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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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.

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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.

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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.