The girls will gently coax less confident visitors, monitor safety, share local history, inject fun for younger visitors and canter along the ‘need for speed’ trail with more experienced riders. Younger brother Wiremu has been helping to catch and train horses since age seven, while youngest sibling Whiri can feed and water with the best of them.

Unique, genuine experience

The children are also mastering te reo Māori language skills while learning to run a family business that was built from scratch.

The couple started in 2017, with a few saddles gifted by whānau. They handpicked, caught and trained wild horses, erected fences, construct an office shelter for guests and still manage all the marketing and website demands themselves.

“It’s a unique, genuine experience,” John says of their visitor offering. “Nothing is faked. It’s personal, we don’t take large groups and we really take our time with people. And we love entertaining people.”

Sammii was a confirmed city dweller when her husband convinced her to move back to his birthplace, to live in the house his Ngāti Hine great great grandfather built behind Korohe Marae.

Sense of belonging

John grew up in the tiny village north of Tūrangi, surrounded by whānau who taught him to ride as soon as he could walk. He was raised with the Kaimanawa range and Tongariro National Park to his back and the lake out front, though he spent far more time in the trout-filled Waimarino River.

His children swim in the same river and visiting horse trekkers crisscross the waterway on riding trails that weave through 10,000ha of native forest, pine plantation and iwi land where herds of wild horses roam.

Sammii has come to feel as much at home on this land as her husband.

“I love it, it changes every day,” Sammii says.

“I have a real sense of belonging here. Whenever I go away and come back and see pine trees, my heart feels better.”

Sammii Ellis

Giving back

She has seen her children develop new skills and confidence and claims no one ever tires of being on a horse.

“Even after work, we say ‘what do you want to do’ and they’ll say ‘let’s go for a ride.”

At weekends, the entire family regularly competes in horse sports days and John helps other horse owners who are having trouble with their animals.

The Ellises are immersed in their community; he coaches childrens’ rugby teams, she helps at the local kōhanga reo (Māori language children’s education centre). They have also worked to clear weeds on their property and around the village. They volunteer at the marae, chop firewood for their neighbours and share fish and deer from John’s hunting trips. Their business donates to local sports clubs and a health organisation.

“When you give, you get back a lot of love,” he says.

“We know the horse trekking has had a total positive impact here, it’s put Korohe on the map in a good way. People are seeing this place for how beautiful it is.”

John Ellis

Five tips for family fun in Tūrangi

Once you’ve done your horse trek, what else is on offer in the Tūrangi area? The Ellis whānau offers some inside tips for families and the young at heart.

1) Tongariro National Trout Centre. We often take the kids down there. It’s the educational side and then the fun of actually hooking a trout, then having them cook it. The guides do a great job, and there’s always plenty of family banter at the end, over who caught the biggest one.

2) Tūrangi Dairy. This is the place to get hot chips, and they do really big ice creams in the cone. And great milkshakes.

3) Bike the Tongariro River Trail. It’s a really cool ride. It’s scenic, not too hard for a family, a good length. You get the river, farmland, the edge of town and just one slightly tricky little hill and you have to take the kids across both swing bridges.

4) Swim in Lake Taupō. One of our favourite spots is at Ani Miria. There’s a reserve where you can put a gazebo up and it’s a nice sandy spot that’s safe for kids.

5) Horse sports days. Look out for these events that run through the summer spring, summer and autumn, all round the area. There are at least two a month and spectators are welcome. Just look out for big gathering and lots of horses.

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