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.