The ultimate guide to the Canning Stock Route

Article from REDARC.

Almost everyone has heard of the Canning Stock Route. The over 100-year-old track is wild, harsh, and very remote. It’s not for the first time 4WDer, with experience and preparation being key to getting off the CSR unscathed. First blazed by Alfred Canning in 1906, the track hasn’t changed much since then and is one of the most remote travel experiences you can get in Australia.

When To Go

Like many other desert tracks, the ideal time to traverse the Canning Stock Route is during the cooler months, ideally from April to September. While the CSR doesn’t technically close during the summer months, it’s not recommended to travel during this time with the heat during the day often reaching over 50 degrees Celsius. Between April and September, the days are mild, but the nights can drop to below zero, so you’ll need to be prepared for both warm and cold temperatures. If wildflowers are up your alley, travelling later in the season – between August and September – is the way to go.

Canning Stock Route

How Long to Explore the Canning Stock Route

Three weeks is generally considered the sweet spot for travelling the CSR. While it can be done in two weeks, you give yourself very little leeway time if an emergency should arise. Taking three weeks means you can relax and soak in the stunning desert scenery, without having to push yourself or your vehicle too much. Most days, with the road conditions and frequent sand dune crossings, you’ll be lucky to cover more than 100km and the remoteness of the CSR means it’s not the place to start pushing your vehicle more that necessary. This three weeks does not include the time taken to get to the beginning of the CSR or home from the end. That time will need to be added on, making your trip longer depending on where you live

Your Vehicle

Like many desert tracks, your vehicle needs to be incredibly well prepared as it’s not a trip for beginner 4WDers. Not only does it need to be extremely capable in off road conditions, but it needs to be able to carry all the supplies and gear you’ll need. If you’re looking for a vehicle to tackle the CSR, make sure you get a 4WD with low range capabilities. Before you set off always make sure you get your vehicle thoroughly serviced, and make sure any issues are fixed as there is little to no help along the way should you break down.

The size of your vehicle also needs to be considered as while you’ll need to be prepared, you’ll also want to be as light as possible. There is only one fuel stop along the CSR, so you’ll need to be able to carry enough fuel to get over 1000km without a servo stop. This means having a long-range fuel tank and jerry cans. Carrying all this liquid adds a considerable amount of weight to your vehicle and is a factor you’ll need to consider when deciding on what supplies to bring.

As the Canning is so remote, there is very little to no help should something go wrong, this means not only will you need to have recovery gear but you’ll also need spare parts and at least some knowledge of bush mechanics. In your recovery kit you should not only have physical recovery gear such as traction aids and a shovel, but some form of satellite or emergency communication.

REDARC on the canning stock route

Route

At over 2000km long, and passing over more than 900 sand dunes, completing the Canning Stock Route is no small feat. Depending on your home location, the CSR can be travelled in either direction, from south up or north down.

At the southern end of the CSR is the town of Wiluna, WA. Located on the edge of the Little Sandy Desert, Wiluna is the gateway to the CSR. A former goldmining town, there’s a lot of history to see and experience either before or after your trip. At the northern end of the route is Halls Creek, WA. Halls Creek is also rich with indigenous history. Located in the Eastern Kimberly region, it is not short on stunning scenery to explore if you get the chance.

Both Wiluna and Halls Creek have fuel and supply facilities and are some of the last places to stock up before setting out onto the track. Along the Canning, there is only one place to refuel, at Kunawarritji at Well 33. Along with fuel facilities, there is also a general store for basic grocery items. Because of this you will need enough fuel to get you the approximately 1000km that it takes to drive to Kunawarritji.  

Though the CSR was initially created to connect a string of 51 wells to water stock on route to the markets, these wells still exist as markers along the route. Many of these wells have a rich indigenous cultural significance and history. Dotted in between the wells is beautiful natural landscapes including natural wetlands and landforms which are home to all sorts of natural flora and fauna.

Accommodation

You’ll have to be prepared to camp along the Canning Stock Route as towing is a no go. The Traditional Owners of the land ask all travellers to keep the trailers at home to minimise the environmental damage on the land. Along the CSR there are several designated campsites. It is recommended to camp at these designated campsites as bush camping also puts the natural flora and fauna at risk.

REDARC on the canning stock route

These campsites are often located at the different wells along the track. Some of them have toilet facilities and all have working, restored wells. While it is recommended to camp at wells, there are several wells that camping is discouraged at due to cultural reasons or environmental degradation. To find out which wells are good for camping see the Canning Stock Route website.

To be able to camp in comfort, having a 12V system in your vehicle is a necessity. Having a system you can rely on means you’ll never be stuck without power while on the road. With the Manager30 Battery Management System, you’ll also be able to keep track of your available battery power so you’ll never be stuck with a flat battery. For more information on setting up a 12V system in your rig check out our blog on nailing your 12V power system for extended travel

Things to Bring

  • On the CSR, a sand flag is a necessity. With over 900 dunes to cross, a sand flag is essential for visibility and protects not only you but anyone who might be coming over the same dune.
  • Unlike fuel, obtaining water is less of an issue along the CSR as there are several restored wells along the way. Though water is freely available from these wells, you will need to purify it as the quality is varying. This can be done by boiling the water or by using a water purifier. It also pays to have your own water onboard in case of emergencies.
  • While a GPS is a necessity to make sure you’re on the right track, it always pays to have a backup navigation device in the form of maps or a guidebook. In case of an emergency with the GPS, you’ll never be without a map.
REDARC on the CSR

Top Tips

  • To traverse the CSR, you will need a permit. Permits can be applied for online and need to be done at least six weeks prior to travelling. They also always need to be carried while on the track. Permits can be obtained online here.
  • Fly veils are a must. In the desert, even in the middle of winter, flies are abundant and if you don’t want them in your mouth, ears, and eyes a fly veil is the way to go.
  • Tighten all nuts and bots on your vehicle before going as they can loosen due to vibrations form the corrugated road and bumpy dunes.
  • Make sure your sand and track driving skills are up to date. With so many sand dunes to cross and tracks to explore your driving skills and knowledge will need to be honed and practiced.
  • Having light truck tyres with all-terrain tread makes for a much more comfortable journey.

For more information or to start planning your trip check out the Canning Stock Route website. If you’ve looking for something a little closer to home check out our ultimate guides to the Simpson Desert and Cape York. For more information on what products to add to your 12V setup check out the REDARC virtual product tour

To see a little of what the Canning Stock Route has to offer check out 4xOverland’s series on his CSR journey below. 

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Comments 3

  1. Not quite the “ultimate guide” I’m afraid – a good start but missing quite a bit of information.

    We traveled the Canning over 16 days in June 2019 (without incident) and would like to add a few comments to this article.

    Distance from Willuna to Billiluna (which is after the end of the track) without side trips is actually 1,662km – Williluna to Kunawarritji is just on 1,000km.

    Trailers are not recommended – but are permitted!

    Both of our vehicles towed T-Vans from South to North including through Cunyu Station. I rang Cunyu Station prior to the trip and we were given approval to tow through the property (the creek crossings are pretty tame compared to the Victorian High Country and are not difficult to cross, if taken with care).

    The Southern section is longer but easier – fuel consumption with a V6 Amarok towing a Mark II T-Van van was 18L/100km – 210L to get to Kunawarritji (Well 33) – fuel was $3.40/L in 2019.

    Consumption in the Northern section was 22L/100km to Billiluna due to heavy sand dune country – this is the next fuel point after Kunawarritji (not Halls Creek). The dunes are not like the Simpson in that the approach (except on the “Shot Line”) is generally parallel with the dune requiring a turn up the face – and there are often double dunes at the top.

    I used 210L in the Southern section – 110L from the long-range tank and 5 x 20L jerry cans on the T-Van (fuel at Kunawarritji was $3.40/L in 2019). I also had a 70L fuel bladder in the rear foot-well – which was not touch.

    Prior to the trip the Capricorn Roadhouse advised that they no longer do fuel drops at Well 23 (it was apparent when we got there that no fuel had been left in recent times).

    Towing trailers with appropriate tyre pressure does NOT necessarily chop up the track!

    This is caused by people like the 70 series owners that we met traveling South who were running 38psi!

    Or the Southbound traveler with the slide-on camper who was traveling in 2WD most of the time with 40psi tyre pressures (he hadn’t got into the major dune section at that stage)

    I ran tyre pressures of 12psi front, 14psi rear (Cooper ATRs) and 12psi on the T-Van (BFG ATRs) – we had no tyre damage on the Canning.

    (Whilst camped at Slate Range one night we were passed by an OCKA – chatting to the owner several weeks later at Parry Creek he admitted he passed us thinking we were chopping up the track – and when he got ahead of us he decided we were actually smoothing it!)

    One might be surprised to find that one place where you can well and truly get stuck (if there has been recent rain) is the crossing of Savory Creek which flows out of Lake Disappointment – very wide and extremely sticky mud!

    Other lakes need to be skirted with care..

    Whilst good water is available at a number of wells and at Georgia Bore, plenty of water should be carried in case of getting stuck between wells – we carried 140L in 2 tanks plus a 10L reserve in the car.

    We generally saw vehicles every second day but carried a sat phone, PLB and Spot-X – with a Hema HN-7 for navigation (I can supply a way-points file listing all the wells if anyone is interested).

    As the article points out – proper research and preparation are the key to a successful trip – we have lots of shots of broken 4WDs, motorcycles and trailers left along the track.

    And take your time – including allowing rest days at a few spots like Well 6 and Durba Spring …………

  2. Hello David
    I was very interested to read your comments re fuel consumption etc
    I also have the v6 Amarok fitted with 130 l tank . We will not be towing so was thinking of taking 4×20 in j-cans . We plan to travel the Simpson next winter which should give me a good idea of fuel consumption. Cheers Ernest

    1. Hi Ernest,

      given we did the 1,000km from Willuna to Kunawarritji on 210L whilst towing you should be fine with 200L useable between Mount Dare and Birdsville with a solo vehicle but I would confirm with others who have done the trip.

      We haven’t done the Simpson and have no real desire to – too much traffic for our liking. We’ve been at both ends over the years – including Dalhousie in 2005 (after traveling down the old Ghan track ).

      The Springs were overflowing and an absolute circus with several large clubs about to cross the Simpson.

      Our traveling companion (200 Series Land Cruiser and Mark IV T-Van) on the Canning had done the Simpson and said it was much easier than the Canning (particularly without a trailer).

      How much water are you going to carry?

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