Canning Stock Route, end of day 2 (and 4) (and 5!)

28 August 2012

It’s feeling late even though it’s only 8pm.  I’m sitting outside, tapping away and listening to the chirp of crickets all around me.  I can’t quite believe it but we are in the middle of The Great Sandy Desert.  We have a gem of a spot to camp, between two big red dunes, on a clear patch surrounded by spinifex and dotted with a couple of hardy gum trees.  We have been travelling for two days and are about 350km from the last community, Bililuna.  It’s about another 320 to the next community, Kunawarratiji a metropolis with 40 residents out in the middle of nowhere.

We felt huge excitement and a bit of nerves as we drove out of Bililuna, broad grins were exchanged between Lisa and myself as we started something that we had talked about right from the start of our planning for the trip.  With the last view of vanishing buildings hazy in the dust kicked up behind us we headed off into the desert country.  The start of the track skirts around the edge of the patchy Lake Gregory, an area of salt pans and dry lake beds.  A couple of hours on Lisa did a double take thinking she could see water in the distance, and as we got closer we could make out lots of birds on and around some water out in the middle of one of the lake beds.  We stopped for a bite and sat in the shade of Landy watching pelicans swimming and brolgas (big cranes) landing and walking around on their stilt-like legs.

We are so glad that we decided to go for it and travel this way, although yesterday I was thinking twice about our decision, we had been travelling for about 3 hours with no break in the never-ending corrugations and I was thinking to myself that there was no way Landy or I could take 8 days of straight corrugations.  Thankfully they let up for ten minutes or so and then later in the day we met a very enthusiastic group heading the opposite way to us.  This gave us a real boost and we regained the urge to carry on, I’m so glad we did.

The moonlight is shining down on me and there is a very slight dry but cool breeze in my face, blowing up the ‘valley’ we are camped in, rimmed by two long red dunes about 200m apart.  It is so peaceful, no flies or moths crowding in.  Last night was different, we were camped in the Breadon Hills, again in a little valley but this time a little more hemmed in, there was a natural water hole a short way up the valley, and the night time moths were accompanied by a dingo chasing dinner through the long dry grass next to us.

The track is narrow, mostly just two wheel ruts in sand and occasionally over rocks and gravel, often with spinifex grass growing up in the middle.  As these ruts have taken us south into the desert, the landscape has changed and there is often a new view over the next sand dune.  We have crossed dry lake beds devoid of any life with dust billowing from the back of Landy, we have passed ancient hills well into the process of being reduced to gravelly hillocks, caves with rock art overlooking clay pans.  We have travelled through masses of spinifex that covers the landscape as far as the eye can see, only to crest the next dune to be met with the sight of termite cities, thousands of small termite mounds doing a pretty good job of harvesting the spiky spinifex.  In some areas a fire has gone through leaving only the sooty and bare blackened stems of bushes reaching up out of the red sandy earth, everything else has been consumed by the flames.  There are dune slopes covered in a haze of purple flowering plants and bushes, we pass through mile after mile of low scrub and then come across a stand of white barked gums, contrasting brightly against the red sand filling every gap.

I dont suppose there are many places that you can drive all day and not pass anyone, we havent seen a soul today.  We are two specks in this vast wilderness, and very lucky to be able to experience and enjoy this isolation.


One of the hundreds of red dunes

One of the hundreds of red dunes

Red track through the spinifex

Red track through the spinifex

Camp 2

Our second camp spot – the best!

Raising water from Well 46 while avoiding the snake

30 August 2012

We have travelled another two days through the desert, and enjoyed all of it.  We have been covering about 160km a day, waking to watch the sun rise and light up the spinifex and heading off soon after 7am.  The original stock route relied on a string of wells built to provide daily watering points for the stock and horses, many of these wells have been restored over the years and are still open.  We had our bucket and rope ready to fill up our water supplies, mainly for washing and showering.  Most of the wells have fallen in and some of those that haven’t have had things fall into them, as we checked out Well 36, that according to our map was supposed to have good water, we saw a sign saying a dead camel had been pulled from the well.  The remains that had been dragged out didn’t look too old and we were really thankful that we didd’t draw any water when we saw some photos of the camel being hoisted from the well at the Kunawarratiji shop this afternoon!

We are camped tonight at the start of the next leg of our desert travels, the Wapet Road, a similar track that heads again through The Great Sandy Desert out to the coast.  We were told at Kunawarratiji that the first 300km is still a rough track but the last 300km has been graded by a mining company.  By that point we will probably be happy to have a good road to travel, I suppose all these roads will be upgraded at some point.  We are camped next to a sign that says the road should not be travelled and that it is private property under native title, (native title land is land where ownership has been granted back to the Aboriginal original owners and is  usually administered by the Aboriginal group who have historical and cultural ties to the land).  The research we did for this leg of the trip did not show up that we needed permissions to travel this route.  Now we are way out in the desert and need to get back to the coast so we’ll ring the number on the sign in the morning to let the mining company know we intend to use the road.  It’s strange that no notice of this change has been posted with any of the local communities, or with the Dept of Indigenous Affairs who keep a record of closed or permit roads, or on any of the 4X4 forums.

IMG 3001

31 August 2012

We had a mammoth drive today, and finished off the Wapet Road in one hit, we were expecting to spend two nights along this stretch.  We set off along the track which was easier going than along the Canning and were making good time and enjoying heading over another set of dry lake beds and then onto a flat plain with tall spinifex waving as we rushed past.  The land opened up and for quite a while we couldn’t even see the rise of dunes either side of us.  About 120km in from the turn off  onto the track, the road in front of us suddenly opened up into a newly graded wide road, we had expected the last half of the track to be graded, but not this early.  I was really disappointed, it was as though we had been cheated out of a wilderness track.  We sped up and carried on taking in the very different experience of travelling along a wide flat road, instead of weaving between overgrowing bushes and the occasional wash out.  We were still travelling through the middle of no where in amazing and stark scenery, but it had been changed and seemed much less of a challenge now.  I felt as though a day or two of the desert had been snatched away from us.  We carried on along the mining road, calling out on our radio at the call out points that were signed along the track, and over dunes that had been graded.

Suddenly heading all the way out to the coast became a possibility and the kilometres ticked by so quickly after the slow roads we had become used to.  We passed one large dump truck heading inland on our way out and pulled up at 80 mile beach caravan park at 7 that night, tired and ready for a shower.

The desert has been amazing and we are so lucky to have been able to travel through its centre on a winding sandy track.  It was great to feel the enormity of our surroundings, something that I was not sure how I was going to react to, but was a fantastic experience.  Next time we will know about the demise (or upgrade!) of the Wapet road and plan a longer, windier way out.  Next time might be a little while away!!

We are heading down the coast to Port Hedland for some supplies and then into the Pilbra next.


IMG 3080

Water good for the finches, but maybe not us (see sign on rusty drum), Well 36

Bustard on the satrt of the Wapet Road

Bustard on the start of the Wapet Road, we drove behind it for ages as it walked along in front of us

Desert blue-tongue lizard, this guy held is ground and actually came at us when we got out to have a look at him

Spinifex plains in the late afternoon light along the Wapet Road

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