Bicentennial National Trail – South to North Adventure


It was a dark Ballarat morning and even the Rooster had not yet stirred as a white 4 WD with a 4 WD campervan attached, followed by a big white 5 horse truck, (carrying 5 horses!) called “Suzie” pulled out of the Stabeuz driveway!

5.10 am – right on schedule!

And so, the adventure began!  Antonio has had a dream for many years of traveling the Bicentennial National Trail on horseback. We first discussed it with Karen and Gavin Stabeuz over 3 years ago, and a plan was hatched.  They were able to take leave from their employment although Gav (our wonder backup man) still oversees his business from WiFi and phones!  The joys of modern living.

From modern living to pioneering and camping rough!  Not that rough mind you, but camping every night none the less.


The BNT is known to be the longest marked, non-motorised, self reliant trekking route in the world and was officially opened by RM Williams in 1988.

Spanning 5,330 kilometres from Healseville, Victoria to Cooktown in Far North Queensland it is a combination on old coach, stock and pony express routes, old pack horse trials, country roads and DSC07153country towns with a focus on highlighting the lives of Australias’ early settlers and pioneers.  The trail is as diverse as it is interesting.

Largely bush the track traverses farmland, 18 of Australias’ National Parks, wilderness and mountain areas and encompasses a wonderful sample of Australias’ most spectacular scenery from lush tropical rainforests, rugged mountains, valleys, gorges and rivers, remote dry plains, alpine meadows and snowfields.

As of today we have spent 2 weeks on the trial and looking back it seems to have evaporated in a moment but on further reflection could provide the material for 30 books.

To be interested in a journey like this, of course, you have to love 4WDing and horseriding . That is being on a horses back for 5-6 hours a day.  A practice that can become quite meditative – the melodic sound of 20 hooves walking along and hitting the gravel, even the faster paced click or lope of the trot and canter!  There is something awesome and comforting about spending so much time in the company of our horses.  Mostly sensible, our 4 legged friends carry us without complaint to the best of their ability.  Trusting us as we trust in them.  There is a union.


Our 5 horses need to become a “family” and joining our 3 with Karens 2 has ensured there is some sorting amongst themselves to determine their respective  positions in the herd.

We two legged creatures have also gone about a bit of jostling !! I always expected our first week to be full of teething problems; our first month a matter of settling in and the remainder of the journey sitting back and enjoying the scenery.  The early stages certainly require some patience and goodwill.  Blending together 4 different ways of doing things around camp, what to pack, what to bring, what to keep and where to pack it. How best to cater to the horses needs; groom, rest, water, feed. Bit by bit systems are falling into place and bit by bit we all get to know and appreciate each other.

Antonio has ridden all the Victorian section of the BNT and in 2009 we rode the last 10 days of it together with all we needed on the back of our pack horse, Rocky!  I fell in love with the adventure, the planning, the challenge.  Packing and unpacking, traveling so light as to have nothing excessive but ensuring we had everything we need.  Combining the use of navigation, maps, GPS and BNT guide books information to ensure we rarely got lost or went any further out of our way than we had to .

The dynamic of a longer trip is similar but more complicated.  Having a car and Gavin, prepared to drive each day to meet us at the end of ride is amazing, but of course we have and need more “stuff!!”  5 horses require more gear and more food.


Its not a trip for the feint hearted and is truly a “working” holiday.  Jobs around camp just never seem to end and no sooner have we unpacked we seem to be packing up again.  As Antonio says, the holiday begins when we get on the horse and just have to sit there.

As the focus is so much on the practicality of each days needs, the landscape and day to day incidents of the previous day and week fade quickly and remain to be savored at the end via photos, blogs and diaries.


What is etched in our minds as we go though, is the kindness of people we meet. Australia is a wonderful country full of wonderful open hearted people.  It’s a little surprising to me re the old cliche about country people.  It’s true.  They do seem happier, have more time, more willing to help.

The BNT is a linked chain of official volunteers and stems out to locals who sometimes don’t even know of the BNT but are willing and able to help.  Our official co-ordinators for the sections we have rode have been more than generous with their time and advice.  Jenny (& Hilary) even rode with us the first few camps, Leanne left her Artists trail day (she sculpts from farm refuse!) to visit us with maps advice and tomatoes and potatoes.

A friend of Karens welcomed us into her home and entertained us with jaw dropping stories of her work in a senior government position and introduced us to the “pet” kangaroo that visits most night to sit by her fire before going out and spending the day with her kangaroo mob friends!! Others volunteer places to leave our truck which leaps frogs along with us as we go.

DSC07284 DSC07136

The trail is littered with characters.  We met a bunch of guys camping from Sydney with their horses.  One of them riding in a saddle made in 1897!!

I do love the orienteering aspect of the journey.  Following maps, books and GPS, often calling on all resources to find the clues to know which direction to take.  Its very satisfying to make it accurately to camp even though I have made a couple of blunders so far, (without major consequences), I am getting better at it.

It’s journey to be in love with ……………. and such an active journey.  That dog tired feeling at the end of the day, hitting at the sack almost with the sun and rising again as it rises. The fulfilling of each days plan is, well, very fulfilling!


8 Comments on “Bicentennial National Trail – South to North Adventure”

  1. Joy Duncan says:

    Can not wait for the rest of your trip, it sounds great.

  2. jo clayton says:

    Wow – great journal and a fantastic idea of what each day brings.

    Keep safe girlfriend and love to you all.


  3. Frances Harris says:

    God Denise this sounds amazing – what an extraordinary adventure. I know you will all enjoy it too the max!! Can’t remember my password to comment directly onto the blog so replying here.
    Keep living the good life.
    Glenn and I are happy as Larry this end and looking forward to Cath ing up with Ann this Tuesday. We’ll miss you but toast your endeavors.

    Love to you and Antonio
    Fran – kisses for you both and some extra ones for your ponies xxxxxxx

    Sent from my iPad

  4. Birgit & Arturo says:

    Wow, we are impressed to be able following even your outback adventure.
    Thanks to the modern world of IC-Technology, we can share to some extend your experiences on this outstanding trekking route.
    Compliments to Antonio’s outfit.
    He must look like an earlier pioneer with this magnificent trapper hat.
    We’d love to learn more about the BNT and the experiences that you are gathering on the trail.
    What’s about snakes, scorpions, tarantulas and other kinds of beasts?

    Ciao et alla prossima volta 🙂


    P.S.: Birgit got her new crucial ligament implanted – here knee looks great, like the one of a prima ballerina :);)

  5. Liz fowler says:

    I love living my life through your adventures. Keep the stories coming Denise.

  6. valda knight says:

    Hi Guys,Truly amazing and your writing is wonderful Denise. The home range is well cared for and just as you left it. Love from your friend Valda (and Noel)

    Date: Sun, 24 Mar 2013 00:20:58 +0000 To:

  7. Hop along Gigi says:

    Awesome ! Great photos again and an amazing story. Can’t wait for the next chapter

  8. Ann O'Brien says:

    Hi Denise and Antonio,
    What an incredible adventure you are embarking on, the countryside looks so quiet and appealing! Your writing brings the day to day happenings beautifully to life.
    Lovely catching up with Fran last night – we were thinking of you.
    Keep enjoying the journey.

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