Central Namibia

Huge Sand Dunes flow down to the Ocean at Sandwich Harbour

Windhoek is the capital of Namibia and the most densely populated part of the country but it is still a small city. Lots of international tourists visit Namibia and with good reason because there are many wonderful places to visit and unique experiences in this desert country. Most people will start in the capital or at least visit it and Windhoek is fairly well set up to meet their needs. We arrive in Windhoek with a list of repairs and things to do including re-fixing the gearbox (which we thought had been ‘fixed’ by Toyota in Knysna, South Africa), purchasing various camping items, repairing the screen onPaul’s iPad and changing the wheel bearings on the trailer. It takes lots of phone calls and emails to Toyota to finally get their agreement that they would cover the costs of the repair under warranty from the previous work and plenty of running around to find the bits and pieces we need and work progresses in ‘Africa time’. We have to hire a car so that we can get around while the Landcruiser is being repaired but, in the end, we hardly use it at all. Eventually however our gearbox is repaired … again … and although we haven’t had the opportunity to get all the other jobs done  or to do a great deal of sight seeing we are keen to get out of the city before the Easter break slows down all work and traps us for an extra four or five days.

In the meantime mother nature has had a good time and sent a couple of heavy rainstorms across the area. The first formed a temporary lake around our camp site at Elisenheim and briefly caused a flow in the previously dry river bed we had to cross to reach the camp. The sun returned the next day and we ventured out long enough to return our rental car, visit a local bar and dry out our mats but then the rain returned even more strongly. This time a dam located up river fills up and a substantial amount of water is released so we watch the river in front of us rise from a fast knee deep flow to a racing waist deep torrent in less than fifteen minutes. Luckily it drops almost as quickly and we are able to safely venture through it the next day. Elisenheim has proved to be an inspired choice as a place to stay on the outskirts of Windhoek. It is in the bush, but only ten kilometres from the city. The German owners cater to ‘Overlanders’ like us and those who visit regularly and park their own vehicles at Elisenheim while they are back in Europe working. We meet German, Dutch, Italian and Swiss people during our week there. They have their own workshop which Jared uses to change the oil in his Jeep. The restaurant can deliver fresh brochen (bread rolls) to your camp site each morning if you so wish.

We are still traveling with Jared and Jen and we are headed for Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast west of Windhoek. As we are leaving on Easter Thursday and the coast is a very popular destination over the holiday period we decide to take a round about route via three mountain ranges over the long weekend. We reach the small town of Omaruru on our first night and are very happy with our camp by the river. It looks an interesting town but when we drive through in the morning everything is closed, not surprising as it is Good Friday. A short distance west we enter the Erongo Mountain conservancy which is a collection of ranches that have formed a wildlife conservation zone. There is one campsite along the way but not surprisingly it is fully booked so we continue our journey enjoying the scenery and the magnificent mountains surrounding us.

By the time we emerge from the range we are into desert country and by the time we reach the town of Uis the land is parched and it looks a very tough place to live. Our campsite for the night is more upmarket than we are used to with each site having a shade shelter high enough to park under, a dining table and chairs, a kitchen bench and sink and an attached shower and toilet. There is also a pool which is very welcome on such a hot day. The next day we travel on towards the Brandberg. We stop along the way to enjoy the view and then we come across a Pajero which has broken down. A small mob of people are standing around drinking beer in the hot sun. We stop to see if we can help and introduce ourselves to the family from Windhoek who are showing a visitor from the US around. Jared and Jen (who hail from Oregon in the Pacific North West) quickly get chatting. We find out that the problem with the vehicle is a loose spark plug! Jared and Paul dig out some tools and it is quickly fixed. Soon after we head further west around the southern edge of the Brandberg. We see lots and lots of Welwitschia plants as we get further out into the desert.

The Brandberg, or Fire Mountain, is a massive pink granite mountain rising from the flat plains surrounding it. It is named for the colours which light up is western face as the sun sets. We spend the next two days driving around the mountains with an overnight bush camp on the western side. The evening light was fabulous and Paul also took advantage of the pre-sunrise light from the top of the hill behind our camp to capture some more of the magic of this place. All of the driving was enjoyable with the drive along the north face the most memorable as we drove along the sandy bed of the Ugab River and then followed the track in and out of valleys which promised more great stops for overnight bush camps.

Instead of spending another night here however we headed south toward Spitzkoppe, another dramatic but smaller group of mountains. It’s late in the afternoon when we arrive at the national park gate and pay our entrance and camping fees. Sites are spread around the base of Spitzkoppe and the neighbouring Pondoks which are enormous granite domes. This is a very popular camping area so we’ve left our visit until almost the end of Easter but it’s still very busy and we end up on an overflow site for the night and move to a delightful spot nestled between huge rocks for the next two nights. It’s a perfect spot to camp, or if would have been if an aggressive scorpion hadn’t decided to sting Jen on the toe while she was cooking dinner. Ouch, very, very ouch!

We can walk or drive ourselves to some of the interesting rock formations around Spitzkoppe but a large area of the park can only be visited with a guide which we arrange to do during the afternoon for a two hour tour. Our guide directs us to several sites with San rock art and tells us the stories about the art and life in the area when the paintings were made. After our tour in the park he takes us to the local village shebeen (bar) and we get a taste of village life – and he gets a lift home.

Now that Easter is over we head to the coast. The main tourist town is Swakopmund but a heavy mist frequently envelops the town until 11 or 12 am each morning so we camp at Sophiadale, a small settlement ten kilometres east. Orange dunes rise along the river which is lined by green trees, it may be desert here but market gardens and vegetable tunnels show that good use is made of the water flowing west from the Namib escarpment. Sophiadale is a pleasant campground. There is no grass but at least we have shade and Paul has an area where he can work which is important as we will be here for at least a week. We didn’t get the opportunity to get a few jobs done while we were in Windhoek because we were without our car. We’ve had some electrical problems with both the car and trailer but a nearby auto electrician is able to fix some incorrect wiring in the car and diagnose a faulty battery in the trailer which is easily replaced. We also need the wheel bearings on the trailer replaced so we book that job in to be done on the day we are leaving to avoid having to pack it all up twice.

Our sightseeing includes exploring the old German built town which has a colonial feel and lots of interesting buildings. Sunset over the Atlantic ocean provides a great view but warm clothing is a must as the temperature drops sharply at this time of year. It is also a great place to do some major food shopping as this will be our last opportunity for quite a while. We visit most of the camping shops in town and spend a morning looking around the art galleries, curio shops and bookshops.

The Dorob and the Namib Naukluft National Parks lie to the east of the coast and we could easily spend days exploring these but we settle for a half day drive. The landscape is barren and very stark but fascinating. Lichen cover huge areas and you need to get out and pour a little water on them to appreciate their colour. They survive on moisture from the mists which roll in from the ocean. The most amazing plant is the Welwitschia which can be up to 2,000 years old and which send tap roots deep into the desert in search of underground water as well as utilising the moisture from the mists. A huge specimen we see is more than 1,500 years old, amazing. On our return journey we have lunch at the farm and oasis of Goanikontes which dates from 1848 and which was used as a hideout by German soldiers during World War One. After lunch Paul briefly leaves his seat and one of the farm pets jumps on his seat to see if the crumpled serviette might be worth eating.

Another day we drive 30km south of Swakopmund along the coast to the town of Walvis Bay. The town itself is not very inspiring, it was a British colony rather than German and the architecture is predictably bland but the geography provides far more interest. It is a natural harbour and we drive south of the town to the salt works across a well made road past flamingos gathered in the lagoon. From here we decrease our tyre pressure and turn back north on the other side of the lagoon. We plow through the sand until we reach the lighthouse, now an upmarket resort although apparently empty at present. After a picnic lunch by the waters edge we return to Walvis Bay and then to Sophiadale via the inland route which takes us past huge sand dunes.

Our final excursion in this area is the most thrilling. We need a permit to visit Sandwich Harbour, 56km south of Walvis Bay and a guide is also highly recommended so we arrange both in Swakopmund. On the day of our visit we meet our guide in Swakopmund at 7.00am. For the journey south he travels with Jared and Jen and they take the lead. We quickly pass through Walvis Bay and turn inland at the salt works where the track gets far more interesting. Sometimes we are driving along dirt tracks between scrubby bushes and other time we are in soft sand skirting sand dunes and struggling to maintain our momentum. Jared and Jen have less power under the bonnet of their US Jeep but it’s been heavily customised and they have plenty of torque and very wide tyres which means they manage the track well but a few times we need to backtrack and pick a path along the edge rather than over a dune. The other vehicles which handle the tracks well are the donkey carts, not with the usual two donkeys we have seen elsewhere but with four abreast, their version of a 4×4 we think!

After an exciting drive we return to the coast just north of Sandwich Harbour and keep heading south along the beach. We certainly needed the guide to get to this spot as several times the correct track was not at all obvious and there are no signposts out here. The tide is on its way in and soon this section of the beach will be underwater and there are too many very high and soft dunes inland to make any other route possible. The lagoon at Sandwich Harbour at the end of the drive is used by tens of thousands of migratory birds at certain times of the year but we’re not here at the right time so we settle for enjoying the sand and ocean and the sight of the dunes cascading down to the sea. Our guide suggests we stop for just a short time so we can return before the high tide but we’re not in a hurry and have a picnic lunch to share with him so we take it easy for a few hours until the tide has reached its peak and begun to drop. While we are there we enjoy the sight of a few dolphins cruising by a short distance from the shore.

A couple of hours after high tide we begin our return journey. Because the tide is dropping we have the option of returning along the beach most of the way. It will save time and because it will be late by the time we get back to Swakopmund we head north along the base of the sand dunes just a few metres from the sea. Sometimes the sand is still too wet and soft so we need to find our way a short distance inland but eventually we approach the salt works from the southern end and our guide directs us through the confusing maze of roads surrounding the pans. Finally we’re back on bitumen, we reinflate our tyres and make it back to Swakopmund by 6.00 pm, 11 hours after we left.

Our sightseeing is done, fridges and storage drawers are stacked and most of our chores completed so it’s time to set out on the next leg of our trek. We pack up early and drop our trailer in to have the wheel bearings replaced. It should be finished by lunchtime and Jared and Jen have a replacement part for their trailer to collect mid morning so we should all be ready to go early afternoon. Not quite, when we arrive to collect the trailer they have discovered the brake pads need replacing or relining. There is no business in the area who has the pads in stock but they know a business in Walvis Bay who will reline the pads this afternoon if we take them there so it’s off to spend an afternoon sitting in the sun by the bay while we wait for the job to be done. By the time we return to Swakopmund with the relined brake pads it is nearly knock off time at the repair place so we leave the trailer there to be collected in the morning and spend the night in the roof top tent at a cold, misty and bleak camping area just north of town. We’re not holding up Jared and Jen though, their part hadn’t arrived as expected but finally arrives on the late afternoon bus from Windhoek so we are all finally ready to go by mid morning, less than a day after planned. Now we are ready for our trek into the remote north west. It will be good to be away from towns for a while!

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.