The bustling streets of Sydney disappear in the rearview mirror. The landscape blurs as the road-trip music blasts from the stereo; songs of nature, waves and weekend bliss. Buildings are soon replaced by trees and grassy hills. Honking horns replaced with a deep, reverberating moo. In just over a 2 hour drive and about 150kms from the city, we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of nature, and to be quite honest – in the middle of a farmer’s field in Howes Valley. Now, it’s a well known saying that if your change your perspective, you change what you see – so we were prepared to see the Hunter Valley in a brand new way… between the ears of a horse.
Free Camping at Chapman Valley Horse Trekking Center
Driving over a rickety wooden bridge towards the farmhouse, The Fella and I were welcomed by a committee of several excitable sheepdogs. They circled our car with friendly barks, and we tried not to run them over as we navigated our way through the young cattle. Our lovely farmer greeted us with casual charm and pointed us in the vague direction of our campsite – we had a choice of over 6500 acres to choose from! And the best part – it was completely free because we’d booked a ride for the following morning.
Ensuring there was no evident fresh cow pats on the ground, we pitched up our tent in a corner of a field. We felt dwarfed by scale of the landscape. Rolling hills, immense forestry and lush plains were grazed by herds of elegant horses and cheeky cattle surrounding us. It was the perfect place to pull out the camp chairs, pull out the Esky and share a beer with our inquisitive four legged camp buddies.
Horse Riding in the Hunter
I felt like John Wayne riding through rivers, forestry tracks and open plains aboard my beast. Relaxing upon a western style saddle with the hypnotic sound of hoof beats on the ground gave me the sense of being a real cowboy (or should I say cowgirl?). And between the ears of my horse was the perfect vantage point to take in the immensity of the surrounding landscape. With nothing but epic green valleys and mountainous forests, it was hard to believe that Howes Valley is less than a 2.5-hour drive from the bustling streets of Sydney. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a city slicker who’s never seen a horse in real life before or a seasoned expert – the horses at Chapman Valley are safe, responsive and pretty cooperative! From 1 hour walking-only treks for complete beginners ($55) to full day, full-steam-ahead galloping picnic rides ($200), it might be one of my favourite ways to rediscover the Hunter Valley.
Equipment Needed for your Cowboy Adventure:
Chapman Valley provides riding helmets, so all you need are long pants, flat soled shoes (trainers are fine), a sense of adventure and a sense of humour! There are no amenities for camping, so make sure you have all your supplies and plenty of fresh water.
Even More Adventures
Because we like to fill every second of the weekend, our micro-adventure didn’t stop there with aching thighs and aroma de’horse. With some of the world’s best wines available in the surrounding countryside, The Fella and I took to sampling the local produce (fighting over who would spit and who would swallow along the way). Our personal choice was the family run, Krinklewood. They harvest their wines depending on the moon cycles, and because I’m a closet hippy, this floated my tie-dyed boat, while The Fella’s inner hipster approved of the organic and biodynamic methods. That’s about our limit as wine raconteurs, other than knowing Krinklewood’s Wild Wines are decidedly yum. Several bottles were polished off around the campfire later the same evening.
Saturday Night with the Stars
Our micro-adventure took us to spending the night in Mogo Creek National Park Campsite, located along the historic convict road. This enabled us to do a circular route back to Sydney. The campground is nestled within trees with only 6 camp spots – each with a fire pit for toasting marsh mallows and recounting stories (with copious amounts of red wine).
Finish where we Started
The round micro-adventure trip to Chapman Valley Horse Riding, through the Hunter Valley Wine Region, stopping off at Mogo National Park Campground and back to Sydney was approximately 350 km. A perfect Sydney Dash from the office on Friday to a relaxed drive home Sunday night – with plenty of adventure in-between.