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.