Canning Stock Route


The Canning Stock Route is possibly one of the country's most interesting and challenging 4WD tracks. It is some 1800km long and traverses about 5 deserts. We counted in the order of 864 sand dunes in 1996 (that was the year wen we did the whole trip twice). There are many ways to count the dunes, but the actual number doesn't matter, there are just a lot. The dunes vary in height and difficulty. The southern approach is usually shallower, but chopped up by drivers with tyre pressures way too high and too much speed. The northern side is much steeper but far less chopped up.

The number of visitors to the CSR these days means extreme caution when driving up a dune. This year (2010) we generally sent someone on foot to check out oncoming traffic. At one hill the fact we stopped to let our "Dune Dancer" out saved us from a head on collision with three other vehicles crossing the same dune at the same time as we were there.

The track ranges from stony and rocky but is predominately sandy. The are corrugations, far more than in 1996. My personal view, and shared by other engineers, is that speed and high tyre pressures make the corrugations. My advice is to limit speed to less than 40kph. We had tyre pressures down to 20/22 psi and crossed each sand dune from well 23 to well 9 with no problems. Our wheels never spun once. At one dune that was chopped up on the southern side, we tried going up using the low speed with low tyre pressure and we never had a problem and never looked like stopping. To prove the point I did it in reverse as well. Being a smart arse, perhaps, but it helped convince me that my theory is sound. We even crested some dunes in 2WD with no wheel spin and still at low speed!

There are wells that have been reconditioned with water available. You should be careful with water and plan for all eventualities, as one well we wanted to use had a dead snake floating in the water. We used this for washing only, as we were concerned about the putrid debris and the possibility of venom contaminating the water. If you are going to use this water be prepared to have water that is not perfectly clear and with some large floaties in it. There will be no more reconditioning going on because the Heritage Council want the remainder of the wells to be left as is(?)

We had organised a fuel drop at Well23 (thanks to Capricorn Roadhouse). The fuel drop is used by many travellers and absolute honesty and integrity is required as people really do rely on the fuel. I suppose one could go to gaol for stealing fuel if that resulted in someone dying.

Once again there are huge difference in the terrain, with hills and rockholes, beautiful stands of desert oaks and of course Lake Disappointment.

A permit is required and this can be sourced from the Australian Nation 4 Wheel Drive Council. Some restrictions apply to travel and some areas are now closed to travellers. Please do the right thing as failure to comply could result in the whole Canning Stock Route being closed. The reasons some sites have been closed is because of the shit people leave behind and damage being done to sacred areas. For those who are not responsible enough to manage their own waste and too lazy to walk to the get close, then grow up.

The Canning Stock Route is arguably one of the most isolated tracks on earth! 

There are currently 3 burnt out vehicles on the CSR and a number of abandonned trailers that have either broken down or been left because they were too hard to get across the dunes.


In the heart of WA extending from Wiluna to Bililuna station near Halls Creek.


This stock route was commenced in response to the cattle growers wanting to sell their stock in the south. A tick in the north had resulted in a ban for northern stock being brought south. The theory was that the desert would cause the ticks to die and drop off. Which apparently worked.

Alfred Wernam Canning surveyed the route (after doing the rabbit proof fence!) in 1904-1906. He was also employed to manage the construction. The wells were little used and by 1929 many had fallen into disrepair and were then reconditioned by William Snell. Canning finished the reconditioning in 1930 aged 70. He died in Perth in 1936. There was another reconditioning during WWII. The drovers and some station owners also did some repair works up till about 1956.

A casual reader of Canning's exploits made a comment to me that his planning was not so good because they ran out of food and needed to resupply. However, when you think of the era, the trying times and how really remote it is now, and remember this is more than 100 years ago, his feats are almost superhuman and he is truly one of Australia's great men (along with those men in his party) as well as being a terrific leader.

The Canning Stock Route has experienced great tragedy over the years with murders and deaths along the route almost from day 1.

Murray Rankin, Rex Shaw and Kathy Burman walked the route in 1976.  What a remarkable feat! The trolley from Murray's first attempt lies abandoned south of well 16. You can read more about this expedition here.

Parts of the CSR were explored before the need for a stock route was conceived. Notably that most able and least recognised of Australia's great explorers, Frank Hann, visited the area in 1897. He expected to find a large fresh water lake after following creeks in the area. He named the lake Disappointment!

Trip Report

We travelled the track from well 23 to well 9 in July 2010

Places to See

Durba Springs, all the wells, Canning's Cairn, tropic of Capricorn, Georgia Bore

Degree of Difficulty

This is a difficult track because drivers need to exercise great restraint and avoid the temptation to "put the boot in", "full mumbo" or "giving it the berries" to cross dunes and corrugations. The isolation and lack of exit points dictate that long range communications are essential. Trailers are NOT recommended (see the evidence by the number abandonned on the CSR) but if you must take a trailer, I would advise only extremely rugged camper trailers and use them only in the southern section and definitely not on Cunyu Station. Low range and high ground clearance are essential. Adequate fuel arrangements need to be made.


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