The lead stallion stops just five metres away. His small herd gather behind him, dripping with water, their sides heaving with exhaustion. A couple of young horses are visibly shaken, their hind legs quivering. For two days we have unwittingly pursued these brumbies up this narrowing valley. The riverbed is now so rocky they have been forced to return downstream and confront us.
We struggle to stay hidden and quiet, crouched awkwardly behind a boulder amongst trees on the river's edge. The stallion may not be able to see us but he is suddenly, acutely, aware of our presence. His nostrils flare and he snorts loudly, staring intently ahead. The nervous energy in the air is intense as he snorts again and again. A stand-off begins.
This is not our first exciting wild encounter of this 4-day trip walking along the Chandler River from Long Point to Wollomombi Falls. This is, after all, Oxley Wild Rivers National Park and hiding behind a rock with my heart pounding, it seems 'wild' has been the order of the day, every day.