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Jeanette McKay is no stranger to heading for the hills for days on end.

Thirty years ago she took part in the inaugural cavalcade — a three-day-trek retracing the Cobb & Co Coach’s journey from Dunedin to the Dunstan Goldfields via the Dunstan Trail.

Today the 77-year-old is still riding her trusty stead through the region’s back country ahead of what would have been her 30th cavalcade.

News of the cancellation of this years’ event due to the spread of Covid-19 breaks her run but it is likely Mrs McKay will be back for more when normal transmission resumes.

‘‘I’ve done every one — I’ve got all the badges to prove it.’’

But this year she had planned a shorter trail — while still fit and in reasonable health, seven days on horseback is hard on the body.

‘‘I can’t do what I used to do and I have to come to terms with that, but I have a really good horse — I probably couldn’t do it without him,’’ she said.

Having grown up in Danseys Pass, riding is in her blood, so when the opportunity came to ride the first cavalcade she jumped at the chance.

‘‘I’ve always liked trekking in the hills — it’s better than practising going round in circles.’’

She packed a chaff sack with bedding and food — there were no support crews back then — and headed to Middlemarch for the start of the trail.

The trek left Rocklands Station and ended in Cromwell three days later.

More than 220 people joined on horseback, wagons and carts, gigs and buggies, and bunked down in woolsheds as they went.

‘‘We had quite a variety of riders . .. it was quite exciting.’’ However it was not all smooth riding in the beginning. The first morning riders set out, one of the carriages struggled to get up a hill and tipped, and poor weather caused some riders to develop hypothermia. Mrs McKay came across a woman soaking wet and freezing — and extremely happy to see another woman. She gave the woman her sleeping bag to help warm her up, leaving it wet for the rest of the trip.

‘‘Hypothermia. I didn’t even know about it and that was early in the piece,’’ she said.

Badges of honour . . . Jeanette McKay displays her badges showing 29 years of riding the Gold› fields Cavalcades. PHOTO: SHANNON THOMSON

Despite the rough start, Mrs Mckay talks fondly of the adventure.

There were ‘‘hoolies’’ (parties) in the Styx jail and hold›ups from primary school child ‘‘bandits’’ hoping for a gold coin, as well as many, many yarns.

‘‘We didn’t know 30 years later we would still be going.’’

A love of the hills, the riding, the adventure, the people — it is hard for Mrs McKay to pinpoint a single reason why she continues to return to the cavalcade.

‘‘It’s the country you see, the stations I’ve trekked on.

‘‘You would not get to see them otherwise, and riding the gold trails — there’s some wonderful hill country around. They’re usually closed and you can’t get to them anymore.

‘‘And you meet people from all walks of life, share their stories, so many fantastic horses.

‘‘It was a real adventure,’’ she said.

‘‘Anybody who has a passion for something understands how it is, you know.

‘‘You get the butterflies and the heart goes . . .I love it.’’

Anger, grief as cavalcade is called off