Discover the beauty of the Victorian High Country when you join family-owned Watson’s Mountain Country Tours.
Michael Watson began riding almost as soon as he could walk, and has long roamed the hills with fifth-generation mountain cattlemen, from whom he gained much of his vast local knowledge. He is the second generation in his family to saddle up the horses and guide visitors deep into ‘Man from Snowy River’ country. His wife Sally began riding as a child, and is an expert polo-cross player who has represented Victoria in the sport.
The Watsons live on a 730 acre farm adjoining the High Country, an authentic working property complete with 80-year-old house and stables, 70 horses, and family dogs who welcome guests back from their ride.
Michael and Sally’s tours, which take place throughout the Victorian High Country, are suitable for beginners and experienced riders. Choose from day trips to extended 3- and 7-night trail rides. Alternatively, Michael can customise an itinerary including 4WD and helicopter options.
Watson’s Mountain Country Tours is one of only two businesses in Australia with accreditation from the Association of Horsemanship Standards and Education, which sets the world’s highest safety standards.
High Country is probably famous to most Australians for its skiing, with major downhill ski resorts in Mount Buller, Falls Creek and Mount Hotham. But out of snow season, it also offers visitors three classic reasons to visit: beauty, action and great food.
High Country is indisputably adventure country, courtesy its rugged landscapes of ranges, valleys and peaks. Climbers and abseilers are drawn to Mount Buffalo National Park’s awe-inspiring cliffs; 4WD-lovers ‘go off’ on the network of classic tracks around Mansfield; rafting, caving, hang gliding, mountain biking also happens in the High Country.
As for horse trails, the majesty, size and remoteness of the Alpine experience means that ‘Man from Snowy River moments’ are authentic and available to anyone. (And at last you have a good reason to buy your Drizabone, that classic stockman’s oilskin coat!)
The High Country is also something of a food hub, home to villages that pride themselves on producing fare that is both fresh and fabulous. There are winemakers here, too: knock on a King Valley cellar door, where dynamic vintners in family wineries set trends with Italian varietals, frequently matching Prosecco, Nebbiolo or Sangiovese with rustic Italian cuisine made by enthusiastic, entrepreneurial families. Fresh cheeses, meat, fish and olives are also plentiful, particularly in Milawa, the regional breadbasket. Let well-known chefs find groundbreaking ways to deliver local produce to your plate.
Arrive in the morning at the Watson’s high country farming property that’s been in the family for many generations. After saddling up, you’ll ride up to spectacular lookouts enjoying 360degree views; along the way, watch out for wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies and Australia’s largest bird of prey, the wedge tail eagle. Stop at Dungeon Hut for a gourmet hamper lunch and then traverse the bridle tracks through quiet valleys and points of historical interest. Arrive at the celebrated Riverhouse at Howquadale, a magnificent country hotel on the banks of the Howqua River. Enjoy a relaxing hot shower before a riverside BBQ dinner in one of Victoria’s prettiest valleys.
After an early country breakfast start your journey up the majestic Howqua River along the high track towards Stockyard Creek. It’s a challenging day’s riding, but well worth it, with spectacular views over the river and tree fern gullies. Stop for a picnic lunch on the river bank surrounded by just mountains.
After lunch, ride through Wares Flat, Whisky Flat and Tobacco Flat and into Stockyard Creek to the Stoney families Pioneering Homestead. Here, you’ll be greeted with a cool drink and warm hospitality by Wendy Jubb Stoney. Enjoy a sumptuous traditional Australian dinner at the homestead with all the trimmings and then retire to your room furnished with original pioneer relics and sun-kissed sheets.
After a relaxing sleep-in, an indulgent breakfast awaits. This is a day of relaxation spent exploring the historic Howqua Hills area including Picture Point, The Chinese Gold Diggings, Mad Professors Hut, Fred Frys Hut and Tunnel Bend. Tonight’s meal is a special affair at Greenstone, the Stoney family house, where you’ll enjoy a five-course degustation dinner.
Again an early rise followed by sumptuous breakfast. Return via the river track to the Riverhouse with long cantering flats and 30 river crossings. Lunch today is at the Hideout with much memorabilia from the Man from Snowy River movie. Tonight, take a drive to the historic Kevington Hotel on the banks of the Goulburn River for dinner. This is one of the longest continually licensed hotels in Victoria dating back to the Gold Rush era.
Next morning, enjoy a hearty country breakfast that gives you a big energy boost before setting off for Kate Camerons Peak, site of the perilously steep hill where the famous jump scene from the movie was filmed. Finally wind your way back down to the farmhouse for lunch to complete your ride.
Itineraries can be tailored to suit, with activities as sedentary or adventurous as you please. It does not always have to focus on horseriding – other activities in the region can be incorporated into your experience including abseiling and caving, whitewater rafting, cycling, 4WDing and helicopter touring.
Nearest major city/town
City – Melbourne
Town – Mansfield
Scheduled or jet flight into Melbourne or charter a helicopter and fly direct to the property.
Vehicle transfer from Melbourne to Merrindie Mountain Retreat takes approximately 2.5 hours