Crikey!!! After completing one and a half stories on average a week on our European adventure I figured a few Aussie tales would be a snap. But not only was power and internet access difficult to obtain ……. the real problem was I rarely had time to think!!
And now we are home! 6 weeks, just on 900 km on horseback and 40 different camp sights later, we feel fitter, stronger and maybe even a little wiser, with new friends along the BNT and lots of wonderful memories!!!
The Bicentennial National Trail is an adventure like no other. Incredibly, managed and maintained by a linked chain of volunteers it is 5330 kms of a little known, unique Australian asset. It’s easy to follow the trail once you have the books, set out like an orienteering program in meter x meter details with each days travel ending at a camping site with water. All of this section we traveled, able to be supported by 4 wd vehicle back up.
We never felt in danger or at risk in the natural elements like falling off precipitous edges of cliffs or crossing torrential rivers. We saw only one dead snake and I cannot remember a spider. Out of crocodile country there is not one predator we had to be afraid of. The main danger only presented itself in man made areas. The roads!!! On occasions having to manage 5 horses around blind corners with no kerb is something one would hope may be changed one day.
We began our section of the BNT 6 days ride south of Canberra through the Kosciuszko & Namadgi National Parks……. a horse riders playground with amazing sandy trails and tracks through stands of snowy white gums, camping areas, often with yards for the horses (much to our chief horse yard builders (Antonio) delight.)
The next section north of Canberra was completely different. We wove our way through historical and rural New South Wales riding through and often camping in the showgrounds of small, friendly, seemingly thriving townships linked by wide open farmland. We were often welcomed with a “Gyday – where you blokes headed?”
Historically, this countryside, quite close to Sydney, offered “good soil in a relatively safe climate” and attracted pioneering Australians. Stories of early pastoralists like John Macarthur (known as the founder of Australias wool industry) and his sons; the burgeoning growth of their estates in the 1820’s, built the hard way, with an axe and the backs of convict labour.
Surprisingly around Jenolan Caves, and almost all the way to Wallerawang, the landscape was dominated by pine plantations. National parks, government owned, turned over to Pine Plantations. Mile after mile of pine trees! Quite beautiful to ride through on a hot day when the trees are tall and scented and the ground underfoot soft for the horses. But an eyesore and blight on the horizon when freshly razed, as were many of the kilometers we rode around.
But the best was still to come. By far the most beautiful scenery we experienced was past the pines into the Wollomi and Gardens of Stone National Parks, as well as the Capertee Valley. This valley forms a canyon that is second in size only to the Grand Canyon and of course, provides some stunning scenery and incredible properties we had the privilege (as bonified BNTers) to ride through. We reveled in the consistency of soft trails, breath taking scenery and views. Natures growth often looked like “God” had employed a landscape gardener; bunches of “black boys”, stands of native conifers, hedges of maiden hair and fish bone fern.
And even more “townships,” like Glen Alice. Marked on the map, the center of the community boasts a CFA shed, a community hall (complete with stage, piano and kitchen), a “pressed metal” clad church, an ancient cemetery and brand spanking new Telstra phone box. In our 3 day stop over we met numerous locals, found a home for our lovely “River” who was finding the long days riding two difficult on his old joints, a horse to replace him (take him with you, try him out, if he does not work out – send him back!!!) – the lovely Wally, and new “best” friends – Julie and Warren, who not only provided a green paddock and dam for our four legged friends but kept visiting us with bountiful armfuls of produce from their garden and subsequent kitchen, baby tomotoes, silverbeet, quince paste, pasta sauce. Julie, clearly the “Maggie Beer” of the district!
Just one week later Julie and Warren were meeting us in Aberdeen to camp and catch up before we headed too far north. It so happened that Wally must have known. A six year old injury raised its head and we suggested they bring their float to take him home.
Fortunately we were in horse lovers country. Nearby Scone is the Headquaters for the Australian Stock Horse association. The King of the Ranges is an annual horse event for the district and the area continues the string of Thoroughbred studs we encountered since Widden. No longer were we camping in Showgrounds, they were now the Rodeo Grounds!
Serendipitously, no sooner had Wally left our little herd than Gavin, asking around the local pony clubbers, found us another horse – Darcy. Myff Hall had found Darcy a bit of a handful and her husband Ollie felt his ears prick up when he heard we needed a horse. Darcy would fit our bill perfectly. A horse that has a calm temperament but LOVES to work! In fact needs to work his “V8” engine, preferably daily. The terms were set. Again, “Take him with you, try him out, if he suits you can buy him, if not bring him back!” Nothing could be fairer than that and Antonio has since bonded with Darcy, and whilst River remains in the lush green paddocks to be ridden and loved by Julie, we now have a gorgeous new bay in our little horse family with Mix and Beauty.
The final stage of our trip was via the Hunter and Upper Hunter valley. I expected to see acres of vineyards and whilst they must exist in the Hunter, we instead, rode through and past Thoroughbred stud after Thoroughbred stud. Clearly a money making venture for some, these studs ooze money and we felt very privileged to trot along beside their valuable stallions and over their manicured roadsides.
Through much of our ride, we could also notice “the boom” and “the bust” times of this part of Australia. Remains of towns that existed, now either slowly falling apart or turned into something else. Wool and farming influencing early life before the Gold Rush bought thousands more prospectors. The now slower burning Coal Rush, one of the biggest employers through these districts and controversially not only taking farmers off the land to work in them, but taking farmers land. A company can pay the government to “prospect” on anybodies land! 18 inches below ground, belongs to the government and the rights to mine it can be sold by them! No matter who owns the top, lives on it, or has had it passed down in their family for generations.
Travel on a horse is not unlike travel on a Camino. It’s a very upclose and personal view of the natural and human life on the trail in all its diversity. A wonderful indepth experience of a part of rural Australia we had never known. Scrolling through the previous destinations in the GPS on our way home, reads like a foreign novel: Tomalla, Manobalai, Rylstone, Gingkin, Mutmutbilly, just to name a few!
At times the journey was tough. Packing up camp almost every day, riding in the heat, concentrating on keeping horses calm on the side of busy trafficked roads. Still both Antonio and I feel stronger as a result and rested! The real credit of course, goes to our trusty steeds who carried us proudly by whatever obstacle we presented them with. Day to day riding and close contact with the horses is a joy that gets under your skin! The part of the journey we most enjoyed and the part that will be most missed. Something was gained that is hard to put a finger on, yet is felt and appreciated.
As Ollie Hall & Winston S Churchill quipped,
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man!”