The Canning Stock Route is one of the most isolated and remote public tracks in the world and extends 1,800kms from Halls Creek in the Kimberley to Wiluna in the mid-west region of Western Australia.
It was established as a stock route in 1910 as a way to allow the east Kimberley cattlemen to compete on even ground with the west Kimberley cattlemen, who were monopolising the beef trade at the beginning of the 20th century.
Even today, travelling the Canning Stock Route is a challenging proposition. The longest historic stock route in the wold traverses four deserts – The Tanami, Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson, and is primarily a bush track which is kept open but generally not maintained. In parts the route is wildly beautiful with fresh water springs creating astonishing oases in literally the middle of nowhere. At other times wildflowers stretch as far as the eye can see.
Very few people ever get to see this unique part of Australia. Dallas and I took the easy road and travelled the stock route with Outback Spirit in their Mercedes Benz G Wagons – the G “Professional” version is the toughest model with enhanced drivetrain and suspension. The Australian Defence Force has recently taken delivery of approx 2,500 of these vehicles to replace its ageing Land Rover fleet. Our four driver/guides, Rick, Mick, Darren and Steve were all highly experienced in outback driving and Steve (who grew up in Meekathara) brought a wealth of local knowledge re bush tucker, indigenous culture and local fauna and flora.
Our journey began by flying from Hobart to Melbourne then on to Broome. From 40,00 feet we had our first views of the desert country of W.A. including the “never-ending” sand dunes”, and a view salt pans and clay pans.
Our trip began in Broome where the travel group met at Cable Beach – the following images were taken in that area. Sunsets over Cable Beach are stunning and coincide with the sunset camel rides on the beach. We were taken aback by the insane number of four-wheel drive vehicles on the northern end of the beach as they seemed to stretch further than the eye can see. We learned later that the main attraction is that this area is the local “nudist” beach!
Our journey covered 16 days in all – each afternoon we pulled into a camp site where all 18 members of the travel party (plus 4 driver/guides) set up tents and portable sleeping equipment. Outback Spirit provided the absolute luxury of 2 flushing toilets and 2 hot showers (each person was allowed 6 litres of shower water each per day). Steve was the cook and prepared all meals “open air”. Following photos are of camp sites and camp set-up.
The journey took us over approximately 800 sandhills on which we experienced the occasional bogged vehicle which always created much excitement. Following are images of driving the stock route and salt pans, etc.
We met a few vehicles along the track. Most interesting were the cyclists. We came upon this young German man named Thomas who had been cycling the stock route for five weeks and was within a day of reaching Halls Creek. The Canning Stock Route is the triple Everest for extreme cyclists. Thomas was motivating himself to complete his adventure with the thought of reaching Halls Creek and sitting down to a huge hamburger with mayo! A little further down the track we found an inscription Thomas had made on an old fuel drum near one of the water wells.
Further along we met up with a 62 year old man cycling the track from south to north – he was accompanied by his 22 year old daughter following in a small four-wheel drive vehicle – she told us she had never done any four-wheel driving before this trip and her radio equipment was not functioning!
Lake Disappointment (or Kumpupirntily) was an amazing sight – a salt lake which is located in the Pilbara region which lies on the Tropic of Capricorn due east of Newman on the southern side of the Little Sandy Desert. It covers an area of 33,000 hectares (330 sq kilometres). An amazing experience to walk upon the thick crusting salt – we all collected a little to bring home.
Of course, the Canning Stock Route is famous for its 50 drinking wells – all set a day’s journey apart (for the cattle droves). Many of the original wells are now inoperable, some still render clean, clear drinking water and some have been restored. Outback Spirit raise funding (through the sale of drinks to their travel participants on the Stock Route) to aid the restoration of wells. Below are images of the many wells we visited.
Our guides commented that the display of wildflowers along the stock route this year is the best they have witnessed in many, many years.
Wildlife was certainly not prolific along the stock route – the animal we sighted most often was the wild camel. At one camp site a family of camel greeted us from the top of a nearby sand-dune and they appeared to be quite curious and amused at the antics of the humans. Other fauna sighted were the Ta Ta lizard, the glorious Thorny Devil, Blue Tongue Lizard, Ants, Golden Orb Spider, Peregrine Falcon, Black Kite, Chicken Hawk, Emu, Galah, Butterfly.
Refuelling the vehicles and topping up with drinking water was facilitatd along the way in the community settlements of Billiluna, Kunawarruthu and Wiluna.
Signs of interest along the way.
Durba Springs (Jilikuru) was a popular spot for drovers to rest up for a few days whilst driving cattle down from the east Kimberley. The area is also home to a number of distinctive Western Desert Aboriginal rock art sites.
Durba Springs also exhibits some “white-man” rock art.
The rock formations and local beauty of Durba Springs –
Of course, in such remote and harsh country we find no shortage of graves.
Mechanical failures are evident by the side of the track. Amazingly, the only inconvenience our party suffered was a flat tyre on our final leg into Newman.
As we left the Canning Stock Route the road took us through the pastoral lease of Glen-Ayle Station.
Our long journey south on the Canning Stock Route was another of life’s extraordinary experiences and will, most probably, change our lives yet again. Our special gratitude goes to our hard-working driver/guides, Rick, Mick, Darren and Steve. Here at the southern marker for the Canning we took our photographs of our happy travelling party – Australia is a huge country of unexpected beauty, harshness and adaptability.
And the captivating beauty of Western Australia goes on and on and ……….