Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Canning Stock Route - The world's longest stock route

Willuna to Halls Creek, this is one of Australian's most remote cross-country 4-wheel-drive tracks. It is a potentially dangerous route that should be followed by only very organised and well-equipped expeditions. It is 1700 km of winding sand track. It is a 3-week trip that crosses 900 sand dunes and passes 51 wells. The Canning Stock Route connects with the northern end of the Tanami Track near Wolf Creek Crater. It was last used for droving in 1958.

Wiluna to Kunawarritji

This track crosses the Little Sandy Desert, the Great Sandy Desert and the Tanami Desert. It passes 54 stock watering points made up of springs, handcrafted wells, and natural soaks, in a north-south line that reaches more than 1/2 way across the continent. The dominant feature of the landscape are sand dunes, and between Wiluna and Bililuna there are about 700 dunes, up to 15 m high, to cross. If the side trips are included this adds another 200 to cross. As well as the dune fields to cross there are other land types, red sandstone hills, dry salt lakes and claypans, the latter can sometimes be boggy.

All supplies can be bought at the southern end of the track, Wiluna, and at Halls Creek at the northern end. Fuel and some supplies can be bought at the Aboriginal communities of Kunawarritji and Billiluna along the track. Along 1400 km of the original stock route there are wells that were sunk about 24 km apart, so that cattle could be safely driven from one to the next. Many are now in bad condition, but some have been restored and provide water.

From Willuna to Kunawarritiji, the first section of the track, is considered the most scenic. The route is straightforward as far as Well 10 on the edge of the Little Sandy Desert proper, after which the first sand dunes are soon encountered. Along this first section of the track are a number of particularly interesting places such as the Windich Springs waterhole, the historic fort at Well 9. At Windich Springs (No.4A Water), Pierre Spring (Well 6) there is sheltered camping among the tall river red gums. At Well 3 there is also shady camping under trees. There are great views from the top of Ingebong Hills. At places on the interdune flats hakea and grivillea, and in other places mulga, bloodwood and acacia, break up the otherwise continuous areas of spinifex. The silver lining of the slowed travel in the dunes of the Little Sandy Desert is the longer time available to admire the view of the fields of rolling sandhills.

Ancient Aboriginal art in natural galleries are found in the Culvert Hills and nearby Durba Hills. The side track to the Calvert Hills is worth the extra travel, good campsites being scattered around the base of the range. Canning's Cairn on sandstone ridges of the Durba Hills is a great place for views to the west of the vast expanse of the dunes and mulga scrub. Durba Springs is worth a stay of a day or 2, the campsite is set in a wide gorge with large white gums providing shade. There are Aboriginal rock art sites on the walls of this gorge and on the high red sandstone escarpments of the Killagurra Gorge.

Diebil Spring in the Deibil Hills can be reached by a detour and a short walk. After crossing the Tropic of Capricorn the vast expanse of the salt-encrusted Lake Disappointment is soon reached. Desert oak forests on the western shore of the lake are a good place for a bush camp. At Well 23, to the north of the lake, on the Talawana Track, there is a fuel dump for fuel pre-ordered from the Capricorn Roadhouse at Newman.

Kunawarritji to Halls Creek

The dunefields of the Great Sandy Desert are crossed along this section of the Canning Stock Route, including some of the largest dune crossings of the entire track, as well as sections along the valleys between dunes. The vegetation along the track is mostly sparse, but after winter rain there can be wildflower blooms in places where the dunes are covered with flowers, and this attracts insects and they attract birds. The track heads northwest from Kunawarritji past Well 33. Extensive stands of desert oaks are passed between Wells 35 & 36. Near the shores of Tobin Lake is Well 39. There are campsites among the desert oaks just before the crossing on the lake's southern shore. A side track to the east that leads to Helena Spring along an 80 km track, leaves the main track about 56 km north of the lake. This track should only be tackled by experienced treckers with the necessary skills and gear, as it can be difficult to find it at times, as it is not well used. North of the Helena Spring turnoff there are a number of other sidetracks. The first leads to Well 44 and the second to Wells 46 and 47. Further on the main track passes Mount Ford. This a rocky bluff is a good place to get good views of the desert, up the southern slope of the southern side of the peak. To the north of Mount Ford a track leaves the main track, leading to Well 46 where there is good drinking water to be had.

Approaching Well 48, the track skirts the base of the Breaden Hills, that are part of the Southesk Tablelands. Breaden Pool and Godfreys Tank are watering places that were very important in the past. A hunting hide and a scatter of tool-making sites are evidence of Aboriginal occupation an unknown length of time in the past. About 70 km north, just before Lake Gregory, is Well 51, the most northerly well constructed by Alfred Canning. From here on the original stock route made use of natural water holes and soaks.

North of Well 51 the track passes near the western edge of some small lakes that are part of the Lake Gregory system, then over the last dune on the track from south to north. At Nyarna Lake Stretch,  there is a camping site not far from Bloodwood Well. Petrol and food are available at Billiluna at the junction of the track and the Tanami Road, that leads to Halls Creek. There is a detour to the Wolf Creek Meteor Crater. 14 km east of Halls Creek are the mud brick ruins of the original town, once a gold rush town.

Sources & Further reading


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 30/09/2011
Journey Back Through Time
Experience Australia
Aboriginal Australia
National Parks
Photo Galleries
Site Map
                                                                                           Author: M.H.Monroe  Email:     Sources & Further reading