Horse Riding on the Atherton Tablelands

By Sheila Tait

The Atherton Tablelands is a great area for horse riding; there are several options available for both horse and rider to experience a variety of trails and scenery. It is very pleasant to own a horse which is quiet, willing, accustomed to keeping company with and accepting other, strange horses, and not fazed by passing and overtaking vehicles. Quiet local roads can be pleasant for riding. Remember, however, that you and your horse are considered to be a vehicle when on public roads. You have the same responsibilities as you have when driving a car!

Most drivers and motor-cycle riders are fairly considerate and slow down when there are horses on the road. In the Instructions to Learner Drivers, there is a very short section advising drivers to give way to horses on roads. If you know of any Learner Drivers, it would be worthwhile to ensure that they are aware of this advice.

Public Roads
Areas available for horse riding without special permission; Tinaroo, Wongabel, Herberton Range – Deep Creek Road to Plath Road, to Rolley Road, to Tepon, Wondecla, and Herberton.
Wondecla to The Bluff and on to Tumoulin and beyond.
Ravenshoe and beyond.
Parts of these roads follow in the footsteps of the pioneers who opened mining and logging operations which existed for many years.
Conditions on these tracks in the Wet Season can be unpleasant with overgrowth and muddy sections. For the sake of your horse and yourself it is best to avoid using some places while these conditions last.

The Rail Trail
From Tolga Road to Walkamin, this was developed by the Tablelands Regional Council as a recreational trail for non-motorised users. It is leased from the Department of Transport and maintained by the TRC. An Advisory Committee was involved in the early days of the development, and has been re-established to ensure that the TRC is aware of community concerns.

Shared Trails
In recent years there has been an effort by community members and organisations to establish tracks which can be used for quiet recreation, again excluding motorised vehicles. Bush walkers, cyclists, and horse riders can all benefit from these, and the associated co-operation among groups is pleasant to see!
These tracks have been opened by the efforts of volunteers; the only funding provided has been from occasional grants. The maintenance work, surface management, tree planting, and general beautification is a result of many hours’ work by volunteers.
Horse riders greatly appreciate cyclists who are teaching their fellow riders that when approaching horses from behind, call out, whistle, or make some kind of loud noise so that horses, unable to see or hear the quiet machine behind them, can become aware, and not be startled by bikes.

Rifle Range Road
From here onto the Herberton Range, above Rangeview and the Tolga area, a network has been developed by various organisations. The Tablelands Outdoor Recreation Association Inc. serves as an umbrella body for users here and other places mentioned.

Atherton Herberton Historic Railway: Platypus Park – Hastie Road
The aim of the AHHR is to have this as a shared trail. However, it is still in the developmental stage, and horse riders should be aware of the geography of the rail corridor, the embankment, and the low-lying approved user tracks which can be wet and boggy. Please be considerate.

Camping with Your Horse
Some cattle stations on the fringes of the Atherton Tablelands will welcome campers who can bring their horses and ride on the property. Nearer to town, Old Mate’s Farm at Wongabel, allows horses both traversing and camping. Individual websites should be accessed to enquire and make bookings for these activities.

The National Trail (formerly the Bicentennial National Trail)
This trail was a concept of R.M.Williams, and has been many years in the making, with survey and marking of the trail ongoing. The starting point is at Cooktown, the finish at Healesville in Victoria, a total of some 5,300 kilometres which is maintained by volunteers.
It passes through private land, cattle stations and, in some states, sections of National Park. Membership is encouraged, and in fact necessary if you intend to ride large sections of it.
Riding with pack horses is the usual system for travelling the National Trail, and the 5000 Club consists of those riders, cyclists, and walkers who have achieved the full distance!
There are coordinators for all sections. Designated stopping and camping places are shown on the National Trail maps, available for members on their website, and changing from time to time, which makes membership an advantage.
Locally, it passes through Mt. Molloy, Mutchilba, Stannary Hills, Montalbion, Irvinebank, and Innot Hot Springs. Some of the most difficult stretches of the National Trail are in the remote areas around the Atherton Tablelands.
Recent information is that a camping area for the National Trail, with yards for horses, has been set up at Mutchilba, thanks to the Mareeba Shire Council and local residents. In Irvinebank, the local Progress Association will cater for groups, given prior booking.
For detailed information about local National Trail tracks, and other remote area access, contact Tim Daniel at Wilderness Expeditions, Herberton (Trekking with Donkeys).

Holidays on Horseback
Take some time off! Give your horse a change of scenery! Are you and your horse capable of travelling up to 20, 25, perhaps 30 easy kilometers a day, for a few days? What are the options? A weekend at a stationary camp, 3 or 4 days at a stationary camp? About 5 days moving each day to a new camp? Perhaps 7 or 10 days in remote country, where the horse is the easiest means of transport?
Planning for these events is best done by a group. Considerations include: the suitability of camping areas with regard to space, access to water etc; the route to be taken; permission for access and camping; catering for people and horses; costs of travelling; camping fees on private land; transport for horses and riders – not everywhere has easy access for horse floats, nor can they be taken into some campsites. Be prepared to have back-up vehicles, for comfort and for safety, and your own light camping equipment.
Extended rides can be provided by the Cairns & District Trail Horse Club, Inc. and Tait’s Wongabel Stables, either individually or as a joint venture.

Photo of horses
Photos by Melinda Morris