I Thought Deserts Were Dry

Canning Stock Route – Windich Springs to Well 15

Mud, Glorious Mud, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Mud, Glorious Mud, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Overnight the rain continues for hours and hours. Brief excursions outside reveal more and more and bigger and bigger puddles, it looks like we’ll be here tomorrow to let the track dry out. The next day has brief periods of lighter skies and each time we hope that’s the end of the rain but soon more showers fall. Our stay extends another day. After a very brief period of warmer weather on the day we arrived here when we managed to change into shorts the temperature has dropped again so I’m happy to be able to retire inside the camper and keep warm and dry. We’re both surprised to find there are lots of flies around even in the rain, they must be desperate.

After our third night here the next morning is another grey and overcast one with light mist and some drizzle. While the worst of the puddles around camp have dried up the track is still damp and no doubt there is mud ahead. While we’ve been here one 4WD and one trail bike have gone through heading north, they haven’t returned so maybe that’s a good sign but then there hasn’t been anyone heading south either so we don’t know what to expect. We debate staying another day but it seems unlikely conditions will change anytime soon so eventually we decide to push on.

It is 11.00am by the time we head off and after an initial easy start we reach our first section of mud and water. Then there’s more water and mud, and then even more as the water-logged dirt track winds between the trees. There are a few slippery patches but generally we have a firm base underneath and we get through without mishap. At times it is hard to tell where the track goes as it resembles a creek and our passage through the water extends up to 200 metres and around bends. Following the tracks of the vehicle which passed this way two days ago helps us identify where to enter the water and where to come out but a few times some exploration on foot first is in order. I haven’t had a lot of mud driving experience and I know my vehicle is pretty heavy so I’m a bit apprehensive but following Paul’s lead and suggestions make it much easier. As Paul says it’s all fun unless you have to get the shovel out.

After a couple of hours we are almost 40km along the track, better progress than I expected, and the country changes. Sand dunes appear and the ground becomes far redder and sandier. Grass trees dot the sides of the road and most of the low trees we have been weaving between largely disappear.

Grass Trees, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Grass Trees, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Instead of negotiating mud and water we now have corrugations and occasional rocky patches. By 1.30 we arrive at Well 6, Pierre Springs. Stands of white gum trees are spread throughout the camping area and the fully restored well has crystal clear water in it. Lunch and coffee are the first order and then, as we are wandering around, we decide that even though we have covered less than 50km today and it is still quite early this is too nice a place not to spend more time so we will stay the night. As a bonus the flies have decided not to inhabit the area.

Pierre Springs, Canning Stock Route

Pierre Springs, Canning Stock Route

We’re set up and enjoying the peace when 6 vehicles travelling in convoy arrive at about 4.00pm. Much to my surprise in this large camping area they set up close by around us. I guess they must have had a weather forecast as during dinner it starts to sprinkle and then gets heavier. The rain continues steadily all night and by morning the camping spots I thought they could have used are pools of water. Everyone sloshes around in rain gear as the ground gets wetter and wetter and the pools of water bigger and bigger and all vehicles stay put for the day.The stand of white gums next to our camp is now surrounded by a pool of water about nine inches deep.

It is Paul’s birthday today, the big 60, and we had envisioned sitting around a campfire in the desert enjoying some of the bottle of scotch I picked up in duty free on my way back from Malaysia. No campfire is practical in these conditions but we make a feast of nice cheeses, pate, smoked oysters and olives followed by chicken souvlakis from the left over roast to go with the scotch. Jazz music and lots of laughs provide accompaniments to our celebration.

Happy Birthday Paul, Canning Stock Route

Happy Birthday Paul, Canning Stock Route

Apart from an occasional light shower the rain has finally stopped by the next morning and the convoy of 6 vehicles head on by 7.00am. We decide to give the track a bit of a chance to dry out and to take another rest day. A couple of other very muddy vehicles pass through in the morning and mid-afternoon two more pull in to camp. It’s Vince and Robyn, people Paul met originally in Alice Springs and then spent time with in Esperance accompanied by their friends Jim and Julie. They decide to stay the night and we spend a very pleasant evening sitting around the campfire chatting and later watching some of Paul’s photos on his big screen.

The following morning the others leave and we get our act together and follow a short while later. We don’t expect to see them further up the track as they have a much faster rate of travel than us with a planned total of two weeks from Wiluna to Halls Creek; we’ve taken a week and a half to get this far. We’re both keen to get moving though as our stays have been longer than we planned and we hope to cover a good distance today.

It sure is an interesting day’s drive. We start with lots of mud and water, really long patches which aren’t too bad as they are reasonably firm. A few slippery patches see us drifting around a bit, the vehicles in front of us have churned up the mud and the additional time has allowed the water to start seeping into the base. While they aren’t too bad they still take lots of my concentration and when we eventually reach a dry area I’m glad to take a short break. People following in the next week or so might have a more difficult trip until it eventually dries out. The wet and muddy patches are interspersed with sections of corrugations which have to be taken very slowly, small patches of rocky track and the occasional sand dune crossing. As the day progresses we see more of the sand dunes and eventually fewer of the long patches of water although they don’t entirely disappear.

More Mud On the Track, Canning Stock Route

More Mud On the Track, Canning Stock Route

We make good progress, keeping to our average of 20kph, which we consider pretty good considering the conditions. We make it to Well 11 by about 3.00pm and decide to head on toward Well 12 before stopping for the night. The onward drive starts with more sand dunes and then we come across a sight we didn’t expect to see in the desert; a flooded lake bed normally filled with dry grasses which is now a billabong probably a kilometre across. Patches of grass still showing above the water look like reeds. Ducks and other water birds poke between the grasses and further away we can see numbers of white necked herons striding through the water.

Desert Billabong, Canning Stock Route

Desert Billabong, Canning Stock Route

On top of the next sand dune we look over a large round depression filled with green vegetation, White Lake we presume. A firm track leads us around the perimeter of the lake and we cross more sand dunes before arriving at a dune above the water filled Aerodrome Lake which is normally dry and used as a landing strip by light planes. We pause on the edge of the lake while Paul takes some photographs.

Lake Aerodrome, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Lake Aerodrome, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

The track around is firm and I’m feeling pretty happy with that, I’ve had enough mud for the day but I was too optimistic with that thought and we have to cross several more patches of mud. They are a bit slippery but again we make it through with no problems. It’s almost 5.00 by the time we reach Well 12 but we’ve covered over 130km for the day, a very good distance for us. The camp area is delightful with desert oaks surrounding us. Paul is able to gather enough wood nearby for a small campfire and spots plenty of camel tracks while doing so. I hope we see some soon. Another lovely place to spend a night especially with the sound of the wind in the oaks.

The next morning’s drive is delightful. We are really in sand dune country now and cross plenty of them. The damp sand means reaching the summits is straight forward even though some are close to 10 metres high. It would be far more difficult if the sand was dry and hot. In between the dunes sections of rough corrugations could make the driving unpleasant but we’re quite happy slow to 10kph and we walk the vehicles over them with time to admire the countryside. I’m loving the colours in the vegetation, there are so many greens; blue-greens, grey-greens, yellow-greens and straight out green-greens and every variation in between. Pale yellow spinifex and other grasses and spindly black bushes provide contrast as do the occasional patches of red or yellow flowers. All these are set against the bright orange-red sand dunes, I just wish there was also a blue sky but once again it is horizon to horizon grey.

Early Sand Dunes, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Early Sand Dunes, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Lunch is at Well 14 then we are back on the track and what a difference. No more dunes but lots more mud and this time we strike patches without a firm base. A couple of times we are revving the vehicles as hard as possible and just maintaining forward motion, lose that and we’d be stuck. Getting bogged vehicles out would be no easy thing as the nearest firm ground could be around the next bend and there are very few good size trees. If the other vehicle came to help we’d end up with both stuck. I’m very happy to get to the other side of this swampy ground without mishap, the adrenaline was flowing a few times but it’s all good experience. Mind you it is an experience I’d be quite happy not to repeat, or at least not from the driver’s seat.

A short side trip just before the next well takes us to a lookout and we climb the rocks to take in the views. The land all around looks pretty flat and is covered in small bushes so we get no preview of what we can expect from the road tomorrow and the grey clouds covering the sky don’t suggest a sunset worth a camp up here so we return to the main track and head onto Well 15. We arrive by 2.15 and while I was keen to travel an additional 40km to Well 16 for the night I’d prefer not to face more mud today so we make an early camp. It’s another pleasant spot and some firewood has been left behind, by Vince, Robyn, Julie and Jim we suspect, so we can enjoy another fire. The time is well spent transferring the diesel fuel we have been carrying on our roof racks to our tanks, much better carried down low especially over dunes and along ruts where our vehicles are tilted. We’d hoped the weather was finally clearing but more clouds and drizzle fill the night and the next morning.

I shouldn’t have been too worried about the track to Well 16 as there is no more mud, just lots of beautiful country and easy driving. At least after a good night’s sleep I can relax and enjoy it. The corrugations and the odd rocky patch keep the pace down once again so our average remains around 20kph and we have several photo stops as well. We made a late start because I prepared a slow cook curry before we left and we stop for coffee and lunch at Well 16. To add to the pleasant morning’s drive the grey skies are starting to break up and for the first time for a week we are seeing some patches of blue.

Rocky Track, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Rocky Track, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Advertisements

Hard ground

The ground around here is flat and hard and covered by big pebbles and small stones. Next time I will walk back a mile to the tall gum trees where the floods have washed the sand and gravel into long heaps between the roots of the trees. It’s easier to dig there.

On the way to the gum trees stands a tall, lonely dunny. I walk on by the dunny and the attendant flies. I have my own halo of flies. When they need a rest they hitch a ride on my back.

My bare legs don’t collect the spiky grass seeds down around the water’s edge. I carry water back to our camp, weaving my way between the salt bush and enjoying the feel of the seedless, soft fluffy grasses that brush against my bare legs. The water weighs me down and the souls of my feet feel the pressure of the curves and points of the stones through my rubber sandals.

Here on the hard flat earth, away from the billabong, are the biggest grass seeds I have ever seen. They are like enormous straw-coloured dandelion seeds lightly covering the red earth between the tussocks of grass, each one connected to the next. They cling to my legs like wet hairs.

After thirty six hours of rain the hard ground is water-logged and pliant like a newly taut trampoline. With each step I take the ground sinks and then rises behind me leaving only the faintest of footprints for a few minutes until the wet earth absorbs them leaving no trace of my passing.

Flies

“There’s no flies on you, just the spots where they’ve been”

“The flies are very friendly out here!”

I have this theory that city flies are faster than their country cousins. I can usually kill as many country flies as I care to and there are plenty to go around especially when you travel through cattle country after summer rains.

Around camp I chase the cattle away as much as I chase the flies on the basis that fresh cattle pats mean more flies in the future.

Fact. There are more flies in the country than in the cities because there are fewer people around to take advantage of the easier pickings.

Some people don’t like it when a fly finds its way into their ear and can’t get out again. Try not to put your finger in your ear before it escapes or you will get a squashed fly in your ear and they can be tricky to remove.

When a fly gets into your mouth it tends to interrupt the flow of conversation. Then you just have to stop, spit it out, or swallow it. It may be that you are talking too much.

Flies up your nose are bad news!

I was camped by the mouth of the Jardine River on the western side of Cape York one time and sitting looking at the wide calm waters and the ducks and egrets while I tried to ignore the flies. A couple came driving along the sandy track in a Toyota Landcruiser, winding their way between the trees and when they stopped they got out to take a gander. The bloke was short and his missus was normal size. He wore an Akubra hat with a high crown and leather jackaroo boots with high heels. He was still short, and shorter still when he squatted down on his haunches nearby to have a yarn. We talked about the places we came from, the parts of Cape York we had seen, and the places we were going. He had a weathered, chiseled face and china blue eyes under sun-bleached eyebrows. There was no doubt he had the manner and the look of a man who spent most of his life working outdoors.

When he talked you kinda did a double-take on all of that. As he spoke you got the idea that his voice had never broken. It wasn’t a man with a falsetto voice. He had the pleasant tones of a young boy who might sing in a church choir.

All the time we talked we wafted the flies away from our faces with one hand. These flies were the type that are particularly keen on your eyes. In his young boy’s voice the sun-burned jackaroo said they were just ’wet flies’ looking for a drink.

High winds can keep the flies and mozzies away. Rain will keep mozzies away and will usually keep flies away but if the flies are real bad they will ignore the rain. They know they don’t have long to live so they risk collisions with rain drops bigger than they are.

Flies in different places like different things. Depending on where you go you might find flies that like the sun and flies that prefer the shade or flies that live near water or out on the desert plains a long way from any water. It’s a good idea to notice these things and do the opposite to the flies. Up north, where summer temperatures are forty plus, the flies tend to like the shade. It’s not as hot up north in winter but they still prefer the shade so you can avoid the flies and work on your sun tan.

The Adventure Begins

Canning Stock Route – Wiluna to Windich Springs

IMG_8504

Windich Springs, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

It’s 4.00pm by the time we leave the Aboriginal Dreamtime Art Gallery next to the visitors centre in Wiluna and follow the sign north for the Canning Stock Route. The well-maintained Wiluna North Road forms the first 31km of the Stock Route but track maintenance will be scarce or non-existent after that. Tonight we are only going 10km up the road and then taking a 10km detour to North Pool to stay the night. The road is wide and in good condition apart from a short section of corrugations on the North Pool Road and we reach the lovely tree lined billabong well before dark. I had been concerned it would be busy with other campers but there is nobody else around and it looks delightful so it is an easy decision to stay two nights.

2015 0201 031 _WFW9120 CSR North Pool

North Pool, Canning Stock Route, WA

Two nights stretch to three and time passes very easily. Paul is hard at work on his backlog of photographs from his time in the south west and I spend my time taking walks, writing and even trying, very poorly, to do some drawing. Open fires to cook on and later to sit by while watching the night sky add to our enjoyment. Just a pity it isn’t a little warmer but we’ll have to get further north for that. This is the type of place we could happily spend a week or two but with such a long distance ahead of us we know we can’t linger longer.

We leave North Pool at 9.30 am on the fourth day of our journey and we have 10km to rejoin the Wiluna North road and when we reach it we are only 10km advanced from town. Just as well we aren’t in a hurry. The remaining 21km on the Wiluna North Road is the same high standard gravel road. As soon as we make the turn towards Well 2 and Halls Creek we know we are where we belong, on a dusty track rather than a road.

IMG_8465

Dusty Track, Canning Stock Route, WA

At this southern end of the track we are in station country, broad and flat with the odd range of low rocky hills. The track certainly isn’t boring though with numerous changes to keep us concentrating. There are rocky sections which need to be crossed slowly and carefully to make sure tyres and suspension are looked after, washed away ruts to be straddled or detoured around and sections of corrugations, although thankfully not the bone jarring and car breaking type. Sometimes the track crosses open country and other times it weaves through the low bushes. The twists and turns over such flat country make me wonder why such a tortuous route was followed, perhaps they didn’t want to take out a single stumpy tree or perhaps they were just following a rambling steer. It’s not a hard drive but neither is it a fast one. Often our speed is 15kph although occasional flat stretches can see it rise to a giddy 20 or 25kph.

We passed a turn to Well 1 just after we left Wiluna and Well 2 is only 2km after we leave the Wiluna North Road. A brief stop for photos and to read the information sign is made before we continue. We started hearing radio traffic from a group just ahead of us before we reached Well 2 and shortly after our stop for a morning cuppa we catch up with two walkers. They are part of a larger group of five who are walking the Stock Route in order to raise awareness of suicide prevention. They have a support crew travelling in three vehicles. We chat with the two women for a while and not far up the track we catch up with the rest of the group and hear more about their trip and the cause. Some of the group have completed a variety of other challenges in the same cause.

Lunch is at Well 2A, the Granites, and we make our overnight stop at Well 3 after covering the grand distance of 107 km for the day. We had planned to fill our water containers with washing water from the restored well but the smell and look of the water is definitely off so we’ll wait until a better source of water is available. The camping area doesn’t look promising either, resembling a large dust bowl with a steady wind and millions of flies. Instead we drive a short distance up the track and set our camp amongst some low trees. They help with the wind but do nothing to decrease the number of flies so we hide inside, it’s great to have a fly proof area in these conditions.

IMG_8466

Well 3, Canning Stock Route, WA

Next morning the track leads us due east. According to our map we should be heading north east and we wonder if we’ve missed a turn but recent tyre tracks encourage us to keep following the track we are on. Before long we are heading in the right direction but about three km east of where we thought we should be. Several dry and rocky creek crossings later we meet up with the original track, it was apparently re-routed because of washouts. Lesson learnt; you can’t always rely on maps and GPS.

Radio banter lets us know two vehicles are approaching us and soon we’re stopped on the side of the road swapping tales and sharing some laughs with Julie and Carter. They have come from the north and can provide some information about good spots to stop as we go. Carter was working as a lifeguard at Prevelley Beach when Paul was there a couple of months ago and recognised Paul and his truck. He travels when he can in between jobs. Julie lives in Queensland when she can’t be on the road travelling in her 4WD camper “Mudda Trucker”. She is joined at times by her husband, who is hard at work in Brisbane. She was delighted to meet another female driving her own vehicle in these remote areas, we are few and far between. It’s close to an hour before we are mobile and heading north again.

Well 3A is the next well we pass and soon after we arrive at Windich Springs. As with many other places along the Canning Stock Route, this was an important meeting place for Aborigines long before Canning asked for their help to find a route for the northern cattlemen to walk their stock south to the rail head at Wiluna. It certainly isn’t hard to see why this was such an important place. The camping area is separated from the springs which are in a fenced off area and a short walk reveals a lovely tree lined billabong. The white trunks of the gum trees line each side and bright green reeds provide a strong contrast to the tannin coloured water. It’s early and we’ve only covered 70km today, partly because of the long chat with Julie and Carter, but this is too nice a place to pass by so we set up camp for the night.

2015 0201 098 _WFW9172 CSR Windich Springs

Windich Springs, Canning Stock Route, WA

A short walk supplies us with firewood and we cook butterflied peri peri chicken and roast vegetables on the fire. We settle down after dinner to enjoy the moderate temperatures and look forward to some star gazing. A few drops of rain get us scrambling to get everything under cover and before long we’re inside sheltering from the now heavier rain. Hopefully it will pass soon and this country is so dry it should just settle the dust tomorrow.

Salt Lake Spirits

Not long ago I took a slow walk into the wide white distance, towards a floating horizon of iron red ranges suspended above the brilliant surface of a salt lake. As I walked time and place merged into a dreaming in which the past, present and future collapsed within an instant and all people from that place, alive and dead, moved in fluid groups that I could not discern, talking to each other in voices I could not hear. Soft winds blew before the dawn drawing me along paths of salt-fringed clay. Now I am far from the shores of this salt lake, the past is now and the forever future bends in broad swathes between the bands of crystals and red rocky islands.

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

Standing still I focus on this moment and I join the company of these salt lake spirits. They are there in the periphery of my senses. I am aware of living mass and form, movement and sound but when I turn towards them I see inert statues braced in stiff poses standing as silent sentinels guarding a spirit world.

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

The further I walk the softer the going. With each tentative step I carefully place each foot, judging the give and take in the brittle surface and anticipating how far my foot will sink. Beneath the salt is mud. Each time I lift a foot my boot carries another layer of mud. Every now and then I stop to scrape some off.

I am moving so slowly now that, as I pick my way across the vast flatness, it seems to me that time has stopped. I walk from sentinel to sentinel seemingly moving from the now to a future time. As I reach the next statue, standing at the intersections of a web of pathways, time shifts again and another shimmering statue beckons farther out towards that floating horizon.

When I reach each one I naturally gravitate into an orbit, watching the fall of light, changing textures and the warp of line and shadow as I revolve, a satellite to each salt lake spirit. These ‘inner beings’ stand watch under blue skies upon a mesmerising vastness of white. They are the keepers of this country and all of its stories. Perhaps they will tell me some of them and I hope I will remember.

I return across soft clay where salt crystals tinge the edge of the mud and grow, like mushrooms, in the depressions of the boot prints of the travelers who have gone before me. Along the way I walk around a peculiar conical hill which rises abruptly out of the dry lake bed with trees sprouting at strange angles out of its sides. Boulders, large and small, that have broken away and rolled downhill now litter the ground around the circular base of the hill.

Lake Ballard, WA

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

Journey to a world of ‘Inner Beings’ flung far and wide across the white salt of Lake Ballard in Western Australia. Read more about ‘Inside Australia’ and Anthony Gormley’s sculptures here.

Back to the Bush

Kalgoorlie to Wiluna

Sunset at Lake Douglas, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

Sunset at Lake Douglas, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

What a contrast! Just a few days after leaving the heat and humidity of Malaysia I’ve met up with Paul and we’re camped fifteen minutes out of Kalgoorlie in the Australian bush surrounded by gum trees. The trunks are shedding grey bark to reveal a deep russet layer beneath and under foot is the red dirt so typical of central Australia. We’re near Lake Douglas with other campers but we are tucked away down a side track and nobody else within sight of us. The colours and solitude provide an enormous contrast to the busy cities, expanses of palm plantations, lush green jungles and deep blue seas of my recent travels. I feel like I’m home.

I reached Perth on Friday afternoon after three flights and twenty four hours of travel. The trip was smooth with no delays or difficulties but it certainly was lovely to be met at the airport by my cousin Wendy and to have time to recuperate over a relaxing weekend from the last busy section of my Malaysia trip and the long journey. My car has been parked at their place for the past three months but Wendy’s husband Colin has started it regularly and it is running smoothly when I take it in for a service on Monday morning. The long and rough roads I’ve travelled over the past four years and the heavy load of the camper are taking their toll on the Hilux and some extra work to strengthen the truck is completed and more recommended before tackling the very rough Canning Stock Route. I’m impatient to get out into the bush and to meet Paul so rather than have the work done in Perth I set off early Tuesday morning for the 600 km drive inland to Kalgoorlie.

It is the following Monday before the car has the heavier springs installed but we have plenty to do in the meantime. Paul has a huge backlog of photos from his time in the south west and after three months of travelling with just a backpack I’m keen to go through my clothing and other personal items and get rid of unnecessary bits and pieces to free up more room in the camper. We also need to plan and shop for seven weeks on the road and work out how to fit everything in. I haven’t had to shop or prepare food for three months so it takes a bit of thinking to get back in gear. We are heading north from Kalgoorlie to Wiluna and only passing through a couple of small towns on the way and we could take a week to get there. From Wiluna we will be travelling almost 2,000km up the Canning Stock Route with very limited opportunity to get food, fuel or any services until we reach Halls Creek in the north east of the state. Many people spend two weeks on the Canning but we want to take our time and expect to spend four weeks at a minimum. We are also allowing an extra week for delays and I figure we always take longer than we expect so we need to allow another week, hence six to seven weeks of food and water.

Finally the car is pronounced good to go, the fridges are stocked, water and fuel tanks and extra jerry cans and water containers filled up and we are on our way.

The Goldfields Highway is our initial route north. It’s a bitumen road and we could make it to Wiluna in a day or, if we wanted to take it easy, spread it over two days. That’s not our style however and we make a couple of detours, along dirt roads of course, stretching the distance from a direct 540 km to nearly 800 km and spending seven nights on the road after we leave Kalgoorlie.

Our first stop is not far north of Kalgoorlie at a roadside rest stop and next morning we continue on the highway to the small town of Menzies. A couple of hours are easily spent here as we first enjoy a long hot shower in the caravan park then wander around the town. Interpretive panels outside the few remaining old buildings provide information about the town’s history and quotes from former residents. In addition rusty steel figures provide a glimpse of what life was like when the town had a population of 10,000 people, 3 hotels, 3 banks, 4 churches and 3 breweries. Now there is one pub which doubles as the general store, for sale if anyone is interested, a cafe, a very grand looking shire office, and a council run information centre and caravan park.

Menzies Shire Offices

Menzies Shire Offices

After lunch we start our first detour heading off the highway 50 km to Lake Ballard. It is a salt lake and the site for an art exhibit of 51 metal sculptures derived from laser scans of Menzies inhabitants. I’ve visited here twice before and still find it a fascinating place to visit and explore and Paul has been looking forward to spending time here to capture some of it in his photographs. If you would like to know more about Lake Ballard and the fascinating sculptures by Anthony Gormley click here and here. We end up staying three nights, partly because the place changes in different lights and walking far out onto the lake or up the hill in the middle of the lake provides different views and partly because the weather turns so cold I spend a day hiding from it, not game to venture far from the camper. My blood has definitely thinned and I’m not handling the cold at all well, especially after returning from hot and humid Malaysia. The sun finally makes a welcome return so I manage my walk onto the lake. On my previous visits the salt reached the near edge of the lake and was firm to walk on. The lake edges are now firm dry mud for a good distance and when the salt is reached it is sloppy underfoot but OK to walk on provided we take it slowly and carefully.

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

When we leave we continue our dirt road detour loop until we return, briefly, to the highway at Leonora. After a very short stop we take another dirt road loop to the other side of the highway and our next overnight stop at a place called the Terraces. Here sandstone cliffs form a ‘jump up’ running north-south and several camping spots are nestled along the base. It’s just on sunset so Paul climbs to the top to try to capture the last light while I check out the camping options. It has turned cold again and the only sighting we have of the sun the next day is for about ten minutes after sunrise. I’d love to explore this place some more but it doesn’t show off its best colours in these lights and after two nights we give up and continue up the dirt road.

Eventually we return to the highway and head into the town of Leinster for the night. A caravan park with showers and free washing machines is too good to pass up, it will be good to at least start on the Canning Stock Route with everything clean. We stick to the bitumen for our final leg of the journey to Wiluna and by mid-afternoon we are ready to start our next big adventure.