All Good Things …

Canning Stock Route – Breaden Hills to Halls Creek

Well 51, northern most well on the Canning Stock Route

Well 51, northern most well on the Canning Stock Route

We drive out of the Breaden Pool valley and back onto the main track. Near the turn off to Well 48 we can’t resist another short stop for more photos but eventually we leave the hills behind and head on to Well 49 passing yet another Outback Spirit convoy on the way. We’ve been told there is excellent water available at the well and I’m quite surprised to find that when I lower the bucket it won’t even sink and the water I haul up is a little muddy. It’s fine for washing water which is all we need at this stage but I’d be disappointed if I was after drinking water. Later we find out that the Outback Spirit people pump water here and would have taken 1300 litres and dropped the water level in the process. It will refill fairly quickly but we arrive too soon after their departure for that to have happened. We refill our washing water and have a cuppa before moving on.

Well 49, Canning Stock Route

Well 49, Canning Stock Route

Six kilometres up the track there are three camping areas under stands of desert oaks. We had thought of using one of these for an overnight stop but it’s only mid-morning and we’re not ready to stop for the day. We find the Unimog mob in the process of finishing their morning pack up after an overnight camp at one of them and stop for a chat, and another cuppa. We’re always ready for a chat and another coffee. We thought they would have been further ahead of us but they had a couple of short days because they had to change a tyre, no small task with those massive rims and treads. They are only planning on travelling a short distance today to a gorge and Galvida soak near Well 50.

We finish our chat and leave them to their packing to continue our journey. It is only another 25km to the turn into Well 50 but there are lots of corrugations so it’s slow and bumpy going. Some trees in the direction of the well look like a promising spot for lunch and we head in. Lots of trees are scattered across and around a large mud pan and promise good camping but we continue past this area and the well to investigate alternatives near the gorge another few kilometres on. A quick look shows it to be worth exploring this afternoon but not a good spot for the night. We’ve just finished lunch when the big red Unimog is seen approaching and the others arrive. The kids want to join us in our exploring so Julie gets them a quick lunch to eat while we walk and we head across the rocks and down onto the sandy floor.

Boy do they have loads of energy. It’s the middle of the day and hot but that doesn’t stop them running ahead and clambering over rocks and diving into soft sand. We follow the gorge for a while with Dominic quizzing Paul for photography tips and Eloise demonstrating her sand swimming skills then decide the soak is probably in the opposite direction so we return to the vehicles. Jim and Julie are just setting out for their walk and the kids have the choice of joining them or staying with us to see if we can find the soak back along the road we drove in. They stay with us and we drive up the road to a spot we think likely and walk through the spinifex to the dry river bed. We’ve come further than we hoped so we walk along the sandy bed identifying animal tracks until we reach the bright red wall we hoped would be the soak. No luck and we’re very hot by now so after a rest in the shade we return to the cars. When we finally catch up with Jim and Julie we find out they went further than us and found a rock hole with a good amount of water plus side gorges and Aboriginal etchings. Oh well, we tried. We all return to the treed area to camp for the night and enjoy another good campfire and very pleasant evening.

It is a short drive in the morning to Well 51, the final well of the Stock Route, just 20km north. From here the Unimog mob are continuing north along the western side of Lake Gregory to camp at Stretch Lagoon which is about 12km before Billiluna and the Tanami Track, which is the end of the Canning Stock Route. We want to spend some time at Stretch Lagoon too but first we are planning to follow the track around the eastern shores of Lake Gregory to a camp site there then finding a smaller track across the top rejoin the Stock Route just below the lagoon.

The track around the south and east of the lake is good with far fewer corrugations, no doubt due to far less traffic. Brolgas are common and fly off as we approach. We find the Handover campground with no problems and Paul is very keen to capture some of the beauty in the evening and tomorrow morning. The lake has lots of water in it but near the water there is no shade and loads of insects so we spend the afternoon in a shady spot in the campground two kilometres from the lake edge.

When Paul is heading off to take photos in the late afternoon he notices the front of the car bouncing far more than normal. A quick check shows the shock absorbers are shot, this could mean a change of plans. Paul is still hopeful of sticking to our plan but after we have packed and headed on in the morning it soon becomes obvious that rough tracks should be avoided as far as possible. We aren’t far from the Aboriginal community of Mulan and there is a graded road from there to Balgo and then into Halls Creek. It is adding quite a bit to our distance to be travelled and means we miss Stretch Lagoon but at a steady rate we can make it into town today and organise repairs.

It’s not quite the way we planned to finish our journey up the Canning Stock Route but the change of plans is minor and the problem will be easily fixed. We have had a fantastic journey with many great sights and experiences.

The rain and mud in the early stages were unexpected and gave us a totally different view of the track. I found it challenging but I’m much more experienced and confident in mud now, or at least as long as there is a firm bottom. The rain also put fresh life into the vegetation making everything greener and bringing on the wildflowers we saw more of later in the trip.

The southern section had an abundance of good camp sites with our favourites at North Pool, Windich Springs, Pierre Springs and the highlight, Durba Springs. We’d be happy to spend more time at any of them.

When the rain finally cleared we were treated to clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine. As the track dried and the sun heated the sand, the dunes which had been easy to cross while damp become far more challenging.

I always thrill to the sight of the red sand dunes, damp or dry, burnt or unburnt, they really reflect the Aussie outback to me and I love the anticipation I feel when I’m driving up one face, what will I see when I reach the crest. That’s apart from the ‘will I make it over the top feeling’ of course. I’m far more confident of my abilities in sand now as well as mud.

The sheer variety in the track surprised us. Conditions constantly swapped between sandy or rocky, corrugated or firm and level, straight or winding, open or bushy and every combination and degree. It can make for tiring driving but if you are not in a hurry and love driving, as we do, it is a delight.

We met lots of great people as we travelled. It is rare for people out here not to take the time to stop and have a chat and we shared some friendly campfires and yarns. On the other hand there weren’t so many we felt we couldn’t get our own space and we often had the camp site to ourselves.

Overall it is the sheer dimensions of the journey which make it special. 2,000 km of rough unmaintained tracks through rugged and unforgiving country including three deserts with extremely limited support or services over a five week period make it an epic journey and it is certainly one we won’t forget.

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Big Dunes in a Big Country

Canning Stock Route – Well 43 to Breaden Hills

Big dunes, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Big dunes, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

From Well 43 we have an easy run east in between dunes for the first 8 or 9 km then the track takes a 90 degree turn and travels due north for more than 20km. Most of the time the track heads generally north-west but wanders along until a low section of a dune can be crossed. This section is however quite different, the dunes are straight and uniformly high and the track marches north straight over them. They are significantly higher than previous dunes we have crossed but at this time of the day the sand is cool and the track firm so there are no problems with any of them and we can enjoy the drive and the views. These look like the classic shots of the stock route with the next dune in the distance and wide flat stretches of spinifex running east west between the dunes.

More Big Dunes, Canning Stock Route

More Big Dunes, Canning Stock Route

Eventually we take another turn east and cover another 9km on a straight run between the dunes to Well 44. The vegetation has changed yet again and bushes line the side of the tracks and whip at our cars. Red berries brighten some and others are acacias bursting into blossom. The occasional low purple flowers add extra colour.

After a cuppa at the well we are heading north for about another 15km before turning west and I’m expecting more of the same but this time the track is not so straight and the dunes to be crossed are lower. Some are also softer but as they are not very long or steep I have no problems. At the spot where we turn west a dry lake bed has white gums dotting the rim. A camel is using the shade of one of them and ambles off as we watch. Another white gum offers a good amount of shade for a camp and although it isn’t yet lunchtime we decide we’ll enjoy the spot and we take the afternoon off. We’re ready for a day off but haven’t found the right spot so early finishes are a good substitute.

Mid-afternoon four vehicles approach from the south and continue on without pause and a while later the Unimog mob appears with Jim driving the truck and Julie following in the jeep. Usually the jeep is towed on an A-frame but it is unhitched at present so they can easily use it for side trips and Dominic and Eloise swap between the vehicles. They stop for a short chat and move on to find their own spot for the night. Apart from all this traffic the afternoon passes peacefully with the occasional bird to watch. Tiny wisps of clouds appear in the sky then disappear, melting away as we watch, just as another pops out of the blue in another spot. There is plenty of fire wood and we decide it is a good opportunity for another butterflied lamb roast which we can cook on the fire and then enjoy the stars. The pink in the dry lake bed intensifies around sunset and reappears for Paul to take some shots before sunrise. When he comes back from the morning shots he wonders if I lost a sandal during the night as he found one of mine moved from its normal position at the bottom of the steps. We didn’t hear anything but obviously a dingo was prowling the camp during the night looking for food. We put everything else away but guess we’ll have to make sure our footwear comes inside with us too.

We plan another easy day and early stop, neither of us is in a hurry to finish this track, so we aim for Well 46 which is less than 50km away. It is one of the restored wells although we are not sure of the quality of the water. The first part of the day’s drive is heading west along a flat plain between two widely spaces dunes. Occasional clumps of bushes provide more splashes of red and yellow but I’m loving the wide expanses of pale yellow spinifex filling the plain and the termite mounds dotting the areas between clumps.

We are approaching Gravity Lakes, we’ve found their name intriguing and we are interested to see them. We pass to the side of one of the lakes and on the other side of the next we find the Unimog mob and we stop to chat again. The track goes around the edge, the middle looks firm but we have no intention of checking whether it actually is. When the sun is overhead the smooth and shiny surface of these lakes appears black or very dark blue but from a different angle it is quite pink or as Paul says, ‘the rich red colour of wet bricks’. This lake is a deeper pink and far larger than the one we camped by and there is a very interesting looking jump up in the background but there is little shade here. The kids are having fun digging mines in the smooth mud, a great life for kids. Jim and Julie are also planning on stopping at Well 46 so we will see them again then.

Heading north east now we have some more dunes to cross but these are so low they barely merit the name dunes, maybe I’ll just settle for sand ridges for these ones. The track winds about more and while there are still some lovely open patches of tall spinifex there are more shrubby sections and even the odd section of rocky ground to be crawled over. Well 45 is a quick cuppa stop and Well 46 is as pleasant as we hoped. Scattered white gums provide our choice of camping spots and while the well water is brown and a little muddy it is fine for washing ourselves and our clothes. It’s a week since our last rest day so we’ll take the rest of today and tomorrow here and we can both get some work done with our photos.

Julie and Jim and the children arrive soon after lunch and later in the afternoon a couple arrive from the north to spend the night. They are followed by another Outback Spirit mob on their next trip. Luckily there is room for them to camp a little away from us so while this is the busiest camp we have had on the whole trip we don’t feel crowded. We’ve set up the studio but don’t get any work done on our photos as we spend the time talking to Julie and Jim or to the kids either at our camp or around their fire.

Unimog Mob at Well 46, Canning Stock Route

Unimog Mob at Well 46, Canning Stock Route

The morning is another social time with only a little work done. The kids love talking to people and they get a lesson in Photoshop as Paul tries to work as well as covering topics as varied as chemistry and birds. More vehicles come and go from the north and the south during the morning with some stopping for a chat and others racing through without pause, we wonder why they come out here. It’s nearly midday before the Unimog mob are ready to head off and we retreat back into the studio for the afternoon to continue our tasks.

There is more traffic in the afternoon but we are inside most of the time and don’t chat. Two couples stop for the night but they aren’t camped near us so we don’t even get around to saying hello, certainly not our usual camp etiquette. It certainly is a busy place with more than 20 vehicles passing through or stopping but anywhere on the track we stayed would get as much passing traffic. Our camp is well set up and we have good amounts of shade for our vehicles and plenty of sun for the solar panels and as we haven’t got anywhere near as much work done as we hoped we’ll stay another day. We’ll have to wait and see if the increase in traffic is just a one day coincidence or if this is the start of the busy time as the season progresses and school holidays approach.

Our visitors overnight and in the morning are of different varieties. A black and tan dingo was prowling around while we were enjoying our campfire and we make sure our footwear is inside and all rubbish burnt or secured before bed. In the morning we find the large mat at the base of the steps has been dragged a distance of about 5 metres. Not sure what attraction a rubber mat has but there are no marks so the dingo obviously didn’t find it tasty. I’m a light sleeper so I’m surprised he could get it out from under the feet of the steps without making enough noise for me to hear.

Dingo raid, Well 46, Canning Stock Route

Dingo raid, Well 46, Canning Stock Route

The morning visitors make a lot more noise. Large flocks of budgies chatter as they swoop overhead and land in nearby trees and flocks of Zebra finches cheep as they flit between trees and the ground in search of food. Paul takes a big lens to water near the well to catch some shots, not easy as they are seldom still and I sit by the camp watching the finches hop over our left-over firewood and rapidly retreat with a flurry of wings to the nearest tree at any imagined danger.

The first vehicles appear shortly after 9.00 but thankfully the flow is slower than yesterday. We spend most of the day cocooned while we make headway with our photos, mostly general file maintenance tasks today which always need doing but often get deferred. There is one other overnight camper but it is a much quieter night and while the dingo is still prowling around he leaves us alone in preference to our neighbour who is sleeping on a stretcher under the stars.

We get away early and move onward. Progress is quick, or at least for us, with small sand dunes and mild corrugations as the track winds between bush and spinifex. A solitary hill in the middle of a plain provides a great spot for our morning cuppa and we consider stopping for the night as there could be great photos in the late afternoon and early morning. A stone cairn is adorned with flat rocks bearing names of people and groups who have been here and three of the stones show the Unimog mob, Jim, Julie, Dominic and Eloise, were here two nights ago. Looking around we see more hills up the track which beckon and we decide to continue on.

Big Country, Canning Stock Route

Big Country, Canning Stock Route

The sand dunes have stopped now and I’m missing them already. That’s even though I’d been worried about getting stuck on them again. The easy driving continues with a few rocky patches and although we didn’t get close to the hills we had been looking at from our cuppa vantage point the Breaden Hills appear ahead and the track takes us along the western face of the range. We stop a couple of times for photos then the side track to Breaden Pool takes us right into the middle of the range passing between tall steep hills capped with flat table tops of red rock and spinifex. Some of the hills are conical and others have flat faces, some are positioned perfectly for late afternoon and evening shots and the ones on the other side of the track will light up with the early rays in the morning. I have very few doubts about where we’ll be spending the night tonight.

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

The track narrows and becomes dustier as it passes between masses of young trees and we reach the car park at the end of the side track and take the short walk to the pool. I spot my first Mulla Mulla flowers for the season on the side of the hill, now I really know I’m in the north of the state. There is water in the pool but too stagnant for swimming. The birds love it and butterflies flutter on the moist ground.

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

We decide to spend the afternoon around here sitting in shade enjoying the light breeze. Paul sits patiently by the pool until the birds come for a drink to catch a shot of them.

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

Later we find a spot for the night along the track. Paul takes photos of the surrounding hills at sunset while I’m enjoying the view from the camp. During the night the wind starts blowing and steadily grows and the temperature drops. As it blows down the valley it bounces between the cliffs and feels quite eerie. While Paul is rugged up for his morning photos in a jacket and beanie I stay warm in bed watching the day open and unfold with constant changes as the early light grows and the sun follows to begin warming up to another beautiful day.

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.

Where Bush Tracks Meet

Canning Stock Route – Georgia Bore to Kunawarritji

Where Bush Tracks Meet

Where Bush Tracks Meet

We leave the Parngurr mob at Georgia Bore as we travel east along the Talawana Track. Apart from station access tracks this is one of only two tracks crossing the Canning Stock Route between Wiluna and Billiluna. Travel west and you will reach the Marble Bar Road just above Newman, head east and you are going deeper into the Gibson Desert to Windy Corner where you meet the Gary ‘Highway’ which runs north south. I love the tracks out here labelled as highways, they open up the country but their condition is vastly different to the highways most people know and use.

The country is flat and open except for a range on our right as we drive east along the Talawana Track. The road is narrow and lined with small bushes and spinifex. We haven’t gone far before we hear more radio talk and the approaching vehicle asks us to get off the track for him as he has a broken spring so doesn’t want to stop or leave the track. He is accompanied by two other vehicles who are able to stop for a chat. The spring broke the day before so they’ve had a long slow drive today and are headed for Georgia Bore for the night. Tomorrow they are planning to drive into Newman for repairs. While we are talking to the second driver a motor bike heading north passes us and before long we meet two more south bound vehicles already pulled off the track to let us pass. These two are towing Jayco campers, not a sight I expected to see out here, or not with the campers still intact anyway but the drivers sound pretty experienced so they would know their vehicle limitations. They have had no problems and if they can do it hopefully that means we’ll have no problems either. All this traffic and we haven’t even reached the next well.

The next well, Well 23 is a place fuel can be left and it isn’t an attractive place to spend the night but Well 24 is only 14km along the road and there are a couple of large pleasant camping areas set well off the road. From here we have a couple of km to continue on the Talawana Track and then nearly 260km to travel north along the Canning to the store at Kunawarritji community. We plan to restock with fresh supplies and top up our fuel there and it isn’t open on weekends. It’s Wednesday now and rather than try to rush through by early Saturday we decide to have three easy day’s driving and a rest day just south of the community and arrive there on Monday morning.

Our first day of this section has a good number of sand dunes, short sections of corrugations, a couple of interesting ranges and hills to one side and some sections of water. Well 25 is in ruins but Well 26 has good water and a group of six travellers from rural Victoria have called an early stop for the day and are about to set up camp. We enjoy a talk with them and continue on our way.

The combination of a pool of water near the road and the Slate Range to the north east has some good potential for photos when the sun is dropping and lighting up the range and there is a suitable open area for camping beside the road. We’ve only covered 59km and progressed from Well 24 to mid-way between Wells 26 and 27 and it is just lunch time but we decide this is a good spot to stop for the night.

After such an easy day we need to cover a bit more distance the next day. Initially we have a few more hills and ranges to pass and we stop at Helen Hill for more photos.

Helen Hill, Canning Stock Route

Helen Hill, Canning Stock Route

The country changes again and we have lots more sand dunes to negotiate. We discuss whether they should be called sand hills, sand dunes, or sand ridges. Paul considers, probably correctly, that sand dunes are mobile and the amount of vegetation on these shows they aren’t going anywhere fast so he uses sand hills or sand ridges but I still think of them as sand dunes. Whatever we call them though I’m still enjoying crossing them but that could change if I start having problems getting over them.

Camel on the Canning Stock Route

Camel on the Canning Stock Route

The sand dunes we encountered further south were very easy to cross as the sand was damp and provided good traction. The effects of the rain have passed now and as the sun heats the sand up during the day it becomes softer and looser and it is important to have sufficient momentum to get over the top. That has to be balanced by moderating the speed to manage the lumps and bumps and dips in the approaches to the crest which will set my camper bouncing and rocking if tackled too fast. We are after an easy ride up and over which, so far, has just been a matter of getting the gearing and the revs right so I travel up just fast enough to reach the crest where I can take the time to enjoy the view before negotiating the bumps and lumps on the way down. I always feel anticipation as I approach the top as I’m not sure just what I’ll see until my vehicle levels and I can see over the hood. I’m continually delighted by the sight of more of these beautiful red sand dunes or a long expanse of open country spread beneath me.

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

While the dunes and the country in between them, a mixture of rocky patches, corrugations and the occasional easy patch, haven’t caused us any problems, the driving is quite tiring and by early afternoon we’re looking for a place to spend the night. We’re a fair distance from the next well so we start looking for a clear firm spot near the road. A couple of possibilities are investigated but aren’t quite right and our patience pays off with a large clear area about half way between Wells 29 and 30. This will give us an easy day tomorrow as we are planning to have our rest day at Well 31 or 32.

The next day the sand dunes have all disappeared. We’re back in flat, wide open country which alternates between rocky surfaces with the track winding between thick bushes and a corrugated track threading through spinifex and other hardy small plants. Well 31 has beautiful gnarled white gums and several pools of water keeping birds active in the area and we consider stopping but The Victorian travellers we met at Well 26 stayed at a native well just 2km off the track at Well 32 and it sounds good so I suggest heading on to it. The 24km between these wells is probably the heaviest corrugations we have had so far so it is slow going but I’m happy to get it out of the way today so we’ll have an easy run into the Kunawaritji community on Monday. While we are making a brief stop at Well 32 a couple of guys heading south stop and we compare track conditions, looks like we have lots more rough corrugations and plenty of soft sand dunes to experience as we head north. Oh well that’s what we were expecting rather than the mud and rain we had.

White gum at Well 31

White gum at Well 31

The area around the native well is pleasant and it’s nice to set up for a couple of nights rather than having to pack and move on in the morning. Paul has such a backlog of photos he decides to set up his work area at the side of the camper, we’re still trying to decide whether to call it his studio or his cave, and get some photos ready to be posted when we have internet available again and I try to catch up on my writing and managing my own photos. My hair has been getting annoying flicking into my eyes when I drive with the windows open so Paul gives my hair a trim. He does a great job, especially as it’s his first attempt at hairdressing. I’ve been trimming his hair for a while but as he previously just hacked it himself and he always wears a hat anyway it’s not really too difficult. It’s also birthday time again and we celebrate my birthday with smoked salmon and caper snacks followed by a butterflied lamb roast cooked on the open fire with vegies cooked in the coals. Nothing like roughing it in the bush!

Monday morning we’re later getting going because we have extra packing up to do but we have such an easy run into Kunawarratji we still make it shortly after 10.00am. The track between Wells 32 and 34 was graded recently so we fly along at 60kph and in fourth gear, a rare occurrence. The final 4km into the community is on the wide and flat Wapet Road which runs west to Marble Bar changing names a few times along the way. To the east you can take Jenkins Track out to Gary Junction and then continue into the Northern Territory on the Gary Junction Road or turn south onto the Gary Highway to travel past Windy Corner to the Gunbarrel Highway. I’ve never travelled along either of the Gary tracks but they are on my list.

Fine Weather at Last

Canning Stock Route – Well 16 to the Georgia Bore on the Talawana Track

Durba Springs, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Durba Springs, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

The scenery and weather get even better during the afternoon as we approach and then drive along the face of the Calvert Range which rises up on our right side and continues to the horizon. A side track into the ranges looks very promising and there are apparently some fabulous gorges but a sign shows the area is closed. It would be great to return here when the area is open and spend time exploring. A couple of rocky patches on the road must be taken with care and the right line picked to walk the vehicles through in low range and occasionally ruts see us driving at an angle as one side of the track drops below the other but apart from these it’s all pretty easy going.

We’re both so busy admiring the scenery we miss a turn and follow a short side track to a scenic lookout. As we are turning at the end of the track I see water spurting out of Paul’s radiator; the guard underneath has been rubbing on a corner of the radiator and put a hole in it. All of the water we have driven through has put unusual pressure on the guard pushing it against the radiator and eventually the guard rubbed through the soft metal of the radiator. Some waterproof kneadable fibreglass patches the hole and after sufficient time for it to set we replace the lost radiator fluid with 10 litres of water and a bottle of ‘Stop Leak’. Our unexpected stop has lasted a couple of hours but we are lucky no more damage was done.

Radiator Repairs, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Radiator Repairs, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

The delay has a good result, the sun is getting low and the rocks on the face of the range are glowing. It is beautiful and although night is approaching we have to stop for photos, it’s just too good to miss.

Durba Hills, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Durba Hills, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

We reach our camp for the night at Durba Springs shortly before sunset and the setting tops off the beauty of the day. This is one of those special places and we agree it is one of the nicest places we have been. Even though we are way behind where we thought we would be this is too nice to skimp so we stay three nights.

Durba Springs, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Durba Springs, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

The camping area has lots of green grass set beneath large white gums. Red rocky walls border two sides of the camp ground and a stream flows along one wall. A large rock pool provides a perfect setting for photos as well as providing a source of washing water. There are no other campers here when we arrive so we have our pick of sites and we are soon set up near the rock pool in a spot with a good fireplace. Previous campers have kindly left a good supply of firewood they collected before arrival so that chore is taken care of and apart from the first night when we are too late to get it ready we can cook on the fire and enjoy the warmth during the evenings.

The two days we spend here are very busy with chores, exploring and photography. After all the rain and cold weather we have lots of clothes, sheets and towels needing washing and lots of cleaning to do. A musty smell in the camper reveals mildew on the roof which responds to a good scrub with vinegar and the warm weather allows the damp area beneath the bed to be aired and dried. It sure feels good to be clean and dry and to have this far more temperate weather to enjoy. In between or after chores we wander up the gorge to explore and also up to the top of one of the side walls. While we are exploring and looking for ways to get to the top of the walls we find some rock art. Paul finds lots of spots and times to take photos, particularly around sunrise and sunset and I join in some of the times. I love the clamber to the top of the gorge wall with a camera but unlike Paul I draw the line at carting a tripod up the rocks as well as the camera and alternate lens.

Durba Springs, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Durba Springs, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Midway through our stay a group of four vehicles arrive. They are an Outback Spirit tour group with two vehicles towing trailers and two six wheel Mercedes carrying passengers as well as plenty of gear on the back. They are a friendly mob approaching the end of their fifteen day trip and the tour leaders and passengers are happy to chat. Paul is particularly interested in the 6WD vehicles, they’d give us the extra room we need and take us wherever we wanted to go without being too big but apart from the cost of buying and maintaining them they arenít generally available. I like the look of the vehicles too but I’m more interested in talking to the cook about how he manages food for 22 for an extended period out bush. Eight fridge/freezers is a definite start and a resupply point half way through the trip makes the gourmet catering much easier. They are the first people we have met travelling from the north since the rain started, I’d begun to think the track was closed. It’s good to get some information about track conditions further north. They have had rain but only one night of it and there doesn’t appear to be much mud ahead which I’m happy to hear, I’ve had enough of that for this trip.

After our enjoyable and busy stay we leave reluctantly but also eager to see what is ahead. The rain means we have spent longer on this bottom section of the track than we anticipated. We decide we would like to reach Georgia Bore on the Talawana Track in two days driving which is more than 180km, big days for us. We had been pretty concerned about what state we would find the track because we have to cross Savory Creek and skirt Lake Disappointment but it seems like it won’t be too bad.

Along the way we have lots of sandhills, and plenty more great scenery. It is a beautiful part of the country with blue green salt bush on red sand under blue skies. As well as plenty of photo stops Paul has been using the Go-Pro intermittently while we have been driving … I hope we get some good footage to show what the drive is like. Some sections show evidence of burns a few years ago with lots of young desert oaks which have grown since that time. Without the mud to negotiate it’s all pretty nice driving apart from some relatively short sections of bad corrugations. A couple of muddy salt pans have side tracks leading around the edge which thankfully keep us out of the mud.

At every stop we check our vehicles and at one stop for coffee Paul smells something burning. After checking under his bonnet and giving it the all clear he heads to my vehicle and works out its coming from my rear wheel. We check under the car and everything looks OK but then Paul pulls a small bit of spinifex from the rim. That looks like the culprit and I’m sure I picked it up when I was running along the edge of the track trying to avoid the worst of the corrugations. That problem doesn’t recur but strange noises have become common place. I’ll have to wait until it all gets checked out on a hoist but so far they all seem to be caused by thick mud dried out in clumps. Paul often wanders around the vehicles with a stick or an old screw driver in hand chipping away at the dried mud, it seems to decrease the noises and definitely makes the vehicles lighter.

Vehicle Check, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Vehicle Check, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Even before we reach Savory Creek and Lake Disappointment we see a large pool of water which requires another photo stop. Low lying succulents massed along the side come in many colours and a red sand dune on the opposite edge adds a different hue. Savory Creek has heaps of water in it which is quite amazing to see in the middle of the desert and the tracks along both sides are great to drive along. The crossing is not very wide, firm on the bottom and only mid wheel depth.

Savory Creek, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Savory Creek, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Approaching Lake Disappointment we see a great expanse of water, a very rare sight and if it had been there when the lake was named I’m sure the name would have been very different. Naturally Paul is keen to spend the night on the edge of the lake to take photos, particularly because the full moon will be rising just after sunset and setting around sunrise. A 5km side track leads us to a point and parking area just above the lake. There’s no water just here but the colours of the mud and the distant view of water in front of red sand dunes on the opposite side of the lake look just right to his eye and we stay the night.

Paul is very happy with the evening and morning photo shoots and we continue north next morning. There are no water views today as we skirt the top of Lake Disappointment but there are more views across the mud which we stop to admire. As we have seen before, the delicate succulents growing along the edge are incredibly intricate and multi-coloured and soon we are both crouching in an attempt to get some good close up shots.

Lake Disappointment, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Lake Disappointment, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

 

Back on track we pass Wells 21 and 22 with plenty of sand dunes in between. We meet another Outback Spirit mob heading south and stop for a chat then shortly afterwards a tag-a-long group with 11 vehicles passes us heading south. This sure is a change from zero south-bound traffic last week.

We reach Georgia Bore in the early afternoon and find a group of rangers and others from the local Aboriginal community at Parngurr (Cotton Creek) having lunch. They are on their way out to visit parts of their country that they haven’t been to for some time. They’ll be bush bashing to areas east of Lake Disappointment, could certainly be an interesting trip particularly after the rain. We had thought we’d stop here for the night but we fill up containers with the excellent water available from the bore and decide to continue a little further. From here we turn east on to the Talawana Track. We travelled along a different section of this track further west last year on our way out of Karlimilyi (Rudall River) National Park so it is good to complete the circle before we start on the next section of our journey. This bottom section of the Canning Stock Route has certainly provided us with heaps of variety and challenges and even though conditions were difficult we have thoroughly enjoyed it all. Well maybe a couple of the muddy sections were enjoyed more in retrospect than at the time.

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

The Adventure Begins

Canning Stock Route – Wiluna to Windich Springs

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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.

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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.

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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.