Into the Dry Country

Canning Stock Route – Kunawaritji to Well 43

Sand Dune in Dry Country, Canning Stock Route

Sand Dune in Dry Country, Canning Stock Route

Fresh green vegetables, parsley and some grapes; it doesn’t take much to see us happy with our shopping. It’s four weeks since we did our big shop in Kalgoorlie with a small top up in Leinster a week later so it is lovely to be able to get some fresh fruit and vegetables. The store only gets fresh deliveries fortnightly, we hope we’ve arrived soon after the last delivery rather than soon before the next. Non-perishables and frozen items are only restocked once a year so if things sell more quickly than last year (as wraps have) they run out and aren’t available for the rest of the year. We also pick up a little bit of meat, two loaves of frozen bread, a couple of extra packets of water crackers, essential for our pre dinner snacks, a couple of souvenir T-Shirts and a replacement bottle of Stop Leak, just in case. A fuel top up, tanks only as we shouldn’t need the jerry cans, and the bill comes to a cool $800 plus. Guess paying $3.40 per litre for the diesel has something to do with that. Food prices don’t seem too bad given our location and we knew what to expect with the fuel.¬†While we are in Kunawaritji we use the public phone to contact family and let them know where we are and how we are going.

Leaving Kunawaritji, Canning Stock Route

Leaving Kunawaritji, Canning Stock Route

 

All that done and we are back on the road in just over an hour and making the short drive to Well 33 to replenish our water supplies. We are still on a section of road which has been recently graded so it is a very easy drive. When we arrive we see two trucks parked opposite which are obviously here for the night so after we have organized our water we head over, coffee mugs in hand, to check out their rigs and have a chat.

Jim and Julie and their children Dominic and Eloise are on the road for 18 months in their Unimog which is a pretty amazing set up. Paul has said for ages he’d like a Unimog and I keep saying ‘too big’. We’d read about this truck in the CMCA magazine and Jim has made sure it’s got everything you could possibly want while on the road. I still think ‘too big’ but I can see the attraction as it would certainly go anywhere, provided the track isn’t too narrow or the tress too low of course. I reckon they’ve probably done a fair bit of bush and tree trimming as they pass along some of the tracks they travel. The other truck is comparatively smaller but still looks pretty capable of going anywhere. It’s a Muso Canter owned by Charlie and Robyn and they aren’t permanently on the road but by the sounds of it they are travelling for eight months or more each year. Charlie and Robyn are heading south but the ‘Unimog mob’ Jim, Julie and their children, are travelling slowly north so we may see them again.

After a prolonged chat we eventually get back on the road, take an inadvertent detour to the airstrip, and then head north toward Well 34. The grading continues almost until we reach the turn to the well then the road condition reverts to form. This time the form is corrugations and more corrugations. The land is very flat and there isn’t a sand hill in sight. For quite a long time the land is so dry and hard there aren’t even any trees but eventually we find a pleasant treed area surrounding Well 35 and stop for the night.

Desert Oaks, Canning Stock Route

Desert Oaks, Canning Stock Route

As with most of our camps we have the place to ourselves and apart from the whisper of wind in trees it is very quiet. Through the night we hear some unusual noises. I have often heard animals wandering around when I’ve been camped in the bush but this is a first, it is camel footsteps close by. Suddenly they stop then begin again with the addition of some heavy, chesty grunts and then fade away. I guess they are just as surprised to see us as we are to hear them.

The next day’s drive is dominated by lots of deep red sand dunes and lots of beautiful desert oaks and tall spinifex. Well 36 has been restored but a dead camel was pulled out of it sometime back and we’re not sure if the water has not been drinkable since. We don’t need any so we don’t even try it. The numerous zebra finches don’t seem to mind it as they swarm around the area and perch on the grate at the top. Well 37 is just ruins and we also pass a couple of native wells marked by circles of tall grass.

The track zig zags a bit today and for some time we are heading east rather than north. The dunes all tend to run in an east west direction so in this section we get some variety with the track running along the top of the dune rather than up and over. The sand is quite soft in patches and there are quite a few ruts so it’s still slow and careful driving but it is nice to get a different perspective. Not long after we left camp we passed two vehicles heading south and another one about half an hour later. I had been told the track was easier to travel from north to south rather than in the direction we are headed and it seems most other travellers have heard the same report. What we’ve found so far, particularly today, is that the dunes appear to be steeper, softer and lumpier on the north face than the south face we are heading up and we are getting an easier run this way. The extra traffic from north to south would certainly be a factor in this and in addition the winter sun hits the north face earlier and as it heats the sand becomes far softer.

One dune however defies this trend and had a long, steep and soft southern approach with quite a lot of ruts and a badly churned section where the main track and the run up track join. Paul crosses with no problems but the Hilux with its lower power, smaller tyres and heavier load stalls short of the top. I back down and try again with the benefit of the run up track. I make it almost to the top but stop just short. Luckily this dune has an easier north face so rather than risk churning more sand up Paul backs up and we attach the snatch strap and he gives me a boost over the top. More driving early in the morning when the sand is cooler and another reduction in tyre pressure will be the next tactics if the soft sand continues.

 

The only hills we’ve seen all day have been dry sand dunes and there haven’t been any rocky areas so I’m curious about the cave and rock art marked on the maps. Three clusters of rocks in between two long dunes show we have reached the spot. The roof of the cave collapsed in 2012 and it is unsafe to enter and we don’t find the rock art but it still makes a nice spot to spend the night.

The next morning’s drive provides a continuation of dry sand dunes, all negotiated with no problems at all. Wardabunna Rockhole near Well 38 is marked as having intermittent water and it would certainly be an important place for desert dwellers providing shelter and at least occasional water. A line of trees running west suggests an underground source of water which may be permanent.

Wardabunna Rock Hole, Canning Stock Route

Wardabunna Rock Hole, Canning Stock Route

Soon after this we cross a low range of rocks and begin hearing radio traffic from the north. A camel standing on top of a sand dune watches as we meet Beau and Shirley from Darwin and hop out of our vehicles to have a pleasant chat and compare track notes.

Camel on a hill, Canning Stock Route

Camel on a hill, Canning Stock Route

Well 39 is another ruin but a puddle of water keeps the zebra finches happy. A few kilometres later we reach the southern shore of Tobin Lake. It has obviously not had any water in it for many years which is just as well as our next 13km is straight across it passing by or going over the occasional ‘island’ outcrop. It is an extremely easy run with a hard straight surface free of corrugations and huge views in every direction. We’re happy to amble across slowly enjoying the drive.

Lake Tobin, Canning Stock Route

Lake Tobin, Canning Stock Route

On the other side there are a few more easy dunes, with the sand becoming softer now that it has been warmed by the sun, and we reach the turn to Well 40. We take the 2km side track and pick a spot to set up for lunch and to stay the night. It’s lovely to be able to spend time out here with no pressure to get to the other end by a certain date. Even though I know if I have a problem with a dune we can drop pressures or use a snatch strap to help get the Hilux over it but I’m happy to tackle the sand dunes in the morning and make it even easier.

During the night we hear a dingo howling, I had a brief glimpse of one the other day but they have been scarce on this trip. I’ve seen fewer animals in general than I expected. Paul saw a few roos and wallabies further south but they had all disappeared before I passed. Larger birds such as bustards were also reasonably frequent further south but they generally either flew off or disappeared into the bushes as Paul passed leaving me to see the occasional back and receding glimpse. We only saw one camel south of the Talawana track but there have been a few more since. Julie from the Unimog mob told me they had seen a couple of large herds totaling around 100 camels near Lake Disappointment but that was sometime back before they took a side trip along the Talawana Track heading west to visit Karlamilyi and Karajini National Parks and the west coast.

Before we leave in the morning we drive up the hill to Tobin’s grave. We don’t find the grave site but we do meet a camel wandering along the hill through the tall spinifex. A wander to the top of the hill doesn’t give views of Tobin Lake but more and more spinifex covered hills. There are so many varieties of spinifex and the type here is much taller than most. The colour, particularly in the early morning light is beautiful and I love to see the tall stems blowing in the breeze.

Most of the day’s drive is similar to yesterday with lots of sand dunes opening up glorious views of this big country in front of us. Photo stops at the top of some of the dunes give me longer to enjoy the vistas.

Another sand dune, Canning Stock Route

Another sand dune, Canning Stock Route

We have some long runs between dunes and while there are corrugations they are generally able to be travelled over at a good speed and our average speed edges over 20kph for the first time in the trip and we even get into fourth gear a few times. We’ve seen quite a few areas where the indigenous rangers have been patch burning over the years and quite a lot of the country we pass through today appears to have been burnt within the past few years. Paul and I debate which dunes we prefer with Paul opting for the dunes burnt some years ago while I prefer the unburnt ones. Paul’s reasons naturally revolve around photography with his liking for the contrast between the orange sand and black wood, the clearer view of the line of the dune without it obscured by vegetation and the lines made by the new soft green growth edging up the dune. My reasons – I just prefer the look of the unburnt ones.

We’re quite used to flies around when we stop during the day but they are particularly thick when we make a cuppa at Well 41. When we spot a dead camel not far away we understand why and we are soon on our way again. The other reason flies can be more numerous is when there is water around and while they are still annoying at least we are likely to see birds as well. Zebra finches are common around water and today we also see and hear some flocks of budgies, they always make me feel like I’m in the real outback.

We had thought of stopping for the night or at least for lunch at Well 42 at the bottom of Guli Lake but the area there is not enticing with lots of flies and no shade so we continue across the dry lake bed. It is quite similar to Tobin Lake but smaller at only 3 to 4km across. It’s another easy drive and we continue over dunes and along the country between until we reach Well 43 where we call it quits for the day. It’s only 1.00pm but we’ve covered more than 100km which is very good going by our standards.

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