The desert was absolutely alive with birds. This was the result of above average rainfall earlier in the year sparking prodigious plant growth and flowering. Huge swathes of spinifex seed heads attracted thousands of budgies who put on incredible aerial displays. A multitude of honeyeaters gorged themselves on the prolific flowers of the honey and holly grevilleas.
In the sand you could see the tracks of the mostly nocturnal animals and insects. While there still seem to be plenty of insects and lizards in the desert, the lack of any larger native animals had me cursing the introduction of cats and foxes. Mala, possums, bandicoots and bilby are just a few of the animals that have been decimated by predation from these introduced pests.
Dingoes were most evident from their tracks and calls in the Northern half of the Canning. At Well 24, a curious and unconcerned dingo made off with some unsecured plastic bags, obviously knowing that humans equal food. Unfortunately for her, all she got was some cooking utensils and a toilet seat! Maybe because of her failure to find food at our camp, this dingo proceeded to howl just beyond our camp fire light as soon as it was dark and was soon joined in song by her friends. Some of my companions found the howling a bit unnerving, but I reminded them that dingoes don’t have thumbs — so they can’t unzip your tent!
Of course you can’t talk about the Canning without mentioning camels. While they are also an introduced species, there is something about their history and seeing them in the desert that adds to the romance and remoteness of the experience.
A long Time Between Drinks
While Track Care WA has done an amazing job restoring wells and providing toilets along the Canning, it is still a long way between reliable, usable water sources. Up to date information should be sought on this because things change all the time in the desert. Make sure you carry plenty of drinking water and have the ability to treat the bore water when you run out.
Your vehicle needs to drink too. We fuelled up in Wiluna at the start of the track, refuelled at Parnngurr (pronounced Bung-oar), a community 80kms from Georgia Bore about 760kms later. Refuelling here takes away the need for the fuel dump at Well 23 and there is an excellent side trip to the Desert Queen Baths in Rudell River NP. Kunawarritji was our next fuel another 350kms up the track (and had a shower for $5 — ask at the shop) and finally in Billiluna after another 700kms or so, just before we hit the Tanami and headed for Alice.
It is important that you work out distances and fuel consumption for yourself before setting out. Bear in mind that there are a lot of side tracks you might take, the sandy country will suck a lot of fuel, and you may need extra in case of emergencies.
How Bad are the Corrugations?
Everyone has heard about the Canning’s infamous corrugations. How bad they are is subjective. It really depends on what you have to compare them to. That’s why I never take any notice of what other people tell me about track conditions. In saying that, the worst stretch for me was from about 20km South of Kunawarritji to 30km North.
There were a lot of other corrugations too and plenty of lumpy moguls on the dune approaches and descents that have your vehicle swaying violently from side to side. But they are part of the experience. Part of the remoteness of the track. Like a bumpy badge of honor.
Track Travellers and Radio Chatter
On the whole, the other travellers we met on the track were friendly and courteous. We leap-frogged several people up the track and got to know some quite well. I’m sure that some of the oncoming vehicles’ occupants probably rolled their eyes when confronted by nine vehicles in convoy, but I very much appreciated them making way when possible.
When in convoy, we always try our best to have our customers do the right thing. Constant communication with our group is important. I run two radios in my vehicle. One on Ch16 to talk to our group and one on Ch40 to listen for oncoming traffic and periodically broadcast my whereabouts.
Something that drove me bonkers on the trip was listening to inane chatter on Ch40 from other groups. Often I was unable to get a word in as people chatted away about nothing in particular. It would be a simple matter for group leaders to have a 5 watt handheld radio (or a second base set) on Ch40 to coordinate dune crossings and leave the mind-numbing chatter for a private channel.
The best bits
The Canning will keep you guessing. I’ve been to some amazing places before and seen incredible landscapes but I’ve never known somewhere so full of surprises. Maybe this is because the track is so long, but it is incredible how diverse and changeable the desert is. It’s not all sand dunes, that’s for sure.
Do your homework and preparation before venturing onto the Canning. Otherwise you will leave it limping home, sad and dejected with your tail between your legs.
Yes, the Canning is rough and corrugated, long and relentless, punishing on vehicle and body, but that’s not what I will remember most. What I will remember is the red of the dunes, the dingoes and camels, camping amongst the dunes, the prolific wildflowers, animal footprints in the sand, the swarms of birds, the amazing sunsets and sunrises, the brilliant stars, the shining spinifex seed heads, the lakes, the water, the quietness of the night and how absolutely remote it makes you feel.