On a tagalong tour of the merciless Canning Stock Route across outback WA, AT Reader Mary Ann West found the going very tough – but equally as rewarding.  
As we patiently marked time in Alice Springs, counting down to our epic journey along the Canning Stock Route across outback WA, we couldn’t help but wonder what the repercussions would be of the drenching rain that was falling. The next morning we were picked up at 7.10am as promised. Our concerns materialised at the meet and greet (we were expecting no more than 20 in the group but to our amazement there were to be ten cars and 35 people in our convoy), when we were told that Rabbit Flat had been inundated with 30ml of rain, making a crossing of the Tanami virtually impossible for a few days – time that we didn’t have. It was eventually announced that we would keep to our schedule and be in Halls Creek in two days to take delivery of the fresh fruit and veggies being shipped up from Perth. We needed to drive up the Stuart Highway, turning towards Top Springs just before Dunmarra.

The camp at the Great Oak Forest (just beyond Well 37 – the haunted well) was yet another surprise; tall desert oaks towered above us, camels moaned in the stillness of the night – and yet in the distance you could hear the hum of a plane.

We were doing the CSR in the same direction as the cattle (north-south), so our first Well was No. 51. Everyone piled out of the cars with great enthusiasm to be finally on our journey, but Well 51 proved something of a disappointment, having been upgraded for use by the current-day cattle stations, with not only a windmill but also a fairly large dam. Not the ruins we were expecting.

That was the last of our disappointments, though.

The Canning lived up to our expectations and more: the vast differences in the vegetation, the vibrant orange of the completely burnt-out swales, groves of bright red holly grevilleas, the blonde heads of the spinifex dancing in the light of the setting sun like thousands of water droplets suspended in time, and the contrast between the bright green of the young spinifex on rocky outcrops, not to mention the wildflowers!

Dick Smith described Durba Springs as one of the most beautiful places on earth. I did feel sorry for the two campers that were already set up when our circus rolled in. Although the carpet of green grass and tall trees were a welcome change, my heart was won over by the Slate Range.

To see the Slate Range at its best, you really need to camp there for a full moon. A natural amphitheatre, she slowly unfurls her beauty: the deep reds colouring the rocks both at sunrise and sunset; the black-footed wallabies; the birds of prey; the Minnie Richie trees; and the moon as it pops its head over the range with a radiance only witnessed in the outback’s most remote areas.

Our group was fortunate to have permission from the Martu People to visit the Culvert Range. We spent an entire day in awe of what was before us and had the feeling of being in a friend’s lounge room listening to their family stories.

The camp at the Great Oak Forest (just beyond Well 37 – the haunted well) was yet another surprise; tall desert oaks towered above us, camels moaned in the stillness of the night – and yet in the distance you could hear the hum of a plane.

I’ve never been a fan of camping, and everyone – including my husband – wondered how I’d cope in a swag for 17 nights. The balmy weather and the beautiful night skies quickly became intoxicating; by the time we were back in the motel I had trouble going to sleep without the trillions of stars overhead. I had to be reminded of the night it rained and I was so wet I sat under my umbrella (being a good Melburnian, I’d packed mine) at the open-air dinner table from 3am waiting for sunrise, which had the most vivid colours.

Even personal hygiene evolves while you’re out there; our arrival in Halls Creek way back on Day Three saw most of us pay $12 to have a shower in the caravan park. On Day 17, when we were asked to take a vote to have a shower or get into camp early, we unanimously voted against the shower.

Yes, when travelling the Canning, the journey is definitely the destination. To borrow a phrase used by an outback tour operator we’ve travelled with previously: “Not everyone sees it like this.”

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