CANNING STOCK ROUTE HISTORY
When it comes to Australia’s most remote 4WD Track, they don’t come any bigger than the Canning Stock Route (CSR). Following the route, or close to it, blazed by Alfred Canning back in 1906, the Canning Stock Route covers roughly 1850km of pure off-road heaven that is a must-do for any serious off-road adventurer. The longest stock route in the world stretches from Halls Creek in the Kimberley Region, to Wiluna in the mid-west region of Western Australia.
As well as the off-road aspect of the journey, there’s history aplenty, as you wind your way past the sites of the 51 wells and waterholes along the route. Volunteer groups have restored a number of wells, providing an insight into what it was once like on the Canning Stock Route. These wells remain a valuable source of water. Boiling the water prior to drinking is still required.
WHERE DOES THE CANNING STOCK ROUTE START?
The Canning Stock Route can be driven from north to south, or south to north. When we completed the trek in 2016, our starting point was Bililuna in the north. We had traveled along the Tanami Track from Alice Springs for two days before turning south at Bililuna. Halls Creek is accessed via the Great Northern Highway before linking up with the Tanami to Bililuna.
From the south, the starting/ending point sits at the junction of the Goldfields Highway and the Gunbarrel Highway. Various other access points to the Canning Stock Route are available for those not wishing to complete the entire journey. These are listed below.
ACCESS POINTS TO THE CSR
- Mulan to Stretch Lagoon
- Mulan to Well 51
- Wapet Road to Kunawarritji (Well 33)
- Jenkins Track or Gary Highway to Kunawarritji (Well 33)
- Talawana Track to Georgia Bore
- Talawana Track to near Well 24
- Glenayle Station to Well 9
- Granite Peak Station to Well 5
PLANNING YOUR ADVENTURE
The word ‘epic’ gets bandied around a lot these days, but, the Canning Stock Route really is an epic adventure. It definitely is not the sort of track to take lightly. Passing through four desert regions, a lot of planning has to take place before embarking on such a journey. Fortunately, there is a wealth of information available on the Canning Stock Route.
Maps, atlases and guide books are always more than handy to have along for the journey, as well as a GPS. Just make sure that they are the most recent editions and that all software is up to date before setting off.
CANNING STOCK ROUTE PERMITS
With the Canning Stock Route traveling through country that is subject to native title held by various Aboriginal groups, a permit is required for all visitors. There is now a single permit for access between Wells 5 to 51.
A simple online application form must be completed approximately six weeks prior to your dates of travel and must be carried at all times when on the Canning.
The cost of the permit varies dependent upon vehicle type and if you are towing.
CANNING STOCK ROUTE FUEL AND WATER
Bililuna in the north and Wiluna in the south are the last places to fill your fuel and water tanks before hitting the Canning Stock Route.
Unfortunately, with the fuel drop at Well 23 no longer available, Kunawarritji at Well 33 is now the only place along the Canning Stock Route where you can refuel. There’s also a general store in the community which can supply basic grocery items.
With only the one refueling point along the track, it means that you need to be able to travel in excess of 1000km to get either from Wiluna or to Wiluna in the south. Utilising long-range tanks and jerry cans for extra fuel will be required.
Water is less of a problem along the stock route. Thanks to the hard work of the many volunteers who have restored a number of the wells along the route. Water quality varies at the different bores, with all water needing to be boiled prior to drinking. Just remember to keep it in several smaller containers in the event of a leak.
CANNING STOCK ROUTE VEHICLE PREPARATION
The Canning Stock Route covers extremely harsh, remote and arid terrain. Apart from the desert, over 900 sand dunes must also be traversed. Attempting this route without having prior outback driving experience and a very reliable vehicle, specifically prepared for long-distance desert travel could end in disaster.
Vehicles must be in top mechanical condition, and as already mentioned, be capable of carrying enough fuel for over 1000km of desert travel. Tyres should be of an LT (Light Truck) construction and an all-terrain pattern as a minimum. Shocks absorbers need to be new, or as new at the start of the trip. They won’t be after it!
Often overlooked, driver and passenger preparation is also vital. If you require medication, make sure you have enough for the duration of your trip plus a safety margin just in case.
Keep weight to a minimum and remember that speed is the enemy of reliability.
Check out this great vehicle and camping checklist provided by the Kuju Wangku people.
Daily vehicle checks should be carried out to keep on top of any potential issues and ‘nip them in the bud’ before they become a major disaster.
Basic checks include:
- Check and clean air filter
- Check radiator and coolant levels
- Check tyre pressures and sidewalls for cuts etc (including spare/s)
- Check and tighten the wheel nuts
- Check oil level
- Check battery terminals and clamps
- Check shock absorbers
- Check under the vehicle for fluid leaks
- Check all belts and hoses
- Clear any debris from beneath the vehicle
While the above list is not exhaustive, a more comprehensive list can be found here. Use it as a base checklist and modify to suit your own needs and touring requirements.
TYRE PRESSURES AND SAND DRIVING TECHNIQUES
Tyre pressures are extremely important, however we won’t be discussing that in this article. It is a subjective figure, dependent upon your own vehicle, how heavy it is, what size and type of tyres you are running etc. A more in-depth article discussing the virtues of different tyre pressures will follow shortly.
Reducing your tyre pressure will not only reduce the mechanical stress on the vehicle but also the stress on the occupants. Your tyres are your first shock absorber. Trust me, on the corrugations, you’ll thank me for it!
By reducing their pressure, you’ll also increase the length of the footprint of the tyre. This enables you to ‘float’ across the top of the soft sand dunes.
Just remember to reduce your speed as you reduce your tyre pressure. The last thing you want to do is roll a tyre off the bead.
Depending on your vehicle, there may be different spare parts that you require. I would suggest having a chat with your mechanic to work out what some of these may be.
Speaking more generally, to undertake a journey like the Canning Stock Route, invaluable spares to carry would be:
- Vehicle specific service manual
- Spare fuel, oil and air filters
- Spare hoses and belts
- Spare shock absorbers and mounting bushes/rubbers
- Jack and base plate
- Wheel brace
- Fuel tank and radiator putty
- Coolant, engine and transmission oil
- Wheel bearing kit
- Any speciality tools
- 2 x spare tyres
SAFETY AND RECOVERY EQUIPMENT
Like your vehicle spares, safety and recovery equipment will be a personal choice. However, there are several items that should be in every 4WD when embarking on remote travel.
- Dune Flag
- Comprehensive first aid kit including snake bite kit
- At least one member of your touring party that holds a current first aid and CPR certificate
- Paper map
- UHF Radio
- SPOT Personal Tracker or similar
- Fire Extinguisher
- Mobile Phone
- Snatch strap
- Leather Gloves
- Recovery Damper
- MaxTrax or similar
- Air Compressor
- Tyre repair kit
CANNING STOCK ROUTE ROAD CONDITIONS
This is a track that receives zero maintenance. As a result, conditions can change from month to month and year to year.
What you can expect though, is endless stretches of some of the worst corrugations that you will ever encounter.
Elsewhere, the track surfaces can range from gibber stones (particularly in the south) to soft sand, dirt, and rocky outcrops. Let’s not forget about the dunes. There’s over 900 of them, varying in height and difficulty.
Winter rains may render some parts of the track impassable, so a bypass track will be your only option.
CAN YOU TOW A TRAILER ON THE CANNING STOCK ROUTE?
While the official answer to this question is, ‘Yes’, towing a trailer on the Canning Stock Route is not recommended. My unofficial answer is, ‘No, you shouldn’t.’ While that may get me a little hate in the comments, I’m not the only one of that opinion.
Track and environmental damage are two of the main factors why the traditional owners of the land would rather you left your trailers at home. Cunyu Station at the southern end of the track between Wells 2 and 5 does not allow trailers or heavy vehicles like Unimogs to traverse their property.
The Canning Stock Route is a long and arduous track. Remnants of broken and busted trailers litter the length of the route and act as a reminder to all.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO DRIVE THE CANNING STOCK ROUTE?
How long have you got?
At an absolute minimum, you should allow 14 days. To be honest, this is way too short and does not allow for a relaxed pace, nor does it allow for any problems that may arise.
A much better idea is to allow 21 days to complete the journey. This will enable you to take your time and soak up all that the most remote stock route in the world has to offer. You can even take a rest day at somewhere like Durba Springs or under the ghost gums at Well 6.
Bear in mind that most days, you’ll be lucky to cover 100km due to the nature of the road conditions.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT THE CANNING STOCK ROUTE?
The cooler months from May through to October are definitely the best time to visit. Being in the desert, the winter months can see overnight temperatures approaching 0˚C, with the days remaining mild.
Summer is hot, with temps regularly approaching and exceeding 50˚C. The chance of cyclones from the Kimberley/Pilbara regions causing flooding rains is also more common, which means that getting bogged and stranded is highly likely.
If you’re chasing the wildflowers, August and September will give you the greatest chance of seeing them in bloom.
The Canning Stock Route deservedly gets full marks!
It’s 5 out of 5 Battered Akubras for one of the best off-road tracks not only in Australia, but the world!
These are the resources that we use and recommend while planning our trips:
- Hema Maps – Great Desert Tracks Atlas + Guide
- Hema Maps – Great Desert Tracks Map Western Sheet
- Halls Creek Tourism Website
- Official Canning Stock Route Website – Kuju Wangka
About the Author:
Hi, I’m Matt. I camp, four-wheel drive, explore the outdoors and get paid to take photos.
I’m happiest when I’m doing all four at once.
Occasionally, I’ll even tap out a couple of words on my keyboard.
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