The Canning Stock Route
WHAT IT IS:
The Canning Stock Route is an 1850 km-long track that stretches ambitiously across the vast and unforgiving Outback of Western Australia from the tiny Aboriginal community of Wiluna to the equally dinky locality of Hall’s Creek. It spans four deserts: the Tanami, the Little Sandy, the Great Sandy, and the Gibson. Today it is an epic four-wheel-drive track, the longest in the world, according to most sources, and often touted as toughest in Australia. (Some have called it the toughest on Earth, but after surviving the “roads” in places like Cameroon and Angola, we’d beg to differ!) It is easily one of our favorite adventures to date and we highly recommend it to anyone out there looking for one hell of a drive!
HOW WE DID IT:
- As the track transects Aboriginal land as well as protected spaces, permits are required. In addition, anything more than 2 kilometers from the track on either side is completely off limits.
- Permits can be obtained here: http://permits.canningstockroute.net.au/
- Do your research and have a plan. Two and a half weeks is about average travel time but giving yourself some spare days to account for mechanical difficulties or weather is a good idea. Figuring out your food requirements and amount of other necessities (i.e. toilet paper, water, soaps, medications, etc…) could take some prior observations and calculations.
- Don’t take off without adequate maps and guides. In addition to the PDF below, we found that our Garmin Nüvi with the Oz Toppo Map-pack was essential, as were our copy of the Australian Geographic guide to the Canning Stock Route, and Gregory’s 4WD Escapes atlas. There are various tracks that intersect the Canning and it isn’t difficult to find yourself off-track.
- Want to do the track but aren’t 100% confident in your ablility to tackle challenge on your own? There are multiple tour companies that can guide you both in preparation and on the track itself.
- As “Buggy Man” demonstrates in the film, it is wisest to travel via convoy. At the very least, make sure you have a UHF radio turned on to communicate with other drivers.
- Water: While there are 52 wells along the Route, many are bone dry, collapsed, or contain tainted water, as you can see in the film. Bring plenty of water and water storage and top up at every opportunity.
- Make sure you are well stocked for fuel. There are only two possible points where you can get petrol or diesel, and they are located quite close to one another, so it is really more a case of one filling point, just either one or the other. You can fuel up without pre-arrangements at the Aboriginal community of Kunawarritji, near well 33. The petrol is painfully expensive but, hey, beggars can’t be choosers! The other option is a fuel drop from the Capricorn Roadhouse at well 23. From what I have heard, they only deliver diesel, which is left in 200 liter barrels and must be arranged well in advance (up to 2 months). We fueled up at Kunawarritji, where there is also a small market that sells foodstuffs (plenty of frozen and canned goods), a small collection of supplies, and souvenir stubby holders!
- Watch the film and see why it is a good idea to have several spare tires!
- This part of the world gets hotter than Hades! At times, it can also get quite wet and boggy and even near freezing. The Route has some really challenging sections even at the best of times, so finding the climatic sweet-spot can play a big role in how enjoyable your expedition is. May through September is generally regarded as the best time to travel the track. Outside of those months, it is not recommended to attempt the track.
- The Australian National 4-wheel-drive council and the Kuju Wangka, the traditional owners of the Canning Stock Route have put out an excellent publication overflowing with information. You can download the PDF here:
The Route was not always a recreational bucket-list item, though. It was in 1906 that surveyor Alfred Canning was given charge of a project that would establish a route by which to drive cattle from the Kimberley region of WA to Perth. and when I say drive, I don’t mean shuffling the animals into the back of a semi. I mean herding the poor beasts with horses and camels and cowboys, or as the Australians call them: drovers. The cattle trade in these parts had been plagued by a cattle tick with the fancy name of Boophilis micropus. A ban had been placed restricting transportation of the parasite-infested cattle and the livelihood of countless ranchers and workers was at stake. Things were kinda desperate.
Someone came up with the theory that driving cattle through the hot and dry wasteland would kill off the ticks. I’m guessing more than just the ticks, as this is a harsh country. In fact, just ten years before, David Carnegie, who was asked to undertake a similar project concluded after his exploration that: “At least we have demonstrated the uselessness of any person wasting their time and money on further investigations of that desolate region.”
In that light, I don’t know who Mr. Canning pissed off to get the job of a subsequent attempt.
But he did, and in May of 1906 he set off from what is now the southern terminus with seven men, 23 camels, two ponies, 1,440 liters of water, 2.5 tons of provisions, for a six month expedition. They made it, then returned in 1908 to sink 51 wells to hydrate both stock and stockmen along what was then known as the Wiluna-Kimberley stock route.
The first mob of cattle traveled the route south in 1919. Between then and 1959 a total of 30 to 35 droves were undertaken. Vehicles first attempted the track in 1925, unsuccessfully. Even the Australian army tried it in 1945. They made it as far as well 12 (out of 51). It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that someone actually did complete the track in a vehicle.
It is remote, potentially dangerous, and not something undertaken lightly.