Ben Dark began his latest drive in his 1976 Sandman ute in Scone in the Upper Hunter Valley of New South Wales. Scone is said to rival Kentucky as a thoroughbred horse breeding area with more than 60 studs producing millions of dollars worth of foals every year. It has a state-of-the-art racecourse, a college specialising in equine studies and an Equine Research Centre.
The vibrant rural community was settled by Europeans in the 1840s and is a major cattle, pig, goat, poultry and grain producer. Vineyards are also making their presence felt.
'Belltrees' has been the White family home since 1831 and is one of Australia's most famous rural properties. The 10,000 hectare historic farm breeds thoroughbreds, including some of Australia's most famous polo ponies, and Black Angus cattle.
Guests at 'Belltrees" enjoy rugged colonial elegance in a range of accommodation. You may be guests of Peter and Serena White at the Country House B&B or stay in one of the cottages.
Mountain Retreat overlooks the property from the side of Mt Woolooma. The Country Guest House has two double bedrooms with ensuite. The White Cottage has two double bedrooms with ensuite and mountain views of the Hunter. It is self-sufficient, or can be catered. Munro Cottage accommodates up to eight. It has two double and two twin bedrooms with shared bathroom. Finch Cottage has two double bedrooms, one twin and shared bathroom. Mountain Retreat, with two double bedrooms, is fully catered.
Vinery Stud was established in around 1840 and is Scone's oldest. Millions of dollars have been spent on the 930-hectare property. Its stallions represent a mix of the best sire lines in the world and offer brood mare owners a great variety of opportunity. Horse racing enthusiasts would be very familiar with the names of many of the successful horses from Vinery.
It is an interesting place to visit and it is included on Upper Hunter Tours' itinerary. In fact, thoroughbred stud tours are a specialty of owner Craig Benjamin. His tours also include vineyards, wineries, local cheese makers, honey, tea and coffee producers.
Fifty kilometres east of Scone is Moonan Flat. The little village is ringed by the Mount Royal Range and was founded in the 1870s to serve the Denison gold diggings. Moonan Flat has federation homes, a beautiful suspension bridge and a fast moving river, which sometimes floods, cutting the town off. Snow falls occasionally, but the legendary Victoria Hotel better known as the Moonan Pub is always warm and welcoming with its open fire. Built in 1890, it is said bushranger Captain Thunderbolt was a frequent visitor. An old tin bunkhouse built in 1868 still stands behind an old pine tree.
That was the last stop before heading over the Tops, the highest point of the trip, higher than Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains, and part of the 1879 Gloucester Gold Field. Enormous quantities of the precious metal were yielded for 70 years but all there is today is Mountain Maid Gold Mine, which operates as a tourist attraction.
Most of the Barrington Tops Plateau will always be forest, protected as State Forest and National Park. It is a dramatic area with steep slopes plunging from the plateau. It harbours pristine regions designated Wildness Areas and listed under World Heritage legislation.
The lowland gullies are rich in sub-tropical rainforest and the high plains have glorious snowgums. There are regrowth stands of tall eucalypts and pure, undisturbed ancient Antarctic beech forests, so tough that attempts to log them in the 1950s were abandoned.
There are tracks for mountain-bikers, horse riders and four-wheel drives vehicles and crystal-clear streams with glistening waterfalls near camping sites. Native grape, yam, crab-apple, matrush and tamarind, which were the mainstay of the Aboriginal diet, are still growing there.
The last leg was to Gloucester, which was established in 1855, some 25 years after settlement. The climate proved unsuitable for attempts at sheep raising but good for cattle and dairy farming which today are major industries, along with timber, mixed farming and tourism.
It is a quiet rural town on the edge of a range of monolith hills called The Bucketts. To the town's north, the Gloucester, Avon and Barrington Rivers converge, and the 2600 locals indulge in plenty of water activities.
Roundabout Inn is in the main street and is a welcome stop for travellers. It offers comfortable accommodation and hearty bistro meals.