Members Trips

stories from Australia


Canning Stock Route

& through the middle of every mainland state

by Ken & Marie Root


    After many delays and changes of plan we finally got away on Sunday, 13th July and had a pleasant drive up through the Hunter Valley, stopped for lunch at Broke, and made camp at a free roadside stop called "Casillis Park". Some time in the night we had quite a bit of rain so woke up in the morning to a very wet, muddy camp, but fortunately the rain had stopped. Next afternoon we made camp at Mulga Creek Caravan Park, Byrock which is a very pleasant camping area behind the hotel. No grass of course, but very clean, spacious and nice shade. Had a drink at the hotel after dinner, and the publican came over to our table for a chat and to tell us about the local attractions - very welcoming. Next morning we had a walk around the rock and pools which give the village it's name. Quite a pretty spot.

    From there we headed up through Bourke to Hungerford where we made camp for the night. That's when the first problem struck - hardly started on the dirt road, and the new roof bars started to come away from the roof, so had to re-distribute the load in the back of the truck to fit the spare tyre case in behind the seats and secured the roof rack with tie-down straps.

    Next day, and next dirt road we started getting fuel starvation problems. We'd had the problem before and been charged a lot for replacement parts. Phoned ahead to the Holden dealer on Longreach who said they would see us as soon as we arrived in town the following day. Spent the night at a caravan park at Blackall. They were actually full but managed to find a bare patch of ground for us adjacent to their residence (unpowered) and we got into Longreach next day. Fortunately the dealer was very accommodating and got on with our job as soon as we arrived. They also had a part in stock that is a modification to overcome this problem, which is caused by dust (a design flaw) so they are very familiar with this problem being in an area with plenty of dirt roads! (City Holden dealers/mechanics don't know anything about diesel Rodeos and country conditions.)

    We had planned to have a slow trip to Alice Springs, via the Plenty Highway, but decided with the roof rack the way it was, we'd stick to the bitumen, and get in to Alice as soon as possible to see if we could get it fixed before heading off to the CSR. As a result we just kept straight up the black-top through Mt Isa, Barkly Highway etc.  Camped at The Blue Heeler (Kynuna) and a free camp at Wynorah Bore.

 Next night we stayed at Barrow Creek. Probably the worst pub camping site in Australia, but we had a great night in spite of it. Two other couples from SA and Vic also camped there joined us for happy hour and dinner in the hotel (we all decided the smell in the camping area made it totally unsuitable for cooking and outdoor eating). Again, the hotel staff made us very welcome and had an interesting display of aboriginal artifacts and local history.

    Sunday we made it into Alice Springs and set up camp at Wintersun Caravan park. Not a bad caravan park, but a bit basic, and the neighbours are very noisy - barking dogs, crowing roosters, to say nothing of the humans on the other side of the steel fence.

    Spent the next couple of days getting the roof rack repaired, oil change, washing, shopping etc in preparation for the Guides to Adventure tag-along of the Canning Stock Route. Thursday morning we attended the pre-departure briefing and met most of the other people joining the trip, before leaving Alice Springs in convoy at 8:30 Friday morning.

    First stop was to see Dinky the Singing Dingo at Stuarts Creek, then on to the Ayres Rock Resort caravan park at Yalara for our first night with the group, after stopping to take the mandatory photos of Mt Connor and surrounds. As everyone on the trip had been to the area before, we didn't spend time around Ayres Rock/Olgas, except for stopping at a couple of vantage points for photo opportunities, and carried on to Warrakurna to camp the night, stopping to have a look at Lassiter's cave on the way.

    Next morning we took in a guided tour of Giles Weather Station before moving on to Warburton were we met up with another couple from Perth who were joining our tour.  From there we turned up onto the Heather Highway, and Gunbarrel Highway. If you want corrugations - this is the place for it. It is doubtful that these roads have seen a grader since Len Beadell made them. In some of the worst places there are detours, and detours around the detours, around the detours etc, etc. Camp that night was at "Camp Beadell".

    The following day we continued on the Gunbarrel Highway, making camp about 100k short of Carnegie Station. Lots of Len Beadell "memorabilia", marked trees etc to stop and look at, take photos of etc. At the border of Wiluna Shire the Gunbarrel suddenly turns into a very good, well maintained road. That afternoon we made camp at Wiluna Caravan Park which was rather crowded as there was another tag-along there, ready to leave the following morning. We stayed until after lunch fuelling up, buying last minute necessities, and having a look at Well 1 and North Pool. The convoy left Wiluna after lunch and began the actual CSR.

     Most of the trip from here on consisted of driving from one well to the next, stopping for a few photos, morning tea or lunch, and taking on water where there was good water.  We stopped to see the majority of the wells, but didn't visit every well as some are no longer accessible, or there is nothing there to see as they have silted up, all the timber collapsed and been burnt either by campers or bush fires. Even so, several that we did see were little more than a shallow depression in the ground and bits of metal and timber lying around. Others have been completely restored and supply good drinking water.

    First night was spent at Well 3. Had a little bit of rain that afternoon and during the night, but nothing serious and only settled the dust. Next night we camped at Well 6, had some more light rain after setting up camp, but woke up to a frost. That night we camped between Wells 12 and 13, having met the first of the 997 sand hills after Well 11.

    After the more energetic people climbed up to "Canning's Cairn", our next stop was the very pretty camp site at Durba Springs - a lovely green grassy valley in between the Durba Hills, with a permanent waterhole. We spent two nights here, having a rest day and a chance to walk around the hills, examine rock paintings and other interesting natural features.

    The following day, after crossing the very salty Savoury Creek, we made camp at Lake Disappointment with time for a walk down to have a good look at the salt lake. This was another pleasant looking camp site in amongst the desert oaks, however it was windy and very cold.

    Next day all our vehicle problems started - a result of the constant corrugations, rocks and bouncing over the sandhill. At morning tea I was walking back towards the truck when I noticed that one of the rear springs had broken off at the "strap" around one end of it. The same morning the engine started running rough, and starving of fuel. While we were worrying about this, just before lunch, I was driving and felt a "bump" in the right hand front end. When we stopped for lunch I went and looked around the vicinity of front wheel and felt something didn't look right, so I went around and had a look at the other side to see what it was supposed to look like. Sure enough the front shock absorber definitely wasn't where it should be - the top mounting bracket had broken off the chassis! By the end of the day there was a rattle in the back end, which turned out to be a bolt missing from tray of the truck. When we made camp near Well 25 the bolt was replaced, the shock absorber removed and everyone gave their own opinion on how the springs would or wouldn't hold up. To cap it off, Ken was so stressed out, when setting up the camper, he managed to take a large chunk of skin off one of his fingers. NOT A GOOD DAY.

    Next day we continued to have fuel problems. We found that when we got up to about 2500 revs, the engine started to starve, which meant that half way up a sand hill the engine would die and we'd have to reverse back down. The only cure was to bleed the injectors. After that when other people were adjusting tyre pressures for the next sandhill, we were bleeding the injectors! But thankfully nothing else broke and we made it to Well 29, with a trip out to have a look at Thring Rock and the large gravel- strewn area around it. Very interesting geology. The following day we stopped at Well 33 and Kunawarritji Aboriginal Community where there is a small store, hot showers and fuel supplies ($3.20 for diesel). We spent the next morning doing some repairs and discovered that the water trap in the fuel line was dented and sucking air (probably hit on a rock as it hangs low below the cabin). Fortunately we had a spare fuel filter which fitted as a replacement and cured the problem. As we hadn't had any water in the fuel up to that point, and weren't doing any water crossings, we were hopeful we wouldn't need to worry about water in the fuel until we could get back to Alice Springs and get it replaced.

    In the following days we gradually broke the other three bits off the ends of the springs the same as the first one, camped near Wells 37, 46 and 49. The only interesting features along this part of the track were Well 38, which is a deep rocky gorge; the snake which has taken up residence in Well 46; Breaden Pool and Godfrey's Tank which are in the same gorge (but both were dry when were where there).

     Near Well 51 the other shock absorber mount snapped off. This time we knew what it was as soon as it happened, and those following caught up and the enthusiastic mechanics amongst them immediately removed it. So we limped in to Halls Creek with both springs in a very weakened condition and minus 2 front shock absorbers.

    By the time the convoy reached Billiluna, where the Canning Stock Route ends at it's intersection with the Tanami Road, several vehicles were getting very low on fuel and we were watching the time as the "store" is only open limited hours. We made it at a suitable time, but the place was deserted and no fuel could be bought. It appears the guy who runs the place opens in the advertised times if he feels like it! There was much sharing out of what fuel we had between us, and everyone made it into Halls Creek - where only one service station had any diesel. Maybe the guy at Billiluna didn't have any either and that's why he wasn't there.

     The next day we were scheduled to have rest day in Halls Creek before a visit to Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater and return via the Tanami Road. As the Tanami is very corrugated it was decided that in view of our suspension problems it would be better if we stayed on the bitumen, so we said farewell to the rest of the party and headed off - very carefully - up through Kununurra, Katherine and back to Alice Springs and made it back in one piece - half an hour behind the rest of the group. We had been across the Tanami and to Wolfe Creek last year, so weren't worried about missing this part of the trip. We made up for it by having a 'night out' at Daly Waters Pub on our way back.

    Back in Alice Springs we booked into the Macdonnell Ranges (Big 4) Caravan Park, which is a really lovely caravan park, with activities and entertainment on most night and a free pancake breakfast on Sunday morning. Several of the other members of our tag- along were also staying there, so we caught up with them again had had a night out to dinner together. We got the front suspension replaced and temporary repairs made to the springs, which we were assured would survive on bitumen roads to get us home.  Next day, as we fuelled up ready to leave, the main leaf of the left hand spring broke!  We ended up having to wait another week for a new set of springs to arrive and be fitted.

     We eventually got away and made a quick dash down through Port Augusta and across the Western Highway to Bacchus Marsh where we left the camper with Utility Campers for the weekend. As ours was the first of their new C190 composite material campers, they were anxious to have a good look over it to see how it coped with the trip and make any necessary modifications that they thought necessary. They fixed the couple of minor things that did break, but generally it stood up to all that was dished up. As their slogan is "Down any track it's on the back" they want to be sure that they can say that with confidence, even for the Canning.

     After spending a few days with our daughter and son-in-law in Melbourne, we picked up the camper again and spent a night in Wagga to visit my Dad on the way home.

     So in just under eight weeks we covered 12,926 kilometres, spent $3,071.42 on fuel, and drove through the centre of every mainland state.

    Regarding the suspension: about 18 months ago we had the springs and shock absorbers replaced at one of the major 4x4 places out this way to get a 2" lift and be prepared for the extra weight of the camper. The mechanic in Alice Springs found that the front shock absorbers were too short, the back ones too long and the springs were not the heavy duty ones ordered, but simply standard springs bent to give the extra lift.  A friend's son who works for the same company says that in recent months most of the staff at that particular store have been dismissed so probably no point in trying to make an official complaint now as that will be their fob off story.

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