The Canning Stock Route
Jun 12, 2010
|Day 1 Wiluna to Windich Springs
The first day of our Canning Stock Route (CSR) trek dawned with some spots of rain, but nothing substantial enough to leave the tents and swags damp in the morning. The lack of any humidity over here means that everything dries very quickly. Last night we did two loads of washing about two hours before sunset. By sunset most items were dry.
We packed up quickly and were ready to get on the road by 9.00am. Just as we were packing the last of our things Peter discovered the back door latch to the Cruiser was broken (at last the poor old Troopie is not at fault). More specifically he had closed the door but could not open it. After much consultation and heaving on the door the bush mechanics finally disassembled the latch mechanism. This entailed taking off the mouldings to the back door. Finally a broken part of the mechanism was located and wire and the electric drill provided an alternative solution. At last we were off. A quick stop in Wiluna to top up the fuel and we were on the CSR at last. All the signs here have the stock route as the CSR but I just keep thinking Colonial Sugar Refinery every time I see the initials (now that is showing my age).
Our aim is to photograph as many wells as possible and Well 1 was just outside town. The history of the track in itself is fascinating. In the beginning of the 20th century Kimberley cattlemen were looking for a way to traverse the western deserts of Australia with their cattle. Between 1906 and 1910 Alfred Canning surveyed the route and sank a total of 52 wells. The route was refurbished in 1929, again by Canning. Now a number of the wells have been restored by 4WD clubs. Other wells that have not been restored are in very poor condition as you can imagine after 80 years of use.
During the day we visited Wells 2, 2A, 3, 3A and 4A finally stopping to camp at Windich Springs. The ‘A’ wells are extra wells that were sunk by other parties to provide water between Canning’s wells that were a fair distance apart. During the day we passed a 4WD that was having radiator problems. When asked, the two occupants said that they had everything in hand. On reaching Windich Springs we found another party of three vehicles already there. They are planning to complete the CSR in 30 days. It already looks like the CSR is going to be more populated than the Gunbarrel was.
Day 2 Windich Springs to Well 15
Day 2 has dawned with more rain, well spots of rain to be more precise. It is also quite chilly and we all have jackets or jumpers on. The sunrise this morning was magnificent; a flaming fiery red that spread across the sky. We are all finding that we are rising just before sunrise, a most unusual happening for me.
Like a well oiled machine we were breakfasted, packed and off by 8.00am. Today was to be one of our longer days, with 10 well stops planned. We travelled through dramatically changing road conditions including rocky rough tracks, corrugated tracks, and very sandy tracks. Towards the end of the day we started to climb over sand hills in country very reminiscent of the Simpson Desert.
The track has been quite busy with traffic as well. We have passed two groups travelling south (one party of two vehicles and the other of four vehicles) and we also passed a party of two vehicles travelling north (very slowly). The party going north were planning to spend 30 days on the CSR. We have also started to see animal life again with our spotting today yielding two lots of kangaroos, a camel and some bustards.
We were originally going to camp at Well 13 but on arrival we found the camping area poor and no water in the well. As we still had time in hand we decided to head on to Well 15. This well has been restored and yields good clear water. Some of us enjoyed the extra water by having ‘camp’ showers under a gum tree. The water was lukewarm, the breeze was cold but boy was it good to get rid of all that dust! At Well 14 we had the only inconvenience of the day when we found the Cruiser had a slowly deflating tyre. Perhaps it is now the Cruiser’s turn for misfortune. The tyre was rapidly changed however and we made Well 15 by 4.30pm. While this seems early, the sun sets here by 5.15pm and so we hurriedly found firewood and set up our tents. Our treat for the night was hot Milo and Tim Tams round the fire, a fitting way to end another fun filled day.
Day 3 Well 15 to Durba Springs
Today was almost a ‘rest day’ because we only travelled for 3 hours. Our camping spot is at Durba Springs, known as the premier camping spot along the whole CSR. The springs are located within a wide low walled canyon. The canyon contains green grass, which was a pleasant change from our last four campsites, and magnificent large white gums. The spring is crystal clear and the water very drinkable. In droving days the cattlemen used to drive their herds into the canyon and then block off the end. Along some of the canyon walls you can still read the drovers’ names, some marked at the turn of the century.
After setting up camp Peter, Reg and I climbed the West wall of the canyon to get pictures of the campsite. We then climbed the East wall and walked up the rim before descending far up in the canyon past the springs. There are two other groups camped here; two vehicles in one group from Queensland and two vehicles in the second group from WA. Both groups are travelling North like us.
Reg and I used the camp shower to shower with the spring water under a gum tree. The other members of the party declined to join us as the day has again been overcast and fairly cool. Tonight are gastronomic feast is soup and jaffles. Tomorrow we head off in earnest with two longer days on the CSR in a row.
Day 4 Durba Springs to Georgia Bore (past Well 22)
With sad hearts we left the very pleasant surrounds of Durba Springs and headed north. Just a few kilometres up the track we turned off and headed in to check out Well 17 and Killigurra Spring. The road in was very rough and we ended up walking the last 300m to save the vehicles. Killigurra Spring is located in a smaller gorge than Durba Springs but the camping area was not as good as where we had stayed.
Heading on to Well 18 we encountered ‘real’ sand dune country with very sandy tracks and some very steep dunes. After four attempts at one dune we finally lowered the Troopie’s tyres to 25 psi. The problem with this is as soon as you lower the tyres you then come across rocky areas that you have to negotiate very carefully. Reg discovered the delights of a ‘pig rutting’ car where the vehicle bounces repeatedly front to back. As I was a passenger in the Troopie for most of the morning I now understand why Cathy was not keen to repeat the Simpson Desert crossing. We became so tired of the ‘pig rutting’ sections that we actually welcomed normal corrugations in the afternoon.
Our navigation was askew for this section as we missed the turnoff to Well 18. When we finally realised our mistake a couple of kilometres down the CSR we all declined to go back (this is testament to how rough the roads were on this section). We have been keeping track of our distances travelled using the Troopie’s trip meter but we discovered after we missed the turn off that Reg had been supplying me with the odometer readings instead and adding a decimal point to them.
After lunch we hit a large salt lake area with the biggest of the lakes being Lake Disappointment. We chanced upon a herd of camel soon after and I managed to get extremely close to them to get some photographs (having foolishly left my telephoto lens at home). The lead or bull camel looked extremely irritated by my approach and my fellow travellers were hoping he would chase me providing perfect ‘Funniest Home Videos’ footage. Further on we surprised a young male dingo and again I was able to photograph him from a distance. We bypassed Well 20 as the 20km return deviation to see its ruins was not appealing. Wells 21 and 22 were photographed; however their ruins were unimpressive. We finally camped very late in the afternoon at Georgia bore, another delightful camping ground with a toilet and plentiful crystal clear bore water. But it’s back to red earth for our campsites. Peter, Reg and I had a late night wash at the bore, pouring buckets of lukewarm bore water over each other. While the bore water was relatively warm, the cold wind that whipped across our shivering bodies made the next bucket of water feel extra warm. The cold aside, it felt so good going to bed clean and free of dust and grime.
Day 5 Georgia Bore to Well 29
We were hoping for another early start but the daily vehicle check showed that one of the Cruiser’s wheel bearings was starting to loosen. An operation was launched to tighten the offending bearing and while this was occurring Carol and I filled all our water drums with the Georgia bore water that is the best tasting water we have had since Brisbane. Finally underway we visited Wells 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29. Most of the wells were ruins and particularly unimpressive. We stopped at Well 27 for lunch, one of the few restored wells. When we arrived at the well a group of native pigeons descended on the well. We thought they were after a drink of water so Reg and I laboriously drew a big bucket of water for them and poured it into one of the iron troughs. The birds then promptly ignored the water and disappeared. The track today has been very reminiscent of the Simpson Desert with a sand dune climb, descent and a crossing to the next dune. At times the wanderings of the track can be very frustrating. Often the GPS will tell us that the direct distance to the next well is 15km but the track distance can be over 30km. There were more wildlife sightings today; firstly a dingo at our camp as we were leaving, then a herd of six camels and finally two kangaroos along the track. I am constantly amazed that we have seen more camels this trip than kangaroos, I’m not sure why that is.
We are trying to gain time on the CSR so we can spend an extra day in the Bungle Bungles. At present we are one well in advance of our itinerary but over the next two days we hope to get much further ahead. Time will tell if we can accomplish that. We only passed two vehicles travelling south today and we have our campsite near Well 29 to ourselves tonight. Tomorrow we will be visiting the Kunawarritji aboriginal community to purchase fuel. We fear the price may well be over 350c/l. Peter has calculated that we should have enough fuel to make Halls Creek at present but we want to purchase some extra to be sure. During today we visited the fuel dump near Well 27 where travellers can get 200l drums of fuel left for them. We scavenged about 18l of fuel from some discarded drums, a good half hours work considering the price of fuel at the aboriginal community. Now the wind is up and the campfire is dying so I’m off to bed. I had a call from Cathy earlier in the night on the sat phone and it was great to talk to her and hear all the news from home.
Day 6 Well 29 to Well 37
The wind whipped and roared last night and the temperature has remained very chilly. We’re keen to get on the road to escape the chill of the wind. A 6km drive brought us to Thring Rock, a large rock outcrop in the middle of nowhere. As we circled the rock we scared 3 camels down from it. Reg does a great ‘camel call’ that had the poor beasts stopping in confusion each time they heard it. On the opposite side of Thring Rock was a parked Hilux with a roof bed. It was obvious the poor occupants were still in bed and they must have wondered where we came from at such an early time in the morning. Reg gave them a hearty ‘good morning’ call as we drove past. We continued on to Wells 30, 31 and 32 which are all unimpressive ruined wells, mostly just holes in the ground. Next stop was the Kunawarritji Aboriginal Community for fuel and groceries. We arrived at 12.30pm and found out that everything is closed between midday and 1.00pm. Undaunted we took an early lunch and were joined by four hungry and expectant dogs. A little after 1.00pm the fuel pump was open and we put 50 litres of diesel into each of the vehicles. We were pleasantly surprised that the price was only 320c/litre. After filling up we checked out the grocery store, stocked up on some staples and spoilt ourselves with Magnums. Our original itinerary had us camping at Well 31 today but we decided to press on with Thursday’s route. In quick order we visited Wells 33, 34, 35 and 36, all again in ruins and largely holes in the ground. Past Kunawarritji we encountered some of the largest corrugations of the trip so far, so large in fact that I think they rival the corrugations we drove over up at Cape York many years ago. It was amazing that any of the vehicles’ bolts and nuts were still done up after a solid hour of the corrugated track. Later in the day we got back into dune country with the track running along a couple of the dune tops at one stage. We are now camped just before Well 37, and have managed to cover an extra day’s travel which will give us an extra day at the Bungle Bungles. Peter has just made another damper, this time with currants and sultanas. Reg is extremely happy as we now have Golden syrup which he can put on his damper and he is doing so with gusto. We are looking forward to a shorter day tomorrow and setting up camp before sunset. Hopefully we’ll see some more blue sky as well. The pictures you take out here look so much better with the sun enhancing the reds and browns.
Day 7 Well 37 to Well 42
Today the weather was a welcome change from the past two days. The sky was clear and blue, the sun shone down on us and it was a pleasant ‘T shirt’ temperature. Such a change! We had a leisurely start to the day, and I cooked scrambled eggs for everyone. Our gas supply is running low, we tried to get gas in Wiluna but none was available. Hopefully we will have enough left for cooking until we reach Halls Creek in another two days. We finally left camp at 9.00am. Reg and I were in the Troopie and Reg ‘won’ first drive of the day. To decide the first driver we challenge each other to ‘Rock, Scissors and Paper’, a game we had to teach Reg. Now he is becoming a champion at it. Today was more dune country, up a sand dune, down the other side, along the flat between the dunes and then up the next one. While the straight line distance between wells is usually around 20km, the track distance can be up to 30 to 40km as the track meanders through the dunes. Most dunes can be conquered in 2 wheel drive and a good run up. Sometimes though the soft sand conquers us and we have to move to 4WD mode. We are running our tyre pressures lower because of all the sand, 22psi in the front tyres and 25psi in the rear ones. While this is good for getting over the sand dunes we have to drive very carefully when we come to the rather too frequent rocky sections. Yesterday we had a section of very rocky track to traverse and so we inflated our tyres to normal pressure for that section and then deflated the tyres at the next dune stretch.
Animal life was scarce today. We spotted our obligatory group of camels on the side of the track, a young dingo and a group of bustards. That was it for animal life though we did see groups of Zebra finches each time we came to a well. Human travellers were also in short supply and it was only as we were setting up camp off the CSR this afternoon that a group of four vehicles passed us travelling south. All vehicles on the CSR are asked to tune their CBs to channel 40 so that you become aware of other vehicles before they reach you. We constantly broadcast ‘Two vehicles travelling north between wells ….’ in the hope that we don’t meet another vehicle as we crest a dune. CSR vehicles also have to carry red flags mounted high on the vehicle so that they are visible in the dunes.
Navigation on the track is more difficult then I thought it would be. There are often multiple tracks in some sections that you can follow. Luckily Reg has a very detailed section of maps specific to the CSR, with much more detail than the Canning Stock Route fold out maps that Carol and I have. Reg’s strip maps also have GPS coordinates for all the wells and other specific features. I have installed a GPS app onto my iPhone that allows you to plot and then navigate to waypoints. This works really well here and we have used it on a number of occasions to find a specific feature or determine the track to take.
We are now a day and a well ahead of our original itinerary and by re-jigging our itinerary we plan to spend an extra day at the Bungle Bungles and another at Broome. Fingers crossed that all stays well with the vehicles. Everyone is looking forward to hot showers when we reach Halls Creek. Tonight Reg and I had another ‘camp’ shower, a mixture of cold well water and a billy of hot water. It was pleasantly warm and I shampooed my hair for the first time since Wiluna. The two Peters were taking the second shift with the shower. The ‘camp’ shower holds 5 gallons of water and you hang it from a tree branch. Gravity provides the water flow.
Well it’s off to bed now and a bit of reading before sleep. More tomorrow.
Day 8 Well 42 to Well 48
It’s another glorious day today with clear blue skies and much warmer weather. Wells 43, 44 and 45 are all in ruins but well 46 has been restored and has good water in it. It also has a snake living in it just above the water level. Though people have written above the well to be careful of the brown snake it appears to be a python (one traveller has identified it as a Woma Python). Whatever variety it is we all decided to give it a wide berth. Well 47 was also in ruins with little remaining but old metal scraps and a hole in the ground. As we got up near Well 48 the landscape changed dramatically with hills appearing and mesas. The vista is very similar to that of a Western movie.
Most of the day has been spent in dune country and at one stage we drove through kilometres of burnt out landscape. It is amazing how barren everything appears when you remove the Spinifex and all the other small bushes and wattles. We all remarked about how fearsome it would have been to be caught in the fire. Spinifex must have a certain amount of natural oil in it as it burns with a fierce heat. Where the fire has not been all the wattles are coming into bloom. The golden blossoms and green foliage against the burnt red soil makes a startling contrast.
We passed two groups of camels today, a flock of six bustards and a lone and impoverished dingo. No kangaroos or emus again! We are currently camped at Breaden’s Pool about 7km from Well 28. The pool is contained in a little corpse between rock walls. About 20 minutes walk from the pool is Godfrey’s tank, another natural pool between two canyon walls. It is much larger than Breaden’s pool. Breaden was a companion of Carnegie who did thousands of kilometres of exploration in WA and the NT in the 1890s. Godfrey’s tank is named after Godfrey Massie, another member of Carnegie’s party. Godfrey’s Tank was discovered first, but there was no natural access for the cattle and camels to the pool. It was then that Breaden discovered the second pool which has easy access. On the walls of the canyon around Godfrey’s tank are names chiselled into the rock by the drovers, some dating from the early 1900s.
We had the company of three other travellers at our campsite at Breaden’s Pool. A couple and their friend are making their way leisurely up the CSR. All are retired. They have been on the CSR for 21 days already and have no fixed itinerary. No such luxuries for us as three of us have jobs to return to in the near future, hence our haste to complete the CSR. We joined them around a joint campfire after tea and swapped trip stories including breakdowns, repairs and navigation errors. So much to tell about our shared experiences of the CSR. We warned them about Reg’s nocturnal awakenings, so hopefully they were not too put out when he was up again at 5.30am. Tomorrow we are hoping to get much closer to Halls Creek and warm showers, washing machines and food replenishment.
Day 9 Well 48 to Halls Creek
Day Nine on the CSR dawned with a chilling wind blowing strongly through the camp. It whips up the dust and makes everything even dustier, if that is possible. We all look like refugees currently as our clothes are very dusty and covered with the marks of the red soil. We had breakfast, packed up (yet again) and then took the 20 minute walk to Godfrey’s Tank. When we got back to camp we inflated the tyres back to normal pressure as today sees the last of the dune country and a lot more of rocky roads.
Wells 48 and 49 yielded yet more ruins but we did see six bustards as we left our camp site. Well 50 had been restored and there was more to see. We have passed a number of people camped just outside Well 49 and still more on the way to Well 50. At Well 50, which is 4km off the main CSR track, we continued on to a little gorge with a soak in it. This turned out to be a number of small water holes surrounded by multi coloured rocks. It was a child’s paradise as there were rocks of all hues and shapes in the creek of the gorge. I think that Mitchell and Caitlin when they were younger could have easily spent half a day collecting ‘treasures’ there.
Back on the main CSR track we were fast approaching the end of this section of our odyssey. Well 51 was announced by a huge windmill, used at one stage to pump water from the well into a holding dam. We set up the tripod and used the timer on my camera to get a final well shot of the whole group. A ragged and travel weary bunch we look too! Now it was only 320km to hot showers in Halls Creek.
The road through to the aboriginal community at Billiluna was slightly better than the normal CSR track and we averaged 60-80kph. At one stage we saw cattle grazing and realised we were really back to civilisation. For the last four days ant hills of all sizes and shapes have dominated stages of our journey; pointed ones, fat ones, tall and short they sometimes recede into the distance like mini cities on the plains. Today was no different and we passed large sections of ant hill cities. At Billiluna we joined the Tanami Track for the run to Halls Creek and the dirt road widened and the surface improved immeasurably. It was easy to average 100kph on this road. Just as we were making excellent time fate intervened to slow us down. Reg and Barney in the Troopie got a front tyre blow out. It was lucky the blow out occurred on a straight section of road as the tyre was shredded. The tyre was quickly changed and we breathed a prayer that we have only had three flat tyres so far as many of the sections of track we have covered have been very cruel on our vehicles tyres.
40km from Billiluna we took the turnoff to the Wolf Creek Meteorite crater. This crater is the second largest in the world and is well worth the 20km drive in to it. By the time we had walked to the crater’s rim and then returned to the cars the sun was starting to set so we set out post haste for Halls Creek 140km away. Now I have remarked more than once in this blog about the lack of kangaroos so far on the trip. Let me say categorically that the number of roos we saw driving to Halls Creek on a dark and dusty Tanami Track more than made up for their lack before. There were roos to the left, roos to the right and roos in the middle of the road. Reg clipped one but luckily it did not damage the Troopie and it was with vast relief that we turned onto bitumen for the final 16km run into Halls Creek. We arrived at the Halls Creek Caravan Park, dusty, weary and hungry but also exultant that we had completed one of the most arduous and isolated 4WD tracks in the world.