10 Day Pack Horse Trip
Pack Saddle Adventure
Knockwood to Dargo
Denise & Antonio
Day 1 – 3
We have just completed our 3rd day of riding and I sit to reflect so far. I have created my first sitting position that includes some back support (clothes bag, two rolled rain coats, a natural ledge and a large canvas covering all – sure beats those 3 legged stools) in the only bit of shade I can find. It’s HOT today. Goodness knows what the temperature is but its lovely to be at camp, off the horses. I am watching them nightlined in the shade, river to my right. Tony working fixing up yards. At the moment life is good, we’ve just had coffee and cheese and salami crackers. At the moment life is good, but you need to be careful when you say that, as is the nature of adventure, things can change on a dime.
The night before our departure I began to feel a little anxious, what had I signed up for? Was I fit enough, strong enough, a good enough horse person. The months, especially weeks before the detailed planning and preparation had taken my mind off the actual reality of what we were going to embark on and then there was the distraction of packing. Once all that was done I started cleaning, the house (done), the barn (done) the float!!!! Surely the horses need to travel in a nice clean float?
At the end here was nothing to do but go to bed, awake and embark.
Up at 4 am we did the final load, put the horses in and went to pick up Bob our friend who was driving us to Knockwood. We had adapted our large 2 horse angle float to carry the 3 horses which was a very convenient and practical, if not a little crowded, option to get there. Bob was to drop us at Knockwood and leave!!!! The trip began. We drove via Warburton, Matlock, Woods Point etc. DO NOT EVER GO THAT WAY WITH A FLOAT. The road is slow, narrow, winding and gravel. It was stressful for me worrying about how the horses would be coping in this rough 5.5 hr haul. Still we made it. A few bite marks on Beauty compliments of Rocky and all the horses seemed okay. We unloaded and as planned, Bob drove away.
Mmmmm……………. My silence was noted by Tony as I looked around at our livelihood for the next 10 days strewn over the campground. I was feeling truly DAUNTED and could have burst into tears. Alas, Tony’s consoling and my common sense kicked in, the long trip, the early rise, the short sleep the day before, I was feeling tired and emotional. Surely things will look better soon.
We made camp our home laying things out into rooms so Tony didn’t have to keep asking, where is the toothbrush?? Where are the cups??? “In the kitchen I could answer.”
We had a tack room on a rope, an ingenious idea of that man of mine, rope between 2 trees, tack on top covered with tarp. We had the kitchen and the bathroom. We had a large yard for the horses, and a river/creek free flowing fresh water. We also had cryovac Salmon cooked a la Tony and veg. Things were looking better already.
After dinner we went for an evening stroll that took us to the beginning of our first BNT track. All clear and easy to find, in both BNT books and our trusty Roof tops maps. Great start.
Our first pack up was a bit slow – 2 ½ hrs from wake to ride out. WE would defiantly need to improve on that. Before long I was stressed again. Day 1, Lazarini Spur, is extremely steep, long and hard work for the horses. Sweating and puffing they gradually inched their way up and up and up. In no time they learned each little flat section meant rest. The moment Beauty’s front feet would hit the flat she would stop. Often ahead of the others she was ready to leave as they arrived so she had to learn to wait to give them a rest as well. Finally our track flattened out a bit and we saw the hut on the right that signaled the water spring would be on our left. After giving the horses a drink we continued on one km to the camping spot. We were warned “beware the black ants” so we did and managed to make a yard big enough for the horses keep away from them as well. We settled in, built a small fire and decided to take the horses for a cool off and wash and to collect our water. There was a lesson at the spring. Don’t tie 3 horses to the same log, even if it looks strong enough. When they all decide to pull at the same time horses strength can win. Log moves, horses fall back on bums, get tangled. Could have been a major problem but fortunately we all survived. Once that drama was over it was back to camp hauling water.
Did I mention the horses escaping before Tony had time to finish the fence?? Or Tony being woken by the sound of Beauty’s hooves on the gravel road in the middle of the night (she had gotten herself out!), or the mystery car calling into the hut around midnight and driving away. Lack of water, black ants and incidents did not make this a camp to be fond of and we were very happy to be leaving the next day. Despite the fact that we had a yummy dinner, pan fried rack of lamb, the camp overall, scored a 1.5 out of 10.
Day two, Lazarini to Rumpffs, we were on to it, setting the alarm for 5.15 ride out at 7 am. The morning was a glorious ride, up a faint 4 wheel drive track through burnt stark bush, onto a clearly marked road and into the Barkly Jeep track. This was a steep rocky descent and we both elected to dismount and walk the horses down. The reward at the end is a lovely grassland of Rumpffs saddle. A bite to eat for all and we continued. We decided not to take the short cut into Rumpffs camp as advised by Kevin Bass. We could not find it anyway. The longer way was safe and easy. The long way added about 9 kms to the day and was very pleasant and stressfree. I’m feeling much better at this point. Rumpffs is a great camp. Flat and grassy and we had stashed some horse feed here the week before so horses are feeling much better too. The river is superb, there is even picnic table and chairs, and a loo.
Day 3, Rumpffs to Macalister River, saw an early rise again, on sunrise. An orderly camp pack up and off again. A slow continuous rise out of Rumpffs but steady enough to be quite kind on the horses. Clearly marked signs found it easily to Macalister river. GPS and BNT book differing by about 2 kms, and all in all an extra 4 by the time we found a camp. Arrived around 12.30 luckily as hot, hot, hot and tempers were beginning to match. Once past what might have been the first camp (no grass) on the Mac River the road/track, rises up from the river and we began to wonder if we would ever find something suitable on the river. The BNT book is not clear here about the best place to be. We persevered and found an ok camp on the river, no paddock to speak of, but great access to water and the first thing I did when unsaddling Beauty was to lead her, boots, clothes and all into the river. All seemed good until the reality of no grass for horses sunk in. Still it was too hot to consider heading off anywhere, we would have to make do. Very restless horses, we tried to settle them in their own small yards and ended up all on a nightline. We moved into the water and pretty well stayed there. Only one incident today was Tony getting his hammer in his saddle bag caught on the pack horse. It split open and by the time we realized quite a bit had been lost. Tony headed back on Zeus to have a look but Zeus was not interested in going anywhere and Tony turned back. Did I mention HOW HOT IT WAS.
Day 4, Macalister River – Pine Creek
Today was tough. About 2.5 kms from our camp last night was a camp made in Heaven!!!!! Easy access to a superb river, and very large flat grassy pasture of grass. Fires and floods have created a must add addition to the BNT book. GPS co-ordinate UTM UPS 55 H 0460561 5857981. If you are going that way, memorize that co-ordinate and don’t miss it. It would be the best possible preparation for the day ahead which is the beginning of …………Da Da Da Dummm.” The Butchers Country Track.” (Da Da Da Dummmm) It’s very steep for about 7-8 kms where we rose from 400 alt to 1200 alt. It’s also rocky and tough for the horses. Even leaving camp at 6.30 am the heat kicked in early. Finally arriving at the first sighting of Pine Creek was wonderful with fresh water for the horses but a brief stop ensued, thinking of our pack horse Rocky and the book suggested it was only 2 kms to the next camp. THIS IS NOT RIGHT, unless the suggested camp had gone. Next water was at least 4 km which is always a worry when you are not sure whether to keep going. Rooftops and Garmin GPS map say intermittent stream at this point. There was no grass to speak of for the horses and they could not settle. Water supply poor and murky with mosquito larva. Zeus worried us with a melt down and a bad case of muscle spasm, trying to roll and drop to the ground. Some quick action saw us employ our resources, Bute and Humidimix. This seemed to fix him quickly thankfully and he was back eating and annoying Beauty in a very short time.
As the day went on we found this to be a very unpleasant camp. Murky water, lots of mosquito larva. Tony made a huge yard for the horses, but all they did was walk in single file around its perimeter, walking, walking, walking. I had never seen this before, at the least we would have thought they would be too tired to keep walking. We think they just needed food. We moved them to a slightly better area and just had to watch them. We determined to rise really early (actually around 3.30 am), and departed as soon as the grey light was creeping through the bush…..5.30 am.
Day 5 Pine Creek to Mt Howitt
All in all, Pine Creek to Howitt Hut, the Butchers Country Track was better than I expected. Yes, long and undulating but a slow pace and cool weather from our early start made sure the horses hardly sweat. Tony walked on his feet, lots of this part of the trail, virtually all of the downs and many of the ups with the help of hanging on to the tail of Beauty or Rocky. Lots of horse grazing and human snacks along the way, inch by inch, we reached the Plain of Howitt. Open space, grass and friends. Howitt camp is great. A green grass 10 acre paddock, a water tank, picnic table and chairs……..a wonderful sight to my sore eyes and the hut the perfect shelter to layout all gear and food and take stock of what we needed for the last leg of our journey.
Best of all we were so fortunate to be going there at the same time as Kevin and Sally Bass and their friends Kerry and Daryl. We arrived whilst they were still out on their 9 hour day ride to trial for a forth coming ride. Once back, horses washed and fed, fires started and it was time to sit around and chat, have dinner and luxuriate in the fact we did not have to rise early and pack up camp and the horses did not need to see us all day. Kevin took us for a 5 km walk down our following days track. Dry River track. All I had heard was what a steep descent it was going to be and wondered how Beauty and I would cope. After a few nanna naps, general camp management, clothes washing etc, we all sat to Sally’s camp tables to a 3 course dinner except those of us who were too full from the delicious sage and butter pasta and BBQ corn beef (home grown by Daryl and Kerry) and veg.
A warm and very big thankyou to section coordinators Kevin and Sally Bass who not only delivered us a box of fresh food supplies and water (it was better than Christmas) their patience, time and invaluable knowledge given over numerous phone calls, was wonderful. The timing could not have been better that they happened to be at Mt Howitt when we were. They have made a great trip truly wonderful. Great also to share food, ideas, and campfire conversations with Kerry and Daryl (Did anyone mention smoking???)
Day 6 (after rest day) Mt Howitt to Wonnangatta
The Dry River creek track, (to Wonnangatta) with invaluable information from Kevin and Sally, who had ridden it 2 days previous, proved for me to be my favorite bit so far. I loved it. It’s a bit tricky but a wonderful local tour operator has marked the course with pink ribbons and yellow dots – thank heavens. Beauty did beautifully. At 6 years of age I didn’t know if she’s done anything so steep and challenging but following the steady careful footsteps of Zeus and Rocky we all made it safely to the bottom. Then it’s the lovely ride through some shoulder high river scrub to the 4 wheel drive track that leads to Wonnangatta homestead. We did get a bit confused in this area as there are a plethora of 4 wheel drives tracks and no BNT signs, but the trusty GPS set our minds at rest and we eventually found the loveliest campsite under 100 year old plus elm trees, Creek on one side, horse paddock on the other, we felt close to Heaven. It’s still very hot although we have cloud at the moment. I have a cut out bush made table and chair (my office) to write my notes and if I wasn’t so grubby I’d be perfectly content. I can cope with grubby. It’s a wonderful experience and only 3 days riding to go. I will be sad to finish. I most look forward, each day, to saddling Beauty and sitting on her lovely back. Tomorrow is a big day. Still steep bits up and down and the longest single day so far. Expected 32 km. But we have visited the rest of the way after our next camp at Pioneer Racecourse. We know where the water is and we know there is grass and we even have dropped hard feed for the horses if no one has pinched it, they will love that reintroduced to their diets.
Day 7 Wonnangatta to Pioneer
Today’s travel was not too bad. Wonnangatta to Pioneer. Probably expectations again. We knew it would be long. A fantastic “hooning” track for 10 km led us out of Wonnangatta. Taking us to the Humphrey River and a few river crossings later we headed up hill again. It was a long way. Totally missed the short cut turn into Pioneer. BNT notes and Garmin GPS both missed the track somehow. We made it finally in pretty good time. All 5 of us into the river for a cool and wash and now relaxing at camp. Heaps of grass and space for the horses who are happy with that. Its funny we know our way from here, we have driven here once on an earlier trip and once to drop horse feed. The bigger sense of adventure has gone but the relief of knowing the next camp spots are good is wonderful. What I won’t miss are horse unfriendly camps, where tired horses pace in single file around the electric fence. I won’t miss carting and sterilizing water every day. I will miss the calls of the birds, few of whom I recognize, the rivers and creeks, especially the rivers, and of sitting in my saddle everyday and the gentle rhythm of Beauty, Zeus and Rocky heading out along the trail. They have done everything we have asked of them and they have done us proud.
Day 8 – 9 Pioneer Racecourse to Grant to Dargo
Finally, we are home in Dargo, safe and sound, all in one pieces, enjoying the wonderful hospitality of Dargo. Horses are happy as hounds relaxing in the 20 acre grass paddock of local John and Rita, the water was hot, the coffee and company of local general store fantastic. Pioneer to Dargo was a great day. Thanks to Kevin for clearing the bridle trail it makes a beautiful and interesting shortcut to Talbotville. If we’d realized how short it was we may have continued and camped there the night before. It’s a great camping ground with access to grass and water. Through Talbotville we followed the Crooked River Rd to Grant. Well worth the diversions, 7 or so kms of river crossing, its not called Crooked River for no reason. AT 11 km from Pioneer we headed up Bull Town Spur track. Quite steep from 408 alt to 926 in 3 kms. But well worth cutting out the boring climb of McMillian Rd. We only confronted one vehicle and got to Grant in great time. Beware, the water in the Jewellery shop mine shaft is cold and even though horse were not too hot, poor Rocky gave himself a BIG tummy ache. Uncharacteristically he kept laying down, getting up and laying down. No other symptoms but we feared the worse and as we could get a vet, we did. A bad satellite connection call to Sally Bass got the message that we needed a vet and thanks to Sally, two hours later “Grant” arrived in Grant from Bairnsdale. A big pain injection saw Rocky recover quickly with no signs of a problem that night. The next day he was back to his perky self.
The final ride in to Dargo was wonderful. It was our first cool day and Sally and Kevin suggested following the Slippery Hill track all the way down the spur. Great track and travelling finally in town. All clean relaxing in a cabin and the pub feeling V civilized. After the first 2 days on the trail if you had asked me one work to sum up the trip thus far I would have said STRESSFUL in capital letters. Mostly I was worried about the horses coping and finding enough food and water for them. Well they all did beautifully, especially Beauty from a Biased mum. But she seriously looks in better condition than when we set out as she was a bit fat.
Now one word to describe it all would have to have three, “a wonderful adventure.” Kevin Bass summed it up on Mt Howitt when he said “its tough on the trails, but at the end, you will have the greatest sense of self satisfaction and achievement.” Kevin you were right……………..and what do you think we are doing right now. Planning our next trip of course. Dargo to Omeo to complete book 12, a short 3-5 day return journey. If we can do this, they say all this stretch of Victoria is the hardest of all, then we can do it all.
What an amazing asset the BNT is for Australia. Nearly 5400 kms, the longest continuous horse journey in the world. All condensed into 12 easy to read books, each detailing each day and directions to over 200 campsites. Each step to take laid out like a scouts orienteering exercise, ensuring leaving water each morning and arriving at water each night. We are very grateful to the Pioneers who started these tracks and those that have give them continued life.
Special thanks to BOB, Sally and Kevin, Daryl and Kerry, John and Rita and our wonderful steeds Beauty, Rocky and Zeus.
PS: Unfortunately I managed to delete ALL my photos and only have copies of a couple that had been printed! Very Sad