An inspired journey on horseback through Australia's Snowy Mountains

The Snowy Mountains are appropriately named.

by Rosemary McDaniel, Trenton, FL

If you are a horseman or woman looking for a true adventure, you just can’t beat Australia’s Snowy Mountains. When I saw the film “The Man from Snowy River,” I knew that that was an area I wanted to see from horseback. In March ’06 I realized that dream.

A few details

The Snowy Mountains lie within Kosciuszko National Park, which encompasses 675,000 hectares (approx. 1,667,200 acres) and spreads through New South Wales, stretching to Australian Capital Territory and Victoria.

With a lot of Internet searching I found just the right outfitter, Cochran Horse Treks. A family-owned operation, it is run by Peter Cochran, his wife, Judy, and son, Dave, along with a wonderful support staff. From late September until late April, they offer rides of three to six days ranging in cost from $460 to $854* depending on the length of the ride.

Getting there

I flew Qantas from Los Angeles to Sydney direct (14 hours), cleared Customs and Immigration (it’s necessary to have a visa to enter Australia, but the application can be made online and the $15 fee paid with a credit card) and flew a little more than an hour on to Canberra.

On Peter’s recommendation, I stayed overnight at the Pavilion on Northbourne in the Dickson area of Canberra. I took a cab from the airport at a cost of $15, but there is bus service to the city center for only $5.

My room was clean, comfortable and quiet and cost $84 including taxes.

At the appointed time the next day, Peter picked me up at the hotel with two other riders already in the van. We drove to Cooma to pick up a rider from Sweden, then we were off to the Yaouk (pronounced like kayak) Homestead, where we camped overnight before starting our ride.

The first ride

Since I was traveling so far I signed up for two rides, a 6-day ride across the mountains from east to west and a 5-day ride in the opposite direction, with a 3-day stay at The Man From Snowy River Bush Festival in between.

After meeting the rest of the riders, who were already at the homestead, there was an orientation program and dinner around a campfire. There were 21 riders, all from Australia except for me and the rider from Sweden. Our tents were already set up, so all that was necessary was unrolling a bedroll and crawling into my sleeping bag.

In the morning we took down our tents, rolled up our swags and ate a filling breakfast before being assigned our horses. Then we adjusted our stirrups, got comfortable in our Australian stock saddles and headed up the first of many mountains.

We were truly in the “bush” — with no defined trails — but we were led by people who had traveled this route many times and knew the way. In some areas there were many fallen trees due to ferocious fires that had occurred in the not-too-distant past.

We passed over and through so many spectacular areas, I thought it impossible to hope for anything better up ahead.

Our homes away from home.

Along the way we encountered a beautiful, very healthy looking brumby stallion that watched us approach and snorted to his small band of mares to cross in front of us. But they all took off for a more safe location. We were invading his territory, but he wasn’t going to challenge such a large group of horses.

When we arrived in our first overnight camp, our tents had been set up and delicious snacks were awaiting. After many hours in the saddle riding over some very rough country, camp was a welcome sight indeed. The first day is always the hardest.

Dinner was served around a welcome campfire, some bush poetry was recited, plans for the next day were explained, and it was off to my comfortable tent for a well-deserved rest.

Except for new scenery, our days generally were spent riding up and down mountains, stopping for lunch breaks by rivers from which we replenished our water bottles, getting to know each other better and admiring wildlife.

Kangaroos and wallabies were in abundance, as were the very loud, squawking cockatoos, both sulfur crested and black. Beautiful pink-and-gray galahs were spotted as well as wedge tail eagles, kookaburras and wombats.

The gum trees provided interesting color in sometimes drab areas, but there was always something to admire while enjoying the clear mountain air and hearing little except the birds squawking and the beat of the horses’ hooves.

On our last day we rode into a second homestead, in Khancoban, where we left the horses and were transported by vans to Corryong for The Man From Snowy River Bush Festival.

The festival

The Man From Snowy River Bush Festival in Corryong, Victoria, celebrates the life of Jack Riley, an immigrant from Ireland who arrived in Australia in 1854. A poem by Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson, written in 1890, tells the legendary story of Jack Riley and his exceptional horsemanship skills.

Taking a lunch break in the bush.

Equal horsemanship skills were exhibited by the competitors in The Man From Snowy River Challenge, which drew 70 men and women hoping to win some of the $35,000 in prize money. Entrants work hard to be the best in events such as horseshoeing, stock handling, whip cracking and cross-country riding plus bareback and packhorse obstacle courses.

In addition to the Challenge, there are poetry and bush music offerings, the reenactment of “Banjo” Paterson’s poem, a ute (utility vehicle) muster, a street parade, craft markets, a stockmen’s camp and many other interesting arena activities. Admission to the festival varies depending on age and number of days, so it is best to check the festival’s website ( for accurate information.

While some of the riders opted to camp at the festival, I spent three nights at Nariel Haven(2037B Murray Valley Highway, Colac Colac, Victoria 3707, Australia; phone/fax [02] 607622 51, e-mail or visit, a comfortable B&B run by Jenny and Barry Byatt. My single room with shared bath and more than ample breakfasts cost approximately $50 per night. Peter Cochran kindly provided transportation for me to and from the B&B.

I spent my last night camping before those of us who were to take the next ride were transported to the Khancoban Homestead. During our last campfire gathering at the festival, I was presented a stock whip by some of the members of our group. I discovered quickly that I’m whip-cracking challenged, but it’s a wonderful reminder of a special experience.

The second ride

At Khancoban we were assigned different horses and headed east across the mountains — in my case, looking at them from a different perspective. On this trip there was a mother and her 8-year-old daughter as well as a father and his 15-year-old daughter. Again, it was a very pleasant group of Australians.

On our third day out we were informed that heavy snow was expected in the higher elevations, so we had to take an alternative route. A guide with a beautiful Appaloosa stallion was hired to show us the way to our overnight stop.

In the early evening we arrived at McPherson’s Plain Alpine Lodge, where we were treated to heated rooms, hot showers, and dinner in the lodge lounge. The horses were trucked to our next starting point, where we would be transported by bus in the morning. Peter had this plan in place for years, but this was the first time it had to be implemented.

The morning brought snow, which got deeper as we rode, and a very cold wind. In spite of the bad weather, we ran into a band of 25 or so brumbies as well as kangaroos, eagles and several other kinds of birds.

As cold as I was, the beauty of the snow in the trees and the abundant wildlife warmed my heart. The campfire heat felt wonderful when we arrived in camp, and the hot drinks and dinner provided comfort to a cold and tired group.

During the night the wind howled and the sleet beat against the tents, but my sleeping bag was warm and sleep finally arrived.

Canberra stay

The last day was still cold and overcast, but it was a short ride for me and two other riders who had to get to the airport in Canberra. I was planning to stay in Canberra for three days and was taken to University House, on the campus of the Australian National University, where I had reserved a very comfortable suite for $90 per night.

While in Canberra I visited the Australian War Memorial and the National Gallery, compliments of one of my newfound “mates” from my first ride.

While some guidebooks imply that Canberra doesn’t offer much for visitors, I found that there’s plenty to see and do, and I’m looking forward to a return trip in 2007 to ride across the mountains with some of the same people I met on this trip.

If you love horses, beautiful scenery, great people and camping, this is a highly recommended adventure.

* All dollar amounts given are in U.S. currency.