To those across the seas, Australia’s unforgiving natural habitat can seem like a wild frontier — if it’s not the snakes, spiders and crocodiles that get you, it’s the heat or tropical illnesses. 

Key points:

  • The Bicentennial National Trail runs 5,330km up the east coast of Australia
  • Only about 50 people have completed the trek
  • Alienor le Gouvello used wild horses to complete the epic journey

So why would a woman who grew up in Paris choose to spend over a year travelling through the scrub with three feral horses?

Frenchwoman Alienor le Gouvello, who now calls Bundaberg home, has just published a book about travelling 5,330 kilometres from Victoria to the top of Queensland with three brumbies, as a way of raising awareness and understanding of the horses — and yes, there were snakes, crocodiles and tropical illnesses.

Cover of a book, titled Wild at Heart, featuring a image of a woman on a horse.

Alienor le Gouvello has published a book about her brumby trek, in both France and Australia. (

Supplied: Alienor le Gouvello

)

Australia’s longest trek

Ms le Gouvello joined an exclusive club when she conquered the Bicentennial National Trail — Australia’s longest non-motorised, self-reliant trek, which runs from Healesville, Victoria to Cooktown, Queensland. 

And while Ms le Gouvello is an experienced adventurer who has worked in remote Indigenous and Central Australian communities, the experience was still one of the greatest challenges of her life.

“It was the longest and most challenging trek I’ve done so far but also the most rewarding and amazing experience I have had with horses,” she said.

“I’ve created such a deep and profound bond with my horses on this trail.”

A woman leads three horses through hilly Australian landscape.

Photographer Cat Vinton captured part of the trek and the photos are used in the book Alienor Le Gouvello has published.(

Supplied: Cat Vinton

)

Infection and croc-infested rivers

And it was the love for the horses Ms le Gouvello acquired through the passive trapping program of the Guy Fawkes River Heritage Horse Association, and worked with for months before attempting the journey, that drove her to complete the trail even after being hospitalised with Ross River virus that led to a staph infection.

“That took me to the Cairns Hospital and I was a week from arriving in Cooktown, which was just heartbreaking,” she said.

“I was near to sepsis with the infection almost down to my bone because I was trekking with Ross River and the staph infection, and just ignoring it because I wanted to keep going.

“I crossed rivers infested with crocodiles with my leg covered in a plastic bag to go through and protect my wounds and make it through the last week.”

A woman by a camp fire surrounded by horses.

Alienor le Gouvello hoped her book Wild at Heart would help shift attitudes towards brumbies in Australia.(

Supplied: Cat Vinton

)

Finding love along the way

While Ms le Gouvello makes it very clear her book is not a romance novel, she did meet her now husband along the trail and he helped her push through some of the toughest parts of the journey. 

But her true love remains the three feral horses that completed the epic trip with her.

She felt it proved how resilient the horses, which are often considered pests, could be.

A future with horses

Spending over a year travelling with the horses as companions also helped Ms le Gouvello decide to begin a career in equine therapy. 

“I just feel there is a real powerful thing working with people and horses and I look forward to working with that,” she said. 

“Reconnect with animals and nature, take on a slower pace and the simple things of life.”

Wild at Heart by Alienor le Gouvello is a French-language publication in Europe and has just been published in English in Australia.

A woman rides three horses along a tropical Australian beach.

The Bicentennial National Trail runs from Healesville, Victoria to Cooktown, Queensland. Alienor le Gouvello took over a year to complete the journey. (

Supplied: Cat Vinton

)

Frenchwoman rides wild horses to complete Australia’s longest trek
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