First to See the Sun: Sunrise in TikiTiki

Sam nudges me awake at a quarter to six. The sky is dark and I fumble blindly around for a sweatshirt. I follow him and Alex to the stable, where we collect the horses: Major, Daisy and Wai, an older mare Ill be riding. We mount them quickly and set off.

We dont want to miss the sun.

I was in the middle of a month-long roadtrip around New Zealands North Island and Id just entered the remote East Coast, known famously as the first place in the world to see the sunrise. I was running behind, as it so easily happens on the road when the best-laid plans of our itineraries go awry. The night before, Id located Eastender Backpackers, one of only two anywhere near where I was.

Just inside the fence, five figures sporting cowboy hats were lounging around a fire pit. Had I somehow stumbled upon the Wild West of New Zealand? I joined them as stars appeared above and I made an off-handed remark that the only thing missing was a guitar. Miraculously, one was produced from inside the lodge. Acoustic strumming soon filled the air.

We slept outside, raiding the dormitories for thin mattresses and old duvets from which to build cocoons of warmth for ourselves. Sam donned a headlamp and cut a stock of firewood to last us through the night. We built piles in front of everyone, so that no one would have to get up. I fell asleep tracing the four points of the Southern Cross.

The stars were gone now, I noticed, my hips moving in sync with Wais steps. We reached the top of the cliff just in time to see the sun break over the horizon. There wasnt a cloud in sight, just an endless ocean set ablaze, and the primeval cliffs glowing, their distant hills shrouded in the mist of early mornings. We watched the sunrise still on horseback, the moment augmented by the knowledge that we were the first in the world to witness this.

Sam heads down a path that seems too steep to be safe until were suddenly on the gloriously deserted beach. You ready for this? he asks. He waits until were side by side and then takes off down the beach, before I can manage to protest.

Wai is harder to get going. Give her a kick! Sam yells out. I stand up in the saddle, digging my heels into her side, and soon Im flying. My fingers clutch Wais mane like the fear surging through my chest.

Cmon, get into it! Sam shouts.

Yah! Yah! I scream at the top of my lungs and soon Im laughing, soaring through the surf on a cantering horse, imagining that I alone am responsible for ushering in this sun.

As we said goodbye back at the camp, youd have thought wed known each other for years. In reality, it was just over twelve hours.

But thats one half a day Ill not soon forget.

C Rardon

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