Gunbarrel, Tanami and CSR - in three weeks

Monday, Feb 17, 2014 at 18:35

Peter Beard (WA)

In July 2013 Pete and Ali had a small window of opportunity to get out and explore a bit more of Australia. They decided to take on the Gunbarrel Highway, Tanami Track and Canning Stock Route. Problem was, due to work commitments, they had just three weeks for the whole trip, and both were fighting off the 'flu. Here’s an account of the journey.

Friday 12 July 2013
Apart from two nearly flat batteries we had an easy start to our epic journey - the Gunbarrel Highway, the Tanami Track and the Canning Stock Route. We are running two Engels this trip - one freezer and one fridge - and had them both running ready to go in the car overnight. Obviously too much for the batteries so we will need to adjust our habits for the weeks ahead. Leaving home just before 10am it took an hour to weave our way through traffic, trains and the obligatory coffee stop before finding the Great Northern Highway for the trek north to where we are tonight: Meekatharra.

Pete's head cold is subsiding but Ali's slightly sore throat is foreboding. We had originally planned to leave last Monday but Pete was in no condition to pack the car, let alone drive for a few days. The delay has actually been quite good, we have had the opportunity to wind down from work and do all the little things around the house you don't get the chance to do if you race off on holiday as soon as you stop work.

It was a routine drive for the near 800km trip to Meekatharra. A couple light showers and clouds kept us cool but comfortable. There were lots of trucks and a few of the long, wide loads complete with escorts that are ubiquitous to the Great Northern Highway and the mining boom. We didn't get stuck behind anything too horrific for long, and only had to completely pull off the road once for a convoy of Haulpak buckets that dwarfed the trucks towing them south.

Leaving so late in the morning meant that it was dark well before we got to Meekatharra. The final 150 km stretch was tiring as we drove into truck headlights hoping the driving lights would come back on when switched back to high beam. About 30km before and Cue as it was getting dark we realised that they were only working intermittently. Pete has diagnosed a relay. The two service stations at Cue did not have one, we are hoping we will have more success tomorrow in Meekatharra. Still, they worked most of the way and our halt in a truck bay to align them meant that when they worked they lit up the road ahead beautifully.

Not long after sunset we saw a piece of space junk streaking into bright oblivion just above our heads . It was still spinning as it hit the atmosphere, creating a sparkly trail into the northern sky.

We are staying at the Auski Motel, a neat and clean little place that makes for a comfortable first night. We got here just in time for dinner and are now sitting in our room watching the Tour de France and finishing a bottle of wine from the restaurant.

Tomorrow we head east to Wiluna and the start of the Gunbarrel Highway. The next few nights will be spent in the roof top tent with the stars for company, passing Uluru on our way to Alice Springs. Let the adventure begin!

Saturday 13 July 2013
A comfortable night at the Auski Motel in Meekatharra saw us up early for the trip across to Wiluna. We topped up with fuel, got a coffee and some supplies then headed east along the Goldfields Highway, a well graded gravel road with some sealed sections through flood ways and on the approaches to the ever bourgeoning mines in the area.

Wiluna was very basic, the beautiful old two story pub had boarded-up windows and looked very run down. The "café" opposite was a tin shed with the car park strewn with empty bottles. And closed. The main store was well stocked though. We topped up with fuel and found the caravan park for a toilet stop. A group of travellers from Victoria had just come along the Gunbarrel on their way up to the Canning Stock Route. They reported that the road was muddy but OK.

The Gunbarrel starts straight east out of Wiluna, sealed for about 5km then gravel all the way to - well, Uluru we suppose. The track was well graded but with lots of boggy spots and standing water. The tell-tale line of trees across the otherwise flat, stony scrub filled landscape indicated a creek with running water that needed careful navigation. We crossed around half a dozen of these, dodging cows, kangaroos and one seemingly suicidal emu that decided to cross the road right in front a car doing 80km/h - ours - despite there being virtually no traffic and no hurry from what we could see.

We have made good time today - we are at Carnegie Station, 355 km along the Gunbarrel for a comfortable night in a donga. The camp kitchen is huge, there are showers heated by a donkey boiler and the all-important flushing toilet.

Tomorrow we head even further east into less developed areas. The guys from the couple of cars camped here tonight have come from Victoria and reported that the track is OK but slow. They took two days to get here from Warburton and warned of very boggy areas. One car was towing a trailer and took to the side of the track to avoid crossing through the water and got well and truly bogged. Lesson? Stay on the track, follow existing wheel ruts, take it slow. As Pete pointed out, if there are tyre marks in and tyre marks out then someone else has made it through. Stick to it!

Sunday 14 July 2013
Another comfortable night, this time in single beds at Carnegie Station. It was very cold, down to four degrees Celsius according to the girl from Connecticut who, along with her Australian boyfriend, are looking after the homestead and camping area. The set up at Carnegie is very good. A huge camp kitchen, dormitory style accommodation in a donga for those who don't want to set up camp (like us), toilet and shower with hot water heated by the donkey boiler and lots of flat ground for parking and camping.

A major drama first thing with the car battery totally flat (that horrible "tick tick tick" sound), Pete had to jump start across the two batteries, thankfully it started. A fruitless search for the multimeter carefully stowed in a good hiding place (we found it in a storage compartment in the back of the car after we got home...) followed by a visit to our neighbours (they had one) led to the discovery that the second battery wasn't charging. The rubber mats installed under the batteries were the prime suspects in preventing the isolator switch between the batteries from connecting properly, but it was simply a case of an unconnected cable between the two, forgotten when the now unjustly maligned rubber mats were installed. We are cautiously optimistic that the battery problem that has dogged us for the last couple of days is now solved. It better be, we are out in the middle of the Gibson Desert tonight on the Gunbarrel Highway and will be in a bit of trouble if the car doesn't start tomorrow.

It was a very muddy drive today, a pretty rare experience for both of us. The track out of Carnegie was not the nicely graded one in. Within 500 metres we were in track country - back to Len Beadell's outback legacy of a rough trail through a very remote part of Australia.

The track in places resembled a river bed with long stretches of water along the track filled with mud and a bit scary in places. Sticking to the mantra "follow the track in and out", Pete got us through the water hazards, although it was pretty alarming when the mud covered the windscreen and side windows left us momentarily blind to what was ahead while the windscreen wipers tried to catch up.

In the Mungilli Claypans we came across a group of three vehicles towing trailers of which two were stuck in the mud. They were all in their 70s, from Victoria and NZ, and seemed delighted with the situation they were in. The bloke with the car and trailer stuck in the mud on the main track refused to be snatched out backwards because he wanted to use his new winch. We videoed their first use of the new toy and promised to send it to them when we got home. They were heading to Perth and going back east along the Anne Beadell Highway. They were a great bunch, we hope we are still playing at their age!

Not far after the claypans we entered the Gibson Desert - rocky, sparse and remarkably similar to the Great Victoria further south. The water hazards gradually got less severe, we stopped for lunch at Geraldton Bore and washed down the windows with the water from the easy to use hand pump installed by some lucky DEC employee and a bunch of volunteers.

It was getting late when we came across the Browne Ranges with Mt Everard and Mt Gordon - striking red bluffs sticking out of the flat desert landscape.

For tonight we are camped about 40 km west of Beadell Camp, pulling off the side of the track onto a flat spot for the night. Dinner was easy - pasta washed down with a beer and a glass of wine.Kimberley cool beer, we note. The plug for the Engels has worked its way out some time during the day so we are in catch up mode for the freezer. Just hope the car starts tomorrow!

It is promising to be another cold night tonight, it is only 8pm and are bundled up in our Arctic jackets listening to Radio National fade in and out. Our first night in the tent, with sleeping bags zipped up, beanies on and jackets on top of us!

Monday 15 July 2013
A very cold night on the Gunbarrel last night. We sat outside looking at the stars until around 9pm then had half hour in the car listening to Radio National before calling it quits and heading for the tent and warm sleeping bags. Even then, it was just warm enough in the tent for a night’s sleep - sleeping bags zipped up and our jackets over the top.

We slept to around 8am, and woke up feeling a bit seedy from guzzling red wine last night, not a good start to a bumpy day on the road. Two hot cups of tea and couple of Nurofen did the trick and we were ready to rock and roll (literally on the bumpy track!) by 9am.

The track to Mt Beadell and the camp was very rough, we certainly would not have made it last night until well after dark. It was a good decision to stop on the side of the track when we did.

Mt Beadell was amazing. A very steep track took us half way up the 500m "mountain" - quite scary for Ali but low range 4WD and Pete's willingness to give it a go got us up easily. At the top there is a memorial to Len Beadell - a theodolite firmly caged so no one can souvenir it - and a fantastic view over the Gibson Desert. Pete slipped on the way up to the memorial and landed on our new camera - a Canon EOS 5D MkIII - and just missed destroying the LCD screen on a sharp rock. A gouge out of the body was the only damage thank goodness, Pete was sure he had smashed it on the way down. He will be picking spinifex spikes out of his legs and hands for a few days though.

A dead Citroen BX was abandoned on the track. It had no engine or insides and had been set on fire. It is amazing it had made it to where it was in the first place. Pete suggested it was dropped by aliens (after a good probing) just to screw with travellers’ minds.

Our final stretch of the Gunbarrel was pretty rough but spectacular scenery none the less. We got to the corner of the Heather Highway around 2pm, turning south for the Great Central Road. Stopping for a photo, Pete noticed that one of the driving lights was just sitting there - the nut had worked its way off and we were lucky it hadn't dropped off. We were also lucky that Pete noticed it, otherwise it would have been gone for sure once we got going on the Heather Highway.

The top section of the Heather Highway was horrendous. Soul destroying corrugations, massive washaways and mud sections saw our speed drop to 10 - 30 km/h for a long stretch. It was bone jarring and everything in the car was vibrating and rattling madly. The 37km stretch seemed to go on forever. Even the bypass tracks were awful!

The final 47km was on a very good, well graded gravel road - quite a relief after the previous section. We stopped half way along to pour the fuel from the jerry cans into the car. We got 758km from the two tanks and should be able make it to Yulara tomorrow without needing a top up.

When we got to the Great Central Road we got a shock. It was sealed! It is almost civilised. Very disappointing! We also raised the attention of the police just out of Warburton by driving past some road closed signs to check out the roadworks and the new crossing over Elder Creek. They were just coming towards as we pulled out past the detour sign. Pete waved and smiled. They probably thought we were just a couple of silly old grey nomads and let us pass.

We are camped for the night about 30 km east of Warburton. We have pulled in to a side track and there is a small turn-out along it, about 100 metres from the road making a nice, private little camp. It took just over an hour to have the tent set up, VKS-737 contacted, dinner eaten and washed up and a couple of beers drunk. It is too cold to sit outside, we are sitting in the car listening to the Radio National so we don't get too cold before heading to bed tonight.

Tuesday 16 July 2013
A rather eerie night on the roof of our car 30 odd km east of Warbuton. Sitting in the car to keep warm we noticed a large black dog with a white tip on his tail scuttle in front of car then sit looking at us from the right for ages, never getting too close but definitely on the watch. We went to bed (keeping a good look out for the dog) and settled in for a slightly warmer night than the night before, probably due to the moisture in the air. In the wee hours we were woken by a volley of howls - at least four dingos in close proximity talking to each other. This kept up for what seemed like half an hour. Finally a solitary dingo approached the car up close for a good sniff. It let out a small howl and the pack moved on. It was really eerie. Ali had been out for a pee not long before the howls, imagine hearing that while squatting in the dead of night a couple of metres from the safety of the car!

We got on the road just after 9am, heading for Warrakurna for a toilet break and stretch. Ali's phone picked up reception not far out and automatically updated the time to NT. Instead of being 10:15 it was now 11:45. We had lost an hour and a half! Our thoughts of getting to Yulara mid afternoon had just gone out the window. It would be getting close to sunset or later by the time we got there, and the thought of competing for a piece of track with the Great Central Road's wildlife in the dusk or in the dark was not appealing.

We topped up with fuel so we could get access to the toilet - no purchase, no poo seems to be the policy. What was once a great 80 Series Landcruiser pulled up next to us at the pumps - no windows, smashed panels, full of a big family of locals plus a couple of dogs. Not long after a ute pulled in with a grey nomad announcing there was a convoy of 10 following. We were pretty pleased to be driving out as they were driving in. Pete pulled over to tighten up the sand flag and we watched them file in. The beaten up Landcruiser we saw at the servo sped out past us, narrowly missing Pete and spraying us with dust and rocks.

The trip to the border was enlivened by listening to the ABC's A Thousand Years in a Day CDs and counting the dead cars along the side of the track. We have a list going to see which is the car of choice to destroy in the desert - so far Falcons are winning. The Great Central Road is well maintained and graded and we were able to sit on 90 - 100 km/h all the way to the border.

The border area is really special, an extensive range of hills shelters the area allowing a forest of desert oaks, white gums and lots of greenery to flourish. It is green and alive all the way through to Docker River although the track deteriorates on the NT side of the border. It is not Heather Highway bad, just corrugated in sections. It is mainly sand and a grader seems to come through reasonably often so we were still able to make good time.

We hit Yulara around 5pm - passing the Olgas in the sunset on the way through. We have booked in to a hotel, have had a shower and are about to head to a restaurant for dinner. Luxury!

Wednesday 17 July 2013
A road transport section today. We had a top notch dinner in our four star hotel last night and a sleep in - comfortable beds and great hot shower. After a full cooked breakfast we meandered down to the service station to pump up the tyres and clean the windows, then found a café for a coffee to take on the road.

We were thinking of stopping at Erldunda for the night - a couple of hundred kilometres down the road on the corner of the Stuart Highway. Pete had found a track through the Erldunda Ranges on Google Earth and we were interested in giving it a go. Unfortunately the track was barred with a locked gate. No go.

It was just after 2pm by the time we got to Erldunda so we decided to push on to Alice Springs, booking a Quest apartment on-line while at the servo so we had a home waiting for us. Technology is wonderful!

The drive to Alice Springs was without incident, a 200km trip on a good road. Our apartment for the next three nights is very salubrious, we'll get the "housework" done (so to speak) - washing, restocking and a (hopefully) minor repair to the Landcruiser, gearbox oil is leaking from the front of the transfer case and Pete is aiming to fix it before we head up the Tanami. Tonight we will head into the bright lights of Alice Springs central for dinner.

Thursday 18 July 2013
A relaxing day in Alice Springs today. We were up reasonably early to head over to the Toyota dealership in search of a transfer case seal then to Supercheap for oil and bits, then to a bearing place for Loctite bearing mount then to Bunnings for new nuts for the driving lights. Bunnings Alice Springs was a pleasant surprise - people were genuinely friendly, knew where things were and were actually helpful!

After getting our son Kris to email us a PDF copy of the Toyota workshop manual Pete decided to not replace the seal right now, it is not leaking badly and we have all we need to fix it should it fail further along the track. He will just check the oil every morning and we have the parts as an insurance policy.

The rest of the day was spent washing (clothes and car, the latter a major endeavour given the thick layer of dried mud on every surface), shopping (an interesting experience that coincided with the opening of the liquor store, with a policeman on duty outside to enforce liquor bans) and a late lunch at the Red Ochre Restaurant on the mall (wine, food and an old Weekend West quiz). Last night was a quiet one in front of the TV, reading and relaxing. What a great way to spend a day!

Friday 19 July 2013
A day of adventure on a trek through the East MacDonnell Ranges to Ruby Gap - a round trip of around 350km of some fairly serious 4WD tracks, particularly out to Ruby Gap. We were up reasonably early, gathering a coffee and hitting the road just after 9am to head south to the Ross Highway towards the not very attractively named Ross River Resort. It was a tarmac trip for 90km until we turned left to the Binns Track and Ruby Gap. The hills here seem more rugged than the range to the west of Alice Springs, almost newer and a bit less weathered. The track was good, winding through high red bluffs covered with green shrubs with white gums in the valleys.

We were entering the Arltunga district, originally the first settlement in central Australia set up in the gold rush of the late 1800s. It is now a couple of ruins spread over dry plains in the middle of nowhere.

Turning east about 100km along the track we headed 42km in to Ruby Gap. The first 10km were on a graded track - a driveway to a cattle station. Once past the gate the track deteriorated, rough with very stony descents into sandy, boggy riverbeds. We passed a Nissan X-Trail - with hopelessly low ground clearance for the demands of the track ahead. As we got closer to the gap, the track got worse. Dropping down the final section to the river bed was a bit scary, it looked like a vertical fall down rolling rocks but Pete dropped in to low 4WD and we easily chunked down to the riverbed. A gate needed to be opened to get through to the gorge, the hills we had been approaching came in close and we followed a river course through high red cliffs to a flat section of river bed. We had passed a solitary Land Rover with a guy drinking tea contemplating nature and a reasonably sophisticated camp of eight to 10 people with camp kitchen and paintings drying in the sun before coming to a sign that said "no cars beyond this point".

We walked down the river bed to the head of the valley, high red cliffs with random trees and bushes dotted up the sheer faces. There was standing water along one side of the river, a lush growth of reeds and white trunked gums offering a contrast to the red rocks and white river sand.

While we were eating a chicken and cheese sandwich for lunch, a car full of young indigenous people plus guide (the logo on the door read Bushmob) pulled in. Their first question was "are you staying here?". They seemed very happy when we said no and started setting up camp.

We started the drive back just after 2pm. We hadn't really calculated just how long the track had taken us to get in, it took us two hours just to get back the Binns Track and we then had a 170km trip back to Alice Springs from there. It was a long drive into the setting sun, passing through a few old abandoned homesteads offering camping for gold fossickers hoping to find something left behind after a century of mining. The last 50km of the track was the hardest, with the setting sun in our eyes it was really difficult to see the track, corrugations, potholes and corners with the added challenge of cows and kangaroos. We were very relieved to finally find the Stuart Highway, turning a sharp right across a rail line directly into the glowing sun on the horizon. That left 5km to Alice and a stop to get a few beers at a dodgy looking bottle shop in the 'burbs on the way in.

Dinner was very ho-hum at the Chifley down the road. The meal was average and the place looked more like a cafeteria than the advertised four-star joint. Oh well, the meal was filling and they had a good wine list!

Saturday 20 July 2013
A final rest day in Alice Springs before heading up the Tanami. We decided on our way back from Ruby Gap last night to see if we could extend one more day. We didn't get back to Alice until after 6pm and we still had a few chores to do. So it was good to have a whole day to organise ourselves and generally laze around.

Our shopping trip was a bit of a saga - we needed a new air hose connector and tried Repco first. No go, they told us to go to Alice Air but Pete mistakenly got the address off the Internet for the hydraulic place. No good there, and it was closing in on 12midday - the time all the good shop owners of Alice Springs go home on a Saturday. Backtracking to the air place we got stuck behind a bloke in a ute going about 20 km/h, then passed the entry to the slip road that shop was on. We got to the shop at about 5 to 12 - just in time! Pete was able to get what he needed for a mere $6.

Next was fuel - main tank, spare tank and all six jerry cans. A major undertaking given we needed to unstrap the jerry cans, get them out of the back then repack (making sure all were clean and tightly sealed). On our way back to town we got caught by a long train at the level crossing - we are surprised we didn't get stopped by it on our hurried quest for Alice Air!

Afternoon was a long lunch at the Red Ochre Grill - inside this time, it is FREEZING in Alice Springs today. Hope it warms up tomorrow, we'll be back in the tent.

Sunday 21 July 2013
We left Alice Springs this morning nice and early after another relaxing day yesterday getting the car together and having a late lunch. With coffee in hand we were heading north along the Stuart Highway by about 8:45am.

The turn off to Tanami Road is about 15km out of Alice, it is a single lane bitumen line for much of the 180 odd km trip to Tillmouth Roadhouse where we filled up in the hope that the top up will take us all the way through to Halls Creek. We have the jerry cans filled, our first thought of filling up at Rabbit Flats being dashed after Pete checked the website to find that it had closed years ago. We thought it best to carry a full load, and besides, it is cheaper in Alice than it will be in Halls Creek.

The bitumen kept up on and off almost all the way to Yuendemu. Our first impulse to stop in Yuendemu for a spot of lunch and let some air out of the tyres was quickly quashed after a slow drive through the community - it was pretty grim. We got back on the track and pulled into a side track about 20km up the way for a chicken, cheese and tomato sandwich and a chicken wing washed down with half a Red Bull each.

The road was pretty damn good from there on, a few corrugations but it was wide and we could always find a smooth path through - mostly on the right hand side of the track. A few big trucks came towards us, covering the track and us with dust, and we overtook a semi pulling a massive piece of machinery, slowly grinding over the corrugations at about 20 km/h.

Approaching The Granites gold mine we overtook a couple of cars from Queensland, we had been listening to their discussions on UHF 18. We heard them behind us for the next few hours as we drove on into the setting sun.

We have made good time today, covering close on 700km. Rabbit Flat was gated off, we kept on driving until we had passed the Tanami gold mine and found a turn-out on the right of the track at the top of a hill. The Tanami Desert is flat to the far horizon, no trees, very few shrubs and a sea of spinifex in every direction.

Dinner was pasta washed down with a beer, we have become very efficient with camp life. Today is Sunday, so we have listened to This American Life on Radio National and are now relaxing after a long but satisfying drive. The moon is close to full but there are rain clouds gathering to the south as the sun sets - hope it's not raining on the Canning Stock Route!

Monday 22 July 2013
A howling east wind was sweeping across the Tanami Desert when we woke up this morning, making it very unpleasant to be outside organising breakfast and packing up the car. Our high vantage point that was so pleasant last night left us at the mercy of the gusts and dust. It took two bites to get the tent folded onto the roof and we had to be careful to keep the car doors closed or the wind would rifle through the car blowing everything from paper to bowls to clothes out the door and scudding across the ground. The couple of Queensland cars drove past and tooted as we were struggling with the tent, but apart from them there was no other traffic on the road this morning.

It was a real relief to be back in the car and on the road heading for WA. The track was rough with lots of corrugations and a few washaways but not too bad. At the border we had two very pleasant experiences - we gained an hour and a half in time and there was a grader on the track. He was just finishing the last 10 km on the WA side so the trip to Bililuna was on a nice, flat, smooth surface.

We pulled in to Bililuna to top up the fuel, we did not have quite enough in the tank to get us to Halls Creek if we did the 40km trip across to the Wolfe Creek meteorite crater and we were hoping to avoid dismantling the car to get to the jerry cans. Pete tried first at the shop, they said to try over the road. Two locals coming out of the building over the road nodded when Pete asked if he could buy fuel from in there, but there was no one in the building at all. We gave up and, avoiding dogs and kids, we headed north to Wolfe Creek crater.

The Tanami Road on his section was really bad, very corrugated and rough. The track to Wolfe Creek crater was even worse - atrocious corrugations and washaways. Three gates had to be opened and closed to get in, meaning we lost speed and had to get it back up again to deal with the corrugated road - a real bone jarring experience.

Wolfe Creek meteorite crater was worth it though. A massive circular bowl punched into the earth with a high circular hill surrounding it covered in shrubs and trees. The centre was flat with what seemed to be a swamp in the middle. A really amazing view.

We got out one jerry can and put it in the tank for the final leg to Halls Creek. Ali phoned ahead as soon as we got a signal and managed to get the last motel room in town. Hooray!

We are at the Best Western on the north end of town, it is clean and neat with a restaurant and bar attached. We are pleasantly surprised with Halls Creek, the severe alcohol restrictions have given the town a chance to clean up. Mind you, alcohol is very expensive (it can only be bought at a hotel if you are staying there, and a carton of Coopers Pale Ale cost us $90!) and we couldn't buy a permanent marker (too easy to sniff). Two nights here, we will go up to Purnululu tomorrow then hit the big one on Wednesday - the Canning Stock Route.

Tuesday 23 July 2013
When we got in the car this morning Pete asked Ali if she had swept out the car yesterday afternoon, the layers of dust and sand inside were gone. She hadn't. Apparently the strong wind yesterday morning not only took all our belongings out the doors, it also took all the dirt. A pleasant bonus from such an uncomfortable experience.

The Great Northern Highway north of Halls Creek was a veritable feast for the crows, falcons and eagles. A cow, a fox and numerous kangaroos have met an ugly demise on the road leaving lots of good pickings for the birds. The 100 odd km trip to Purnululu was comfortable and easy, just a couple of massive four-trailer road trains and a few other travellers in cars heading south.

Driving in to the national park and Bungle Bungle Range was a real experience. The longest straight section on the entire 50km trip was only about 100 metres long. The rest was a sinuous winding route over folds in the earth, graded out of solid rock and with a good surface. It was quite exciting coming to a blind crest and being unsure whether the road on the other side would turn sharp left or sharp right (or both, sometimes in quick succession!). About half way along we came to a car bay on the side of the track with two cows patiently standing side by side, looking for all the world like they were parked there. The "cow park" jokes lasted for the next couple of corners...

We have both seen the Bungle Bungles from the air and were looking forward to seeing them up close from ground level. They didn't disappoint. We trekked 3km into Cathedral Gorge through the incredibly alien rock formations that make up this ancient range of hills. The red, brown and black layers bright in the sunshine, the rounded top hills looking bizarre.Cathedral Gorge itself is also awesome, a sandy based amphitheatre encircled by huge red cliffs, just a sliver of light coming though.

On the way back to the main road we noticed that one cow had wandered off, but the other was still happily parked on the side of the road. We also came across a woman frantically waving us down, a red 75 series Landcruiser we had seen parked on the side of the track on the way in was being loaded onto the back of a truck. They had been waiting two days for recovery after breaking a spring on the way out of the national park. Both were looking as if they had had enough of Purnululu and were wanting to get to Halls Creek as soon as possible. We could not provide the lift they were after, we have no back seat and are absolutely chockers with gear and fuel. Pete suggested they just sit in their car on the back of the truck until they get to the highway where the recovery guys had a second vehicle parked, but apparently that wasn't allowed. we thought that sitting in a car on the back of a truck would be safer than being left out in the bush with nothing but apparently not. In the meantime another car had also pulled up behind them. Hopefully they had room for them!

Back in Halls Creek and we have filled up the car and have everything ready to go for tomorrow. The transfer case has not needed any oil for the last two days, Pete figured it had probably had mud forced into the front drive coupling on the Gunbarrel, distorting the seal and causing a temporary leak. Hopefully we will not need to do a roadside repair on the Canning.

Tonight we have come down to the Kimberley Hotel for dinner. We bumped in to a couple of people from DoT - Carole and Steve are doing the remote indigenous licensing run to the eastern communities and we are catching up for dinner here. It is very entertaining. There are a few locals here, quite loud but not too raucous. After dinner it will be an early night - our last in a real bed for some time!

Wednesday 24 July 2013
Well, well, well. Actually it is four wells. We are at Well 47 tonight and as the first one we saw was Well 51 then this is our fourth. We got an early night last night, so had an early one this morning. Carole and Steve, the two licensing officers from Kununurra woke up to a flat tyre this morning, Carole was on the phone to Steve as we were leaving so he could come and change it before they could head home today.

Pete dropped Ali off to get coffee at the Ponciana Cafe while he made a short trip to the Kimberley Hotel to pick up his credit card that he inadvertently left there last night. We had to start a tab for dinner because we want to keep our cash in case the settlement at Kunawaritji near Well 33 does not have EFTPOS. Even though we are carrying 260 litres of fuel, we will still need to fill up there to make it to Wiluna. Both ATMs in Halls Creek are empty and no shop will provide cash, fearing a run we suppose. So we are hanging on to what cash we have to make sure we make it home.

We were heading south at about 7:45am, the 16km trip back down the highway to the Tanami Road turn off took no time at all. The track to Billiluna was better than we remembered, there is a much smoother line on the northern side - our left this time - so it was a fairly easy trip. The easterly wind was howling and blowing dust across our path, and we had to avoid much livestock to avoid it becoming deadstock.

We tried for fuel again at Billiluna and this time were successful. The bloke who runs the place was there, we were able to top up, giving us an added margin for the 1800km trek south. At least we would now make it to Kunawaritji without breaking open the jerry cans. Then it was on to the Canning Stock Route proper!

The track immediately deteriorated into two wheel ruts and lots of corrugations. We encountered our first troupe of cars about 5kms in, three of them with windscreen banners proclaiming "Canning Stock Route 2013". Yep.

The first point of interest was Stretch Lagoon and the cattle yards, not far from Billiluna. There were cattle pens and an abandoned caravan, plus a couple of abandoned cars. The track continued mostly west for a long way, running between two low dunes spaced widely apart. We could see the red tops of them each side of us as we bumped through the corrugated valley. The track weaves through stretches of red sand to stretches of white limestone, each offering different types of corrugations. Small trees flourished on the limestone caps, desert oaks and brilliant white gums glowing with a seeming inner light. On the red sections it was an unbroken sea of spinifex, some areas a couple of metres high on either side of the track, their bright gold tops swaying it the wind.

We came across another eight cars, two sets of three and a pair. One poor Landcruiser had no rear shock absorbers and when he pulled off track in front of us he came to stop with a number of big bounces of the rear end. The couple in there had some waiting for them at Halls Creek, they were really looking forward to it!

Well 51 was our lunch stop. It has just been restored by bunch of people from Adelaide, they have left it with a shiny new bucket and rope and a solid metal lid covering the drop. The sign said they did it on 10 July, just on two weeks ago.

The track turns south not far after, and we entered dune country. Just around the corner we came to Chinamans Hat, a conical shaped hill rising out of the flat country with Mt Ernest right next to it. In the distance we could see the Breaden Hills and slowly made our way towards them over small red slopes descending into gullies of stones and corrugations.

We went in to check out Breaden Pool, a rough 2km track to a small, algae filled crack in the rocks. Not very inviting for us, but it would have been an incredible find for the early explorers looking for water.

We decided to do a final 40km section to Well 47, it was around 3:30pm and felt we could make it before 5pm. People from a couple of cars were collecting wood, probably planning to camp at Breaden Pool. A bit further on we came across a party of three heading north, the lead car telling us he was head of a tag along tour, taking 20 days to do the Canning. That seems like an awful lot of time, but it must suit them! He also let us know that there was a party of five cars in front of us heading south, they were planning to stay at Well 46 so it looked like we would be alone for the night.

For the final 20km stretch the track went directly west, right in to the setting sun. It was difficult and challenging but fun none the less. We got to Well 47 about 4:45pm, made easy contact with VKS-737 in Adelaide to log in and had delicious Boatshed pea and ham soup with a few bits of stale bread toasted to soak up the dregs. We have parked facing north, giving us a shelter from the easterly wind that we expect to kick in again tomorrow morning. It is quite still now, the moon has just risen in a fiery red blaze, looking impossibly big on the horizon. It will be an early night again tonight, we have many kilometres to go and are keen to make use of all the daylight available to us.

Thursday 25 July 2013
The easterly did not start up until after we were packed and ready to hit the track this morning, we had a couple of cups of tea, a muesli bar each, packed up the tent and were on our way at 7:45am. The short stretch back to the main track was as corrugated as we remembered, but soon we were heading south across the rolling dunes that make up the Great Sandy Desert.

Well 46 was a very pleasant spot - a grove of white gums, a working well and a party of five cars firmly ensconced with washing on the line and chairs out.

Gravity Lake and the Pijallinga Claypans were not far past Well 45, the lowest spot for miles around, hence its name. The next four wells - a grinding 250 odd km - was slow going.

The track weaves over and between the dunes, the climbs up the dune faces get steeper as they grow bigger and the long west/east sections between them are corrugated and hard going. Coming from the north, we had short sharp climbs up the dune faces, and long rutted descents on the other side. There were big dips on the down side, we have dubbed them whoopdedoos - they are sort of like big, widely spaced corrugations that mean when the front wheels are in a rut the rear wheels are in the rut behind. The car galumphs over the hump in the middle making everything in it bounce up and down in huge whooping thumps. We took it really slow on the descents to save the car, contents and passengers from irreparable damage. It would be awful to be coming from the other side, trying to build up enough speed to make it over the dune while galumphing up and down over the humps. Most of the dunes we could get over in high 4WD, the diesel and turbo giving enough grunt to make the top, and Pete switched on the LPG injection over the larger dunes to give a little extra power. As the dunes got bigger and steeper Pete engaged low range and chugged up nice and slow, trying not to damage the track too much.

We were putting regular calls out over Channel 40 asking if any cars were coming north, particularly as we approached a dune. It would be very disconcerting to meet a car on the way down when you are on the way up. There was no one out there for hours and we felt very alone. It was quite puzzling, yesterday we saw 23 cars heading north, today there seemed to be none.

The landscape changes in each valley between the dunes. In some, the whole area is covered in low flowering bushes from soft lavender and low pink to brilliant purple, bright yellow and vivid red. Other valleys were wall to wall spinifex, the odd white gum lining the limestone ridges in the middle.

We came across a camel in one of the hollows - the stupid thing took off in front of us and kept up a good pace along the track without even thinking of turning off to safety. We came to a sand dune and it fairly belted up the hill, picking up speed as it went headlong down the other side. Ali put a call out to asking if anyone was coming north, and wondered if we should warn them they were likely to have a head on collision with a camel doing 30km/h if they weren't careful. After 4km we came across a small clay pan and the camel finally veered left to have a rest - or a cardiac arrest. Not too much further on we came across a dead camel on the downside of a dune. At first we thought it had had a collision with a car but there were another two close by just off the track. More likely a collision with a bullet we suspect.

At Well 41 we thought disaster had struck. Pete was trying to do u-turn because we had missed the main track and stalled in reverse. He turned the key and ... nothing happened. Completely dead, not even any lights on the dash. We got out to investigate, both going into problem solving mode and trying not to panic. The main battery was not showing a green light - indicating completely flat. Pete got the jumper leads out to see if we could start from the second battery and soon found the problem. The terminal on the positive side had come loose. A 10mm spanner soon put that to right and we held our collective breath as Pete turned the key. Instant start! Phew! The thought of being stuck in the middle of nowhere, when we had neither seen nor heard a car all day, was really scary. Especially a few kilometres up the wrong track. We got back on the right track feeling very relieved and a bit shaken.

Two kilometres later our calls out finally bore fruit. Two groups - four cars in one and three in the other - were just leaving Well 40. We were able to find them about half way and pass safely between dunes. Not far after that we had the experience of seeing a dune flag coming towards us on the other side of a dune as we were roaring up. We both stopped, he called forward and said he would back down. There were two of them, we pulled off to let them past. We have no idea why they didn't let us know they were there, they must have heard the earlier conversation only five minutes before. We had even put a call out before attempting to cross the dune we met them on.

Well 40 has the grave of Michael Tobin, killed by an Aborigine in 1907. He was speared three times but shot his attacker, so both died. The original story was that he was attacked unprovoked, but the real story is apparently different. The aboriginal man who died had sent his wife in to ask for some tobacco and Tobin had kept her for himself for two days. The husband attacked to get her back and was subsequently shot by Tobin and died. Tobin's grave is marked by a large cross under a white gum but there is no record of where the other man lies.

Our final 30 odd km were across Lake Tobin, a blissfully flat mud pan, mercifully dry. We have stopped for the night at Well 39, a company of four are camped about 2km back up the track just off the edge of the lake. We have managed 260km today - an average of just over 30km/hr. It was lamb chops and vegies for dinner tonight, there is no moon yet so the stars are a brilliant light overhead. We are both knackered. It will be an early one tonight.

Friday 26 July 2013
The nights have been bitterly cold in the Great Sandy Desert. We have been cocooned in our sleeping bags, jackets over the top, beanies firmly on and full clothing underneath. We were up early this morning, just after 6am, the sun rising to light up our breakfast and pack-up.

The 30km stretch between Well 39 and 38 took us two hours, weaving over ever increasing sand dunes and wide valleys filled with corrugations. The vegetation thinned as we headed south, although there were still some valleys covered in flowering shrubs. The spinifex got thinner on the ground, the red sand dominating the valley floors. At a large rocky outcrop that gave a brilliant view over the desert we came across our first travellers for the day - a couple from Victoria travelling without a radio. Not much further on we contacted a party of 10 heading towards us, making contact when we were either side of a big dune with a surveyors mark/trig point on the top. A car came over the top but he was not part of the party, he was travelling alone, again without a radio.

We pulled in to a side track and watched the big group tackle the dune, videoing it and getting an email address to make contact later and send them a link to the video.

Well 38 at Wardabunni Rockhole was in a rocky gully, a long line of gums stretching either side giving a tell-tale sign of permanent water. There was an algae filled pool at the bottom and big sinkholes blasted into the rock surrounding the gully. A very pretty place with big flocks of bright green budgies swooping from tree to tree.

From Well 38 the sand dunes got closer and closer together, it seemed to be a rolling succession of red waves until we dropped in to a narrow valley full of desert oaks looking very eerie and ancient in this remote place. The track turned west and we followed the tops of sand hills across ridges of red dirt with the desert oaks following us down to Well 35. Well 36 was abandoned, a big hole covered with a lattice of steel welded on the top. As our car came past a flock of budgies exploded out of the well, looking as if they had come straight out of the ground.

The next 90km was a jolting, vibrating grind south across a wide flat plain covered in spinifex on a track that was pure corrugations. There was no way to get up to floating speed, it was 10 to 20 km/h juddering along a straight track for what seemed to go on forever. Our number plate has vibrated itself off the spare wheel out back, it will be sitting out there somewhere for someone else to run over or souvenir.

The bonus for the trip was the Kunawaritji community near Well 33. Kunawaritji is a very clean and neat oasis in the desert offering fuel, a very good shop and, best of all, hot showers. It was bliss. Ali bought some eggs and we happily paid the $5 each for a shower. Fuel was very expensive - $3.39/litre, the dearest we have seen. Ever. They truck it in from Port Hedland through Marble Bar and Telfer, a long way to haul - and it's available for sale out here literally in the middle of nowhere - so we were happy to pay the price.

Leaving Kunawaritji at 3pm we got back on to the corrugations for a stint further down the track, passing a group of three not far out of Well 31, our camp for the night. One of the party had a HF radio antenna so we flagged them down and asked them to contact VKS-737 for us to let them know that we could not make last night's sked because our radio has died. We could not get any life out of it last night and it is still dead tonight. If we don't log off they may panic and call Kris, our son and our emergency contact. We don't want Kris setting off on a full scale search for us because of a broken radio.

For the last 5km we finally got out of the corrugations and have entered the hills again. Apparently tomorrow has lots of rocks followed by some very big sand dunes. Can't wait!

Saturday 27 July 2013
Our camp last night at Well 31 was very picturesque. This morning the rising sun lit up the grove of white gums as we breakfasted and packed up. The track to Well 32 was stony with bits of sand between, slow going. We met a couple not far out of Well 32, reporting that there were a party of five leaving Thring Rock just past Well 31 (they had just left them to strike out alone, apparently they weren't "meshing", the group travelling no more than 50km a day and something about "if you want to look at animals you have it do it at dawn and dusk"). They also told us there was a section closed in with trees just out of Well 31 that would make it hard to pass.

We began calling on the radio as we left Well 31 and soon made contact with the group. We cleared the closed in section before encountering them at the start of the sand hills. We cleared one, the next one we hung back to see a flag appear over the top of the dune. The cars filed past, the second one a massive Mitsubishi Canter truck. These are not supposed to be on the track, they either didn't get a permit or ignored the rules. The driver of the Canter stopped next to us and handed a small Picnic chocolate through the window to Pete. This was followed by howls over the radio from the following vehicles, laughing over "giving away our chocolates". They ground on north as we hit the sand dunes south, their chatter coming through for the next few kilometres.

The sand dunes on the next section were amazing. From the north the approaches were short and very sharp, and the drop down the other side a soft, bumpy ride down the whoopdedoos. We came across another couple of cars that reported they had put their tyre pressures down to 18 and 20 to get over the top, but we managed to get up all of the dunes with 28 and 32 approaching from the north. No wheel spin, just chugging up going down through the gears generally dropping to second or first for the final approach. We did a regular call out at each dune "Single vehicle heading south approaching dune" followed by "Single vehicle heading south clear of dune" as we as we went over the top.

In this section we came up behind a Land Rover towing a trailer that didn't quite make it up a dune. We pulled off the track to let them back down for a run-up then went ahead. The driver called forward not long after asking us to let them know if there was anything heading their way. Not too much further we were able to assist. We came across a single 60 Series Landcruiser with two German tourists in a valley. They had no radio (again) and what looked like an old tea towel at the end of a fishing rod tied to the bull bar for a sand flag. It is incredible the places you come across German tourists. We let our followers in the Land Rover know to look out and let the Germans know to expect a car heading their way.

After Well 28 the track turned to rock and corrugations as we passed Helen Hill then on down to Well 27 through the Slate Ranges. We stopped to get a couple of hard-boiled eggs out for a snack, there were two cars parked with the billy on for lunch.

Well 26 is very flash, there is a toilet and a very new well thanks to the WA Government's Royalties for Regions program. On the way in we had been listening to a group in in front of us transmitting on Channel 14. We stopped for lunch and chatted to a lady from the group, a club from Victoria travelling south at about 100km a day. We asked why they weren't using Channel 40 as recommended and she just rolled her eyes and said "don't get me started".

The trek down to Well 24 was through ever smaller sand dunes, with long sections of dried marsh covered in small shrubs and groves of white, yellow and tiny purple wildflowers. Well 23 is the link in to the Tallawana Track, the Canning Stock Route joins here and heads west for about 40km. We are camped at the western point of the junction at Georgia Bore. The track in was corrugated with a couple of side tracks, alternating between dried muddy sand and rocky ground making the going slow.

Our evening routine exposed a bit of a problem, again with the batteries. Pete noticed that the switch between the two batteries was stiff and looking behind noticed the lead from second battery had shaken loose and fallen off the switch. Then he noticed the earth lead for the main battery had been chafed through by the switch. Half of the earth wire was burnt away and the insulation had melted up to the negative battery terminal. Half an hours work had the earth lead wrapped in tape and safely secured, the now defunct switch bypassed meaning the spare battery can still be disconnected at night and reconnected in the morning but this will need to be done manually. Pete had already decided back a Carnegie Station on the Gunbarrel that first job when we get home would be a proper battery management system.

Packing up the tools we noticed a dingo about 10 metres into the bush, sniffing around a small clearing in the spinifex. We got out the cameras and got good shots before it disappeared into the bush. Ali has been over to warn the other cars camping here tonight - the couple with the Land Rover and trailer we passed on the sand dune, a group of four cars and three intrepid guys on motorbikes. We figured that we would like to know if there was a chance of coming across a canine in the night so thought they would too.

Dinner was pasta and a glass of wine. We are sitting listening to Radio National and about 10 minutes ago we heard plastic rustling outside. Pete checked and sure enough, our rubbish bag had been picked up by the dingo. We have rescued it and will make sure nothing else is left outside tonight. Going for a pee is also going to be interesting...

Sunday 28 July 2013
The dingo woke us in the wee hours howling mournfully in the bushes. We were on the road just after 7:30am, the toilet at the site a rare pleasure despite its malodorous atmosphere and the lime left on the fingers after pouring a cupful down the drop. Better than a squat in the bush with a shovel and a roll of toilet paper.

Well 22 was just south of Georgia Bore, a FESA car in the clearing and discussions on Channel 19. The track down to Well 21 was fairly technical, the last of the big dunes were interspersed with rocky outcrops so we had either soft sand or big rock step ups to get over the crest. In between, the valleys were a mix of corrugations on hard packed sand or a weaving line through shrubs on soft sand with limestone ridges across the track.

Our first glimpse of Lake Disappointment was a slash of water to the left and a brilliant shimmering white salt flat stretching to the horizon on the right. The track skirted the northern end of the lake for some kilometres, sometimes weaving west into groves of desert oaks with huge red termite mounds, the first we have seen for many days.

About half way to Well 19 we came across what looked like a canal full of water, the water a light green at the edges and a deep blue in the middle, about 20 metres across. It was Savoury Creek, one of the many that flow into Lake Disappointment. We followed it west for a while and realised, thanks to our Hema Navigator and the plot file we had downloaded from ExploreOz, that we were departing from the track. We hadn't seen anywhere to cross but turned back to do a more thorough search. We finally found a stretch across the water over a shallower stretch with sand and a bit of mud in the water section and made it across OK.

Just past Well 19 we began to hear a group of people chatting on Channel 40, we weren't sure if they were heading north or south. We tried to break into their banter about curry in a hurry, the fake Indian and German accents, whatever they were looking at that particular moment, but could not get a response. We crossed a salt lake and came across the bunch heading toward us just before a set of dunes. We pulled over and asked them why they didn't answer our calls. They said they didn't hear us, but the radio worked fine when we were next to them. The last car of four passed and they started immediately on the radio - "I didn't hear them, did you?" and "We've been calling out and doing the right thing, I'm surprised we couldn't hear them". We felt like saying "You have to stop talking before you can hear someone else" but decided not to. They wouldn't have heard us anyway.

The trip past Well 18 down to Diebel Hills was pretty good, but the next section to Durba Spring was diabolical. Twisting through heavily rocked gullies, we were down to 10 km/h for much of the journey. We could see smoke in the distance from a bushfire, this was soon explained by a sign on the track saying that the people from Jigalong were conducting a controlled burn. We came across a government-plated car with some locals on board and just before Durba Spring we came across the fire, burning merrily in the bush to our left. The wind was blowing from the south pushing the flames away from us as we took the bumpy 5km track down to the spring.

It was a worthwhile trip. We stopped for lunch at a veritable oasis - a shady, grass filled pound nestled into high red cliffs full of white gums and a beautiful pool with a smooth carved cliff almost cutting it in half. Two guys were doing maintenance on their highly modified mountain bikes. Just amazing. They had taken eight days to get there from Wiluna and were planning or do the whole trip to Halls Creek. We chatted to them and some of the other campers parked around the beautiful gorge. The cyclists were keen to find out where they could find water, their biggest daily task traveling as they were. One was American, the other from Fremantle. They had been dropped at Wiluna by the latter's wife, who was picking them up at Billiluna after driving herself there with their three month old son via Karijini National Park and the Gibb River Road. An adventurous couple! He also asked us to take his front brakes back with us, organising to contact Pete when he got home. He didn't need them on his bike and even that much extra weight is not welcome when travelling 1800km under your own steam.

We have camped at Well 15, the last 60km section quite challenging into the setting sun. Lots of corrugations interspersed with sections where the track descended into, and followed, a creek bed. Or other sections through deep gullies that were made by running water, banks almost the height of the car making us feel as if we were driving in a trench. We also came across two separate cars of German tourists heading north, neither had radios (again). Those crazy Germans!

When we pulled in we were confronted by a full camp, a tag along tour is also here. They sat around the campfire until just after sunset singing Kumbaya then dispersed to their tents and cars. We had a brilliant Sunday dinner of sausages, baked beans and eggs on toast. We are now listening to This American Life on Radio National looking forward to an early night. This track is very hard work.

Monday 29 July 2013
The tag a long bunch we had nick-named the gypsies because of their radio call signs were up early this morning, it was still dark when we heard them rousing for breakfast. We had one extra snooze this morning, emerging from the tent just after 6:30am. We were ready for the road just before 8am. We're getting very efficient at this!

The big group were lined up ready to roll north as we pulled out, a group of about 10 people taking the opportunity to walk up the track before being picked up by the cars in half an hour or so.

Leaving camp we came across a group of three cars heading north, they made contact just after we put out our "Single vehicle heading south out of Well 16" call on the radio. A few minutes later the big group camped at Well 15 last night did their radio check, the tour leader with his South African accent took the gypsies through roll call. When he got to Gypsy 5 there was a pause and then he said "That's right, Gypsy 5 is no longer here". Obviously Gypsy 5 had either turned tail back to Wiluna or didn't know the words to Kumbaya and had decided to forge out ahead alone. Either that or there’s another lonely bush grave out there somewhere…

The trip down to Well 14 was fun. There were some small dunes, rocky out crops and valley floors of soft sand, sometimes corrugations and wide limestone ridges with thick tall shrubs completely different to any other flora in the vicinity. We passed a group of three at Well 14, and were able to warn them of a couple who didn't have a radio (again) heading north in a Land Rover.

The track descended down to Lake Aerodrome, a huge salt lake named that because it was big enough for a plane to land on. We skirted along the lake for about 5km, brilliant white salt nearly to the horizon with pink tinges on the edges where the track weaves through.

The trip down to the corner of the Glen Ayle track entry at Well 9 was quite straight forward and reasonably quick. If we had turned left to Glen Ayle we would have ended up at Carnegie Station, our home for our first night on the Gunbarrel Highway. We have almost finished our big triangle!

We stopped at Well 7 to pour the jerry cans into the car and have lunch. It was a pretty straightforward procedure done under a shady tree. Just out of Well 6 we were called by a guy with a very German accent heading north. Germans can carry radios! We came across them soon after. It was two guys in a Land Rover, the Australian driver (probably explains the radio) heading north taking their time - "As long as the Federal government doesn't go broke and stop paying our pensions we'll be alright". Pete replied that as a taxpayer and closet socialist he was glad they were putting the pension system to good use! They said they were glad Pete was a taxpayer.

On the final leg south we came across the Gaynor Schoeman the "walking woman" - she is raising money for a cancer charity and has walked all the way from Billiluna. She looked fine and very cheerful. She said she had started doing about 21km a day but had built up to an average 35km, even doing 45km one day. She asked if we had seen and picked up a pair of sunglasses back at Well 5. We were sorry we hadn't and unfortunately didn't have a spare pair to give her. She was a hoping to reach Wiluna on August 5 and was looking forward to a half day rest at Windich Springs (our camp for the night) where she has tied some clothes and stores to a tree on the car journey she did north before her walk south.

At Well 4A we hit civilisation. Well, sort of civilisation, a gate marking the boundary of Cunyu station. We had come across an increasing number of cows on the track and also a big stand of Balga grass trees, good old Blackboys. They were very healthy and in full flower, bright green stalks standing high from their sooty black bodies.

The track recorded on our Hema went in a different direction to the only track we could find past Well 4A, causing us to to and fro for a bit until we decided to follow the well-worn path. It curved further east than the plot from ExploreOz but got us here to Windich Springs none the less. Tomorrow we expect be happily ensconced at Meekatharra, there is only about 180 km to Wiluna then an easy 170 km across to Meekatharra. Dinner tonight was Beef Bourguignon from the selection in the freezer washed down with a bottle of shiraz. Delicious!

Tuesday 30 July 2013
We are happily ensconced in the front bar of the Royal Hotel in Meekatharra, a beer in hand after a long, long hot shower about an hour ago. It is bliss and we are absolutely knackered. Our bodies are aching and our eyes are stinging, but we feel brilliant.

We had a slight sleep in this morning, emerging from the tent around 7am. We stripped out all the bedding, swept out the tent and we packed it up for the last time this trip. It was an uncomfortable night for Ali. About 8:30pm last night her stomach started to rumble and twist, seems Ali has picked up a lightening stomach bug - probably from the overfull toilet at Windich Springs. She insists it wasn't the shiraz. She spent the night with her stomach doing somersaults and her intestines tying themselves in knots, keenly aware that if anything happened suddenly she was two metres off the ground with a ladder to negotiate before reaching the ground. Fortunately all held together and Ali is feeling fine now.

The final 180km of the Canning Stock Route is an absolute bastard. It was either long sections of washaways weaving through low shrub, or grinding slow step ups over a rock strewn landscape. Interspersed with those were deep creek crossings, one so deep that when we came around a bend it looked as if the track disappeared from under us. We got out to walk it first and then Ali took the handheld radio to spot Pete down the precipice.

We came across a convoy of 10 vehicles near Lake Nabberu, this was their second day of a tag along tour. Their tour leader had already dropped out, breaking a spring on the first day. The driver of the new lead vehicle (who looked very much like Pete's brother Ian), when asked if he had got his money back, simply smiled and said "They haven't got my bill yet", nodding back at the crew behind him.

We were very happy to see Well 2. It had taken us five hours to do the final stretch to where the track meets a graded gravel road out to a community. Wiluna was a mere 34km away. We stopped in Wiluna for a sandwich, a Red Bull and some water then cautiously made our way west along the graded gravel Goldfields Highway to Meekatharra, keenly aware that we were tired - determined not to relax and have a crash on the last section. There has obviously been a bit of rain in the last 3 weeks, there were numerous puddles of water across the track so we had to take care. About 50km out of Meekatharra we came across a three-trailer road train heading west, he obligingly pulled to the right to let us pass on the left, the wind making it impossible to see through the dust to pass correctly on the right.

We had tried to find a place for the night by phone from Wiluna but the motels were all fully booked except for one, but when we got here we decided not to take up the booking. The motel, which for this blog shall remain nameless, is a very dodgy looking place, very run down. Instead we pulled in to the caravan park, it was looking like another night in the tent after all. Fortunately they have a long row of caravans set up, sort of dongas on wheels, to house the itinerant traveller. The donga has a double bed, sink and kettle, and most importantly a shower and toilet. Now there's just dinner, a few beers and the trip back down to Perth tomorrow. We made it!
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