Riding High in the Victorian High Country

In the spotlight

img_2926Get ready globetrotters, you are in for a real treat! The wonderfully talented Erica Neumann recently completed our horse riding holiday in the Victorian High Country, and kept a journal of her time. And I am thrilled to let you know that Erica has given me permission to share her thoughts, feelings and brilliant descriptions of this horse riding holiday of a lifetime with all of you! Honestly, Erica’s blow by blow account of this horse riding holiday is perfect – I couldn’t have written it better myself. If you ever wanted to know what’s in store for you on our ever popular Craig’s Hut & High Country ride then keep reading!

Day 1 Friday 11th November 2016

Well here we are.  We have all met at the Merrijig hotel where 16 of us riders are about to be trucked out to where we will be staying for the next three nights, Stockyard creek camp ground which is  owned by Graeme and Wendy Stoney who are a 4th generation beef cattle high country family.  After a half hour or so meandering on the rough road through some hilly scrubby country side, we arrive at our destination for the next 3 nights.  A number of horses are munching away on their dinner in the paddock as we go down a beautiful drive way, crossing a small creek lined with huge big trees, then on the other side we see a lovely timber hut with lots of character and a large pond with water streaming in one end and out the other.

Upon snooping around and introductions with our fellow riders, we discover our dormitory style sleeping arrangements.  Some rooms are for couples and/or anyone who wishes to be on their own, then some with two or three single beds.  At the end of the building was the room for the rowdy mob!! I’m not sure how many beds there were in there but there was also loft beds up some ladders.  Well I am in the loft!  I almost feel like the mother hen watching over her chickens.  Two double mattresses up here,  I have chosen the one that the possum has decided not to use, funny!!  The rest of the hut is divided with a breeze way, as many years ago the only way to cook was with wood stoves, which consequently heated up the whole house, and Lordy Lordy, who wants that in the middle of summer? Then we come into a large welcoming lounge area with a huge open fire place. The kitchen looks quite friendly with a gas oven, stove top and grill. Hot showers and outside toilets with loads of interesting memorabilia for our hungry eyes to suss out.  Plenty of rustic bench seats and tables outside on the decking where I am sure many tale has been told.

Our riding companions consist of 14 girls/ladies and 2 fellows.  I Met Leanne from the Lord Lyndoch restaurant who lives only 20 odd kilometres from me, and discover that we have a few mutual friends and that she also rides her horses in the Mount Crawford forest!  Talk about a small world. We are introduced to our crew, Christian, Swampy, Micko, Gwenanne, Libby and Murray who will be our cooks/guides/entertainers/strappers/stable hands etc etc for the following 6 days.  With beverages in hand, we all have a natter to each other, finding out where each other is from and discussing our riding activities at our own homes.  Christian and his great team whip up some tasty minnie spring rolls with sweet chilli and soy sauce for nibbles, followed by a delicious Mushroom and chicken risotto for dinner.  Micko and Swampy have also busily prepared a ragging bon fire for us to sit around as the evening comes to an end.  With dishes washed dried and packed away, we have a sit in the warmth, watching the flames flickering about as

Christian discusses the events for the following day. I seem to have forgotten what we had for desert but know that whatever it was it was tasty, (as all the food was). Thanks for the fire  Micko and Swampy, it was so nice and welcoming xx

Day 2 Saturday 

I had my own million star accommodation last night.  Watching the stars and moon from my bed as the window was right next to my head.  I closed that window before shutting my eyes,  just in case the little fellow who left a few small packages on the other mattress decided to come for a visit while I was asleep.  The chickens below drifted off to sleep with not much trouble, good little chickens.  Woke up to a beautiful morning, with the sun shining, and only a few not really threatening clouds. The Crew had an early breakfast of cereals, fruits yogurts, bacon and eggs with all the trimmings, hot brewed coffee and tea ready for us, I know already that I am going to struggle to fit into my wardrobe at home!

After all the morning duties, we ventured down to the holding/saddling area and picked out a hopefully suitable mount for ourselves.  Each horse was busily munching on some tasty breakfast  from his or her nose bag after being called down from the paddock by one of the team.  They certainly know the drill!  I have picked out a beautiful girl called Audrey who is a Percheron or Clyde cross of some sorts, she is a big bay girl who will hopefully make my bum look small!  The saddles and tack are all in top condition, which from past experience for me is an absolute God send.  Everyone is shown how things work and given a brief talk on their mounts temperaments.  We saddle up and go for a ride passing by some Hereford cows with black Baldy calves at foot, and the new bull just about to be dropped off to check out his Harem, whom we will be rounding all up after lunch. On wards we ride up through some scrub lined tracks towards some very old Chinese graves and gold digging sites.  Amazing to see how people lived in the days of the Gold Rush, too bad if you needed something from the shop!!!  We get acquainted with our mounts now and decide if they are going to be OK for us.

Back to the hut we come for lunch, leaving our horses saddled and tied ready for our afternoon ride.  Sangas and wraps, yummy.  Now back in the saddle and we are split into three groups, some to block tracks that the cows might decide to escape along, and  some to follow up the cattle.  I have gone ahead with Swampy and a few others, we have called our group “Swampys Sweeties”.    Slowly the cattle are meandering down the Howqua track running along the river.  I’m taking in the stunning views, crossing untold creeks and waiting for those red and white mummas to bring their babies down.  What a pleasant ride eventually opening up to some flat areas where we let the cattle graze at their own pace. No hurry here, just enjoying this wonderful almost magical experience.

On our way back to camp, I had a minor mishap with Audrey which thankfully I am here to tell the story. Not to worry, life wasn’t meant to be easy all the time, and I should have been a Girl Scout and learnt to “be prepared”!!  Leanne and Chrissy accommodated me to their room as there was no way I was going to be able to climb my ladder where my bed was!  Thanks Leanne for retrieving all my stuff, and I wonder if the little Chickens closed that possums window before they went to bed!!!! Christian and co had a lovely stir fry ready for dinner followed by apple crumble!  Mmmmmm yummmalicious!  Everyone drifted down to the camp fire for some more chatting and enjoying each other’s company.  Swampy broke out his guitar and sang us some ballads, good on you Swampy, you’re a legend.

img_3036Day 3 Sunday

Rain rain go away, come back another day!!

Reasonably quiet day for me today!!  Bacon and egg breakfast, watched everyone saddle up early and wonder off into the distance to muster the cattle up into the yards. The bull calves were ringed, and all were marked with ears snipped out to be able to identify them at the sale yards.  Heaps of rain.  I was going to walk up to those yards and be the photographer for everyone, but piked out as the rain was coming down with avengance.  Everyone came in to the hut for lunch.  Poor buggers, cold and wet through!!  They said it was a good morning to be sitting in around the fire in the lounge room!  Thanks Audrey for getting me out of that job today, we must have secretly planned it.

Christian’s friend Cody, his wife Sarah and daughter Dacota came for the afternoon to give some training clinics that were very interesting.  Cody and Sarah have their own business of training numerous animals of all shapes and sizes to be used in movies.  Cody showed us how to deal with horses that are nervous, head shy, and how to get them to hook up to you in the round yard.  Pressure and release seems to be the go.  I remember at puppy school, it was all about rewarding the good, and ignoring the bad.  Christian and his team cooked a delicious roast for dinner with all the trimmings again.  Can’t beat a roast on a Sunday night, especially when it’s cold and wet outside.  Wendy Stoney joined us after dinner to give us some history about the area and how it came to be as it is.  She was awesome.  Lovely lady enjoyed by all.  Quite a few drinks were had by many.  Overall a good day for me to be sitting inside by the fire and playing UNO with Codys daughter Dakota.

Day 4 Monday

Pikes flat

Wow, what a day.  Up early for breakfast, packed all our gear and made our own lunch to carry in the saddle bags as we are bugging out of camp by 9.  My horse today is Pokey.  She is a lovely large bay  Percheron Cross (with who knows what) and a great nature.  Happy to sit back and plod along, but also happy to have a trot and canter when asked to.  We followed the Howqua river for 32 kilometres, crossing it around thirty times with those cleverly placed hooves over rocks and boulders under the fast flowing water, which on some occasions the water tummy deep. Stopped at numerous historical sites.  First of all, Frys hut.  Here Swampy gave us a great talk on how Mr Fry had built it with the help of his horses.  He had used whole logs cut from the nearby trees for the roof beams, which were pulled up and over the top, manoeuvred steadily with the horses, till they were in the correct position and then secured into place.  This building was used for many years as a hotel, watering hole, and a meeting place for companionship and festivities for the cattle men and the miners, now just a lovely building for us and many travellers to look at in admiration and awe, trying to imagine the strength and capabilities of our fore fathers.  No cranes or power tools used here!!

After Frys, we trek on to Richie’s hut, another beautiful timber dwelling that I am sure if she could talk would have some great tales to tell.  We have stopped to rest our horses whilst having our picnic lunch under the huge welcoming gum trees, the Howqua river merrily singing her song as she flows by.  I search around to find a suitable log to stand on to be able to mount my girl, and then we all continue on to a beautiful camp site called Pikes flat, where we will be spending the night.  The horses are let go into the holding paddock after being given a good rub down, have their pyjamas put on and leave them to have their dinner in peace.  The sounds of laughter and joking around as we are trying to put our tents up, no instructions given, toughen up and work it out petals!!  What a site!! The camp is bustling with activity as we have all had a great day, and now in this beautiful spot dotted with massive gum trees and the river flowing past right next to out tents.  She will be putting me to sleep tonight for sure!!!

Christian and crew have chopped down a whole tree for our camp fire and are organising dinner for the hungry mob. I had such a good day that whatever we had has slipped my mind, but once again there were no complaints from my department , or anyone else’s!  This is truly a magical wonderful experience with so much scenery along the river and through the gullies. The horses are doing a fantastic job, being so sure footed through the narrow tracks, some precariously steep climbs and then the opposite, slipping and sliding down over rocks and tree roots to get to where we can cross the river once more.  Another lovely evening sitting around the camp fire listening to the stories of everyone, lots of laughter and Swampy strumming and singing some more of those famous ballads.  The warmth from the coals and mystical flicker of the flames are readying us for our swags.  I can see the full moon peeking, sneaking her way up over the range, now in full view I’m sure she is smiling down at us as she knows that  its  going to be a chilly morning as there is not a cloud in sight!!  What a great bunch of people, I’m having so much fun xx

erica-neumanDay 5 Tuesday

Yep, I was right!  Such a fresh morning!  No frost, but a very heavy dew.  That cheeky moon… Every one is up early for another delicious breakfast of bacon and eggs, spaghetti tomato and toast.  Freshly brewed coffee and billy tea.  More fun and games as we pack  up the tents and all the gear that was needed for our incredible night.  The horses are saddled and everyone has set off at 9.30 under a clear bright blue sky.  Today has consisted of extremely steep climbing, zig zagging up the side of the mountain range heading for Mt Stirling, trotting cantering where possible, and just having a great time.  Stopped at Howqua gap hut for a BBQ lunch and a well earned rest for our trusty steeds.  Mounted up after lunch and continued to zig zag/criss/cross our way to the top.  Awesome scenery as the flora changed many times as we climbed.  The trees became smaller and twisted, probably from fighting fierce winds, snow storm, and also hot summers over many years. Upon almost reaching the top, the land changed once again.  Not as many trees, but quite good areas of flat ground covered with palatable grass to where the cattle men had been bringing their cattle to graze.  What a feat that must have been for both man and beast.  Swampy told us how a salt lick was placed for the cattle in a certain area so that they would congregate there around mustering time.  The higher we climbed the cooler the air was.  The fog was wisping across our trail, threatening to block our view of the surrounding ranges.  We reached Mt Stirling with the fog lingering around us, but still it was an awesome feeling that we were there. We had come across a patch of snow that the horses were not too keen on stepping onto.  Quite funny watching them tip toe and snort out aloud from this strange white stuff!

From there we began the decent to Razor Back camp site (Purcells hut) where we will be staying for the next two nights. We can either choose to sleep in the bunk beds or put a tent up, I chose to bunk in with Theresa Petra and Leanne. The tent scenario was funny the night before, but we are higher up the mountain and I know it’s going to be even colder tonight!!  There is a large room with a huge fire place, already fired up for our undercover dining.  Christian and team working busily, erecting the screen for our outside shower, water being heated in the home made Donkey, and dinner under way.  I’m really enjoying this!!  Fettuccine bolognese, garlic bread, followed with a yummy desert that Laura had made for us.   Great riding today, chit chatting with different people along the way and arriving at our destination at 5 after approximately 22 kilometres of spectacular country side.  Horses unsaddled, given a well earned tidy up, rugged patted and given a yummy nose bag full of goodies. Another joyful evening packed with sharing the day’s events, a few beverages around the camp fire, and also a wonderful display of whip cracking and poetry from Christians friend Stewart from Mansfield. Thanks Pokey, hope you had fun today,I know I did.

Day 6 Wednesday 

Ahh, lovely toasty warm sleep in the bunk house.  Those who chose to tent out for the night were all pleased with their night outside too.  Breakfast was just as good as every other day.  We mounted up early again and started our climb up to Craig’s Hut.  The horses picking their way carefully along the sometime narrow tracks through the scrub and Stoney paths. Came  past Mount Stirling for another look, and this time it was a clear as clear can be!!  Heaps of photos were taken as here we are, the Kings and Queens of the mountain!!  The scenery was spectacular!  We could see for miles.  Swampy pointed out the mountains naming them all.  Mt Buller in full view across the valley, but no snow or snow skiers there today, they should have come over to our mountain, mind you, we didn’t really want to share our patch of snow!

Onwards we ride to Craig’s Hut where some scenes from the movie “Man from Snowy River” were filmed.  What an awesome place.  Our Horses are parked under some trees and given some yummy treats while we have lunch under the bright blue sun drenched sky.  Everyone is in awe once again at this fabulous setting.  We all wonder around, taking untold photos, some mounted and many unmounted, as we explore Craig’s Hut and the surrounding area.  The neighbouring mountains in full view, breathtaking, just wonderful.  After taking in the serenity of this magical place we remount and start our decent  back towards Razor Back camp ground.  We have stopped once more on Mount Stirling for some more amazing happy snaps.  The sky’s as blue as blue can be, not chilly at all like yesterday.  Over all we rode for around seven hours and covered approximately 25 ks, with numerous bouts of cantering and trotting along the way.

Once again the team back at camp had everything ready for our comfort.  Horses unsaddled, fed, patted and tucked into bed for the night.  I was 3rd in line for a shower tonight YAY, got that out of the way and into the nights festivities.  Christian and of course the team cooked up a storm of the yummiest Porterhouse steak cooked to perfection with a mixture of delicious salads and breads followed by caramel cream tarts topped with strawberries.  More singing and laughing around the fire with quite a few jokes being told as well, me being myself, of course, was not shy at all! I think my Mario and Luigi pig joke went down well!!  What a wonderful day and evening, possibly a few too many drinks and a really late night had…….Thanks Pokey for looking after me today, you’re a gem xx

Day 7 Thursday

OH NO!!  This can’t be happening!!!  It’s our last day…

Well I guess it did have to happen eventually, I just don’t want it to stop, as I am sure we all feel the same.  What’s that lovely aroma that I can sense??  My head is feeling just a little worse for wear… Ahh, Laura is busily cooking bacon and French toast for breakfast!  What a champ.  The camp fire is still tickling over from last night and bringing the billies up to boil.  Freshly brewed coffee going down well with me this morning….. Must check through my camera to see what photos were taken!!  So much fun!!  We packed up all our swags, tents, luggage etc and prepare for our final ride.  The horses have been fed and brushed by Gwenanne and Libby in readiness for us to saddle up.

We mount up and have our group photos taken down on the grass by the hut, then take off in our smaller groups for the final decent.  Swampy with his Sweeties bringing up the rear.  A few miles down the track, we venture along an old trail that obviously has not been used for many years.  Christian and Murray chain saw their way through ahead to clear the way for us. As we rode lower down the valley the flora had completely changed again with huge tree ferns, river crossings and lots of black berry bushes.  Finally after crossing the last river, we come out at our dismounting area.  I’m feeling a bit melancholy now.  Seemed like the time had flown for us, well me any way.  Mum was there waiting with Leanne’s husband Jeff, how cute.  Our horses were unsaddled, given a wash and smooch, then parked under the trees while waiting for the trucks to come and load them up and take them home for a well earned rest.  We had our lunch under a huge tree on the lawns, some more photos were taken of Christian and his great team. Said our goodbyes to the wonderful people we met, then grabbed our luggage, hopped into the cars and headed off back to reality.

I wish to thank Christian and Laura, Micko, Gwenanne, Swampy, Libby and Murray for the best experience I have ever had on a horse ride.  You are an amazing crew, your eye for detail was terrific, customer service exceptional, caring and funny.  I cannot fault any of the last week, thankyou, I will be back.

Erica Neumann xx

PS. Thanks Pokey I love you to the moon and back xx

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