The rumble of hooves against the earth building like thunder, the yee-hahs of horsemen filling the air. As the herd raced towards and then over the cliff-face, the riders following grind to a halt. Except one. He continues on, leaping into the air and over the edge. “The man from Snowy River” they murmur to one another.
Oh wait, I’m getting my stories mixed.
This one, rather, is a story about a girl from Sydney who finally got to the Snowy River to find her beloved brumbies. Twenty-seven of them to be specific. Including five foals. Not like I was keeping count or anything.
Now I’ll preface this story with an acknowledgement of the battle going on around the brumbies. I recognise the damage their hooves cause to the land, and I recognise they are overpopulated and an unnatural, introduced species. But I love horses and always have. I stop if I see one in a paddock I can reach, and I’ll do the same for a herd I see in the wild. God help me. (And him for having to put up with me.)
One calculated day of annual leave and convenient public holiday meant a long weekend was on the cards. We’d already been in Canberra to visit my brother, so the elusive Snowy Mountains weren’t that far away. Our plan was simple and simply unplanned: find the brumbies. With a sympathy of cicadas humming in the breeze, the sun pinching my pale skin through the car windows and tiny beads of sweat speckled across his brow, it was time to hit the road.
“So I’ve found a different way that keeps us off the highway,” he told me proudly at breakfast before he left. “We’ll be more likely to find brumbies if we keep off the highway.”
After 61km of driving on gravel roads in a Hyundai Accent, countless conversations about how we needed to pool our cash and purchase a more “adventure-ready-but-still-city-worthy” car, we found brumbies on the side of the Snowy Mountain Highway. Of course.
It was a beautiful drive though, through every landscape Australia has to offer, including towns tiny enough to not warrant offering petrol. Plus we found one of the Snowy Mountains huts thankfully not ravaged by the bushfires. Very Man from the Snowy River vibes. Always take the scenic route.
Pulling over on the side of the road, heart pounding, I walked towards the herd with thoughts like “where’s the closest carrot” flying through my head. They didn’t let me get too close and I didn’t mind. I’ve watched The Man from Snowy River enough to know how those stallions think, and for the record, it’s a lot of times. He got my photo though and I was like a pig in mud. Or a horse in the wild. Sorry. Had to.
With our mission accomplished, we headed towards the regional town of Tumut, home of trout fishing and roughly one pub per 100 people, and where we’d be sleeping that night. The marks of the previous years’ fires were still painfully present. Barely any signs of life clung to the singed bush, stretching down the valleys and into the distance. Then all of a sudden, it was green and lush again. This is Australia.
Before long we were pulling into Harriet’s House. To sum it up, it’s a motel but more oh la la.
With not much open for dinner or breakfast the next day due to the public holiday, we decided to hit the road early and take the scenic route back to Sydney. This is our speciality after all. First stop: Adelong Falls Gold Mill Ruins. With remnants of ruins still evident along the banks, and large red rocks lining the river, it was the perfect place to test my sandals rock-hopping ability. Verdict: not great. No rival to the rocks we found in Western Australia, it seemed to be a pretty big deal for all in Adelong, just going off the number of signs in the town leading to the site.
Now I don’t quite know how to put this next part, but to use someone else’s words…there’s a track winding back to an o-old fashioned shack, along the road to Gundagai. I’m not sure about the shack, but we did find a bloody o-old fashioned bridge. Spanning a whopping 920 metres, the Prince Alfred Bridge was built in 1867 using whole felled trees. He found it very cool, knowing about construction and all. There were a lot of big words used that I didn’t understand, but smiled and nodded anyway.
Now dilapidated, disused and decaying, it took a trick or two to capture the bridge without the fences in the foreground, but you can bet your bottom dollar I didn’t do anything dangerous to get them. Though I’m sure others would.
The next stop was straight from the ‘Saved’ section of my Instagram account. The Sir George in Jugiong. In the middle of seemingly nothingness, stands something absolutely fantastic. A “they-don’t-make-them-like-this-anymore”-style pub, with modern, luxury accomodation added out the back. Oh, and a bakery. And a homewares store. And a playground. Yeah.
There was a paddock of goats next door and fairy lights wrapped throughout the vines covering the beer garden outside. I asked for a coffee and he bought me a beer instead. At 11.37am. This was a highway stop on steroids.
Our last stop was in the gorgeous town of Gunning. There is an Airbnb I’ve got my eyes on for a while but alas we had work to get to the next day. And besides, has anyone else noticed that every Airbnb in the world is currently booked until the rest of forever?
I was looking for a beautiful old bridge I’d seen on Instagram. After a few loops of the town and looks from the locals, we’re pretty sure it was down a road on the left of the image above, which is now covered in a chest-high crop. Not feeling particularly inclined to accidentally step on a snake for the sake of a photo, I opted for this stunner instead.
There is always beauty to be found, you just have to be looking.
And wearing an outfit that matches always helps.