The first thing that hit me as we drove that bright mid-afternoon up the long track toward Homestead Chalet was the stunning location. The chalet is situated on a large cattle farm with 360-degree views across open fields. With six bedrooms, sitting area, games room and a balcony, this was to be my home for three nights. Ah, the adventure of open country twinned with a squishy bed and good home-cooked food — it was already sounding good.
The next morning I met my horse, Banjo, a handsome bay around 15.3hh. Most of the horses are either full or part-bred Australian Stock Horse as owner/guides, Glen and Danielle, are passionate about the breed. They have even started their own breeding programme with several quality stallions standing at stud. Every care is taken to match horse to rider and Glen often swaps horses around a few days into the trip to give the riders a new experience. The saddles are Australian stock saddles with large knee pads, useful in the hilly terrain. Although the trips can be organised for any standard of rider, our group were expeienced. There was an agreement among the group that we wanted to track down the area's brumbies, the wild horses that were made famous when the film The Man From Snowy River came out in the early 80s.
|On day two, we tie the horses outside an old bushman's hut and enjoy a picnic lunch and the mesmerising beauty of the eucalyptus forest |
Setting off across the fields, it wasn’t long before we were winding and weaving our way between the close-knit stands of eucalyptus. Even though due to the terrain the pace is mostly at walk, a distance of 30 kilometres is usual per day and the scenery is very changeable. One minute we were in dense forest with Banjo carefully stepping over fallen branches, then suddenly we’d emerge into wide open meadows with sweeping views and a chance of a canter.
After a lovely picnic lunch, thoughts turned to the mission at hand. During the morning we’d already seen a snake, some deer and wallabies... but no brumbies. On instinct, Glen led us into a patch of forest where he had seen the horses in the past and coming out again after a no-show, we stopped where a stream widened to water the horses. It was intriguing to watch Glen and Daniel exchange looks and remarks — whether it was a fresh set of tracks or something in the air, they knew we were close. As we walked away we were resigning ourselves to drawing a blank when suddenly Danielle gave a shout from the back. We wheeled around and there crossing behind us were four brumbies, led by a handsome bay. They were there all the time, watching us, waiting for us to move on.
In those few spine-tingling seconds as we watched the wild horses brazenly canter across the wide clearing, making a break for the cover of the forest, the magic of our Snowies trip dawned on me. The horses, along with other wildlife we’d seen, run wild in thousands of acres of forest with ample places to hide. But because the area is so untouched and because we are travelling by horse — masking our own smell with that of another animal, and having a raised position in the saddle — we have more chance of spotting wildlife.
There was a definite satisfaction in the air as we rode back to the chalet. And as we sat down to our fantastic three-course dinner, served by the effervescent chef-in-residence, Jilly, we bubbled over ourselves with talk of seeing the legendary brumbies.
It was mid-summer and the weather had been hot and bright all day. Yet, that evening, I watched as one by one, each window was gradually filled white as a thick mist descended and enveloped the chalet. I wondered what tomorrow might bring — it was becoming clear that this was the kind of place where each day brought new surprises.
Waking up to the sound of the treetop cockateil convention, I peeked outside to see that the mist was still with us. It was going to be another special day. Seeing the white gum forest stand out in relief against this eerie half-light was awesome. Every sighting of wildlife that day had an ethereal quality — were those kangaroos? Or did I imagine it? As the hours went by, the beauty of the forest was drawing me in. Each tree seemed eminently more beautiful in form and colour than the next. At lunchtime, when we arrived in an older part of the forest for our lunch stop at an old bushman’s hut, I took the opportunity to walk among the trees and try and snap a few arty photos. Back at the hut, Glen had laid out a delicious picnic and was talking about training horses. It was clear he lived and breathed these animals and it was fascinating listening to him.
In two days, I had experienced so much, picked out several more horses I wanted to try and felt so at home in the chalet with its comfy sofas and awesome views, that it was a wrench to leave. Other riders were staying on and I envied what may be to come for them. But I left with a spring in my step (it’s only the first day you ache like billy-o) and the first line of that famous poem racing round my head: “There was movement at the station, for the word had got around,”
I hope the word gets around that the Snowies are more than a winter skiing destination and that the region is perfect for summer hikes and horse rides. I hope many others can experience the magical quality of these mountain forests — but at the same time, shhhh, this is a secret worth keeping among ourselves!