Many 18-year-olds who take a gap year after school may have kicked off their newfound freedom with Schoolies Week or partying with friends.
But Libby Wylie, of Tea Gardens in New South Wales, had a different adventure in mind.
The teen has just begun her dream of completing the Bicentennial National Trail on horseback.
Stretching from Cooktown in Far North Queensland to Healesville in Victoria, the 5,330-kilometer trail was officially opened as part of Australia’s bicentenary in 1988.
In the family
Known as the BNT, the national trail or simply “the trail”, it follows the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and the eastern slope. So far, less than 60 people have completed the entire trail.
Libby, who embarked on her journey just weeks after she turned 18 in April, was inspired by her parents’ romantic stories.
“My mother had come from Ireland to try the trail and she met Dad and he said he would love to join her on her quest,” she said.
Libby originally wanted to start the trail when she was only 16, but her father Rob Wylie suggested waiting until she was 18.
“Libby has been saving up for this for the past two years and after she turned 18 this year we decided to give it a shot,” said Mr. Wylie.
The trail passes through some of the most remote and inaccessible parts of western Queensland and New South Wales.
Mr. Wylie has embarked on the journey with his daughter and will later pass it on to others.
“I’ll eventually have to go back to work, and if I’m not with her, Libby will be accompanied by friends for part of the journey,” he said.
“I hope I can pass on some skills and help her on her way and hopefully I can join her at the end of the journey.”
While Libby is joined by other riders, she also has two riding horses and two pack horses.
“We do about 20km a day on the horses, and we often get out and walk to give the horses a break,” she said.
“I’ve always loved riding horses, going on adventures and being outdoors.
Gap year at horse pace
With no cell phones, TV, social media, or the Internet, Libby says one of the hardest parts of her journey is social isolation.
“Sometimes it takes days before we see another human being. We get excited when we see a road or a house,” she said.
“It’s very different from what I’m used to, I’m used to seeing people or chatting every day.
“While now it’s all about being independent and finding my own way without technology.
“We’ve gotten lost a few times over the past few weeks, but eventually we find our way.”
Mr Wylie said the highlight so far has been meeting the locals.
“I’ve always told Libby that the people of North Queensland are phenomenal, they were so friendly, welcoming and supportive,” he said.
“We are constantly inundated by people’s hospitality, so a lot of people just want to stop by the side of the road for a chat.
While the entire journey could take up to 18 months, Libby says there is no timetable and she likes to follow the horse’s pace.
“We like to give the horses decent breaks, if they’re in a good mood we continue,” she said.
“There are too many variables to have a timetable. It’s all about the horses.”