The Canning Stock Route
(CSR) is one of the most remote and isolated 4WD tracks in the world and holds it appeal as the "last frontier". Stretching about 1850km from its southern end in Wiluna, to its northern end at Billiluna Community on the Tanami Track
, there are no towns along the way, no major services
, and a general absence of emergency support.
The route traverses the Gibson Desert, Little Sandy Desert and the Great Sandy Desert and runs through 4 determined native title areas - Tjurabalan, Ngurrara, Martu and Birriliburu - and through the area around Wiluna that is currently the subject of a native title claim.
Planning to undertake a trip along the Canning Stock Route
requires significant planning and research, with fuel, water and food (your basic requirements for survival) being your foremost priority. But there are many logistical issues that you may not yet have contemplated. This Trek Note contains information based on years of research, feedback
, first-hand experience, local and community input and is relevant reading for any traveller - whether travelling solo, in convoy, or in a tag-along group.
If you do not already have extensive experience travelling remote desert areas and are not fully equipped to handle emergency breakdowns and repairs, then you should not consider driving this route solo. However, if driving with a group, do not travel in large convoys - 4 is considered plenty. Many campsites are small, as are the stops points of interest; larger groups tend to spread out beyond radio signal strength; generally large groups have difficulty travelling at the same speed and can waste time waiting for all to arrive at stop points along the way; passing large groups is a nuisance for other travellers.
This trek can be undertaken in either direction, and doesn't need to be done in its entirety. There are entry/exit points to both the east and west midway along the track. Exit to the west on the Talawana Track between Wells 22 & 23, or on the Kidman track near Well 33. The southern end can be exited via private station tracks (for a fee) through Granite Peak Station (from Well 5) and Glenayle Station (from Well 9).
Since the northern end is affected by wet season conditions throughout the Australian summer and often into Autumn, access is totally weather dependent. It is typical for the section containing Wells 36 - 51 to be extremely boggy and can even become impassable at the salt lake areas. In times of wet weather, even the southern section can become problematic, with the section between Wells 2 - 5 through Cunyu Station sometimes closed to all traffic. Closures will be noted in the ExplorOz Road Conditions
More planning information is detailed in the information booklet issued with your permit pack. See www.CanningStock Route.net.au
How to Use this Trek Note
Click the "Map" tab below to see the route we've provided. Icons on the map are the POIs you'll need for navigation purposes. Be sure to check the list of Nearby Places
on each POI page.
If you'd like to save this information there are a couple of ways to go about it, depending on what you're actually after:-
- Ideal solution - download the ExplorOz Traveller App from Google Play or the App Store. The app enables you to carry the ExplorOz Places, Treks, & Maps data offline in your mobile device ready for your adventures. It is a complete mapping, navigation and tracking app. For more details, read our ExplorOz Traveller page.
- You can print a paper copy of the text using the print icon button shown above, near the social media buttons. For the best output it is advised to open each tab/section to load all images and artwork. You will still need to click open each Place page (listed in Where to Stay, What to See) to print off all available information.
- If you have a Hema Navigator or use Mapping Software such as OziExplorer, or TrackRanger AND you are an ExplorOz Member, then you can click the Download Trek button at the top of this page to obtain the raw data files (eg. GPX) for this Trek.
- If you're not a Member, or you'd like to batch download the entire Treks database you can obtain this by buying a product called EOTreks Route Files from our online shop.
The desert is a very fragile area and despite being a remote area, the Canning Stock Route
is subject to a large volume of human impact by the volume of campers and travellers that use the track each season. See our Travel Etiquette
, and Care for the Environment articles
for practical tips and protocols for how to ensure your impact on the environment is minimised. Toilets are provided at Well 6 (Pierre Springs) and Water 18 (Durba Springs) but you will need your own toilet paper. In other areas, you should dig toileting pits with a spade (keeping well away from campsites, wells, and roadsides).
The Canning Stock Route
contains numerous operational stock watering points, and some that are now in ruin. Regardless of the condition of these water points, you should not use or interfere with the equipment or stock troughs. Do not use the troughs at wells for bathing, and do not pour water into the troughs for the animals. All wells should be left with lids on to stop animals entering and polluting the water supply.
You might be surprised to discover that the desert supports a vast range of flora and fauna. Although much of the route is classified as sand desert, you'll see many sand dunes that are not only stabilised, but vegetated! Rainfall in the region is erratic with some years recording extremely wet periods that fill salt lakes, ground waters and replenish surface rock holes so the desert you experience one year, may well be very different to the next time you visit.
The most common form of vegetation along the CSR is Spinifex, and all forms of this plant provide habitation for numerous insects, reptiles, small mammals and even birds. The largest eucalypts on the CSR are River Red Gums (Windich, Pierre, Durba) around 20m high. Snappy Gums (up to 10m) are found on stony slopes, laterite ridges and on sand plains and is notable by a white stem and often pink or yellow branches. The Desert Oak is one of the more unusually striking trees that even those with no botanical interest will want to know its name. Often found close to salt lakes (eg. Lake Disappointment) this tree appears in groves often in the absence of vegetation other than small spinifex hummocks and grow to 12 metres. The Desert Poplar thrives in the northern section of the CSR, with lush foliage along branches from the ground up along a single brown trunk. Also of great surprise to first-time desert travellers is the vast amount of flowering plants. Acacias (wattles) of 2-6m are widespread with the Mulga the most prominent species in the station country in the southern section. Travellers will observe changes in vegetation around salt lakes with salt tolerant plants being at ground level such as the silver and ruby saltbush. The Blackboys/Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea preissii) growing at Well 6 are a unique find being the most northerly stand known in Australia
Amongst the great range of fauna known to exist within the CSR, termites are extensively obvious and their rapid depletion of woods is the reason why Canning's wooden well formations have lost the battle against time. And when the ants are annoying your camp try to remember the important role they play in aiding flower pollination. The non-stinging wild bee produces honey cells and their hives are found in tree tops, hollow logs, and rock crevices. The much larger black bee found north of Durba Hills, and predominantly north of Killagurra has a ferocious sting. Bees are more active in the cooler parts of the day. Centipedes and millipedes are common and although cause significant pain if bitten are not dangerous. We must mention snakes as the Bandy Bandy, Death Adder and King Brown are known to be present in the CSR region. Over 100 species of birds are reportedly living in close proximity to the Canning Stock Route
with honey eaters, finches, doves, galahs, pigeons, budgerigars, and parrots being predominant and widespread although Durba Springs with its almost permanent water supply is one of the best birdwatching areas of the stock route.
The Canning Stock Route
was created by Alfred Canning, who was chosen to survey a route for Kimberley
cattlemen to take their stock to the southern markets at a time when cattle tick issues prevented the use of other transport methods. From 1906 to 1907, Canning conducted a full survey from north to south came back in 1908 to 1910 with a team to sink the 51 wells along the 1850km between Halls Creek and Wiluna. Wells were constructed one day's travel apart for a mob of cattle although 26 native wells were used to supply additional water but generally could not be relied on by droving parties. Extra wells were established in southern parts of the route to accommodate the more limited range of sheep.
In 1929 the condition of the original wells and equipment had deteriorated with fire, termites and the occasional act of vandalism to a stage where it became imprudent to drove cattle along the route. At this stage, only 8 mobs of cattle had actually made the trip; the fear of attack by natives was the reason given for the limited acceptance of the route. In 1929 the Government contracted a reconstruction team, lead by William Snell to refurbish all the wells, although the task was never completed. The stock route remained unsuitable for its purpose due to the incomplete refurbishment so in 1930, Canning (now 70 years old) was requested to complete the job.
During WWII (1942 - 1944) the stock route was redefined and the wells brought back into operation in anticipation of an emergency evacuation if the NW was bombed. At the end of the war, shipping of livestock resumed and again the stock route was not required for its original purpose.
The earliest use of vehicles dates back to Snell in 1929, then progressively others with business along the route (eg. drover support, surveyors, government doggers) managed to penetrate further into the sand dune country, as four wheel drives become more available. However, it wasn't until the 1970s that the first complete traverse of the Canning Stock Route
by motor vehicle was achieved.
When the fuel dump was established in the 1980's, travellers intrigued by the Canning Stock Route heritage
and the challenging overland adventure across Australia
's most remote deserts began to travel the Canning Stock Route
in greater numbers. Today, the attraction is the journey itself rather than a destination and up to 100 vehicles per day are known to spread out across the route during the peak season.