The Canning Stock Route

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Very few Australians ever make the effort to have a true wilderness experience; often the technical challenges, planning food, water, spare parts, navigation, etc are just too confusing. Further, the rigours of tenting, cooking, toileting etc. may be too daunting. The Explorer has truly covered that niche, producing a capable 4 Wheel Drive moterhome with all mod cons to ensure wilderness travel is a comfortable experience. It is a vehicle that delivers on that wonderful phrase – the journey itself is the destination.  You can set off down a windy bush track begging to be explored, venture up to a lookout without worry about whether you can turn around at the top and plan long journeys on remote dirt roads without compromise.

My wife and I have explored Australia by 4WD for 40 years in swags, tents, camper trailers and caravans; now in our 70’s but still fit, we find the Explorer is just perfect.

The Canning Stock Route and our trips on Fraser Island have confirmed to us that the vehicle will go virtually anywhere conventional 4WD’s will, within limits on rear overhang and width / height.

But why bother anyway? Surely it is just red sand, flies and heat?

To experience the vivid colours of the landscape and skies, the timeless expanse of the unfolding terrain, the total silence of the bush and the stunning brilliance of the night skies all create emotions impossible to experience without being there.

There is nothing boring about the desert regions either – red sand dunes, huge flat salt pans, open forests of Bloodwoods and Casuarinas, magnificent flowering Melaleucas and Honey Myrtles and and abundance of wild flowers unfold before you every day.  There is always the joy of spotting dingoes, camels, magnificent eagles as well.

There is, naturally, a lot of careful planning to be done to undertake such a journey, so here are some Explorer specific notes that may be of help.

Overview

We ran the trip from North to South and this is the direction this article will follow.

We used the HiLux version of the Explorer.

If you are traveling to the Canning Stock Route via the Tanami, it is a 170km detour up to Halls Creek. This is generally done though for supplies and fuel – much cheaper than Bililuna.

The  Canning Stock Route trip is roughly 2000km in extreme isolation. Track conditions vary constantly. Some parts of the track have severe corrugations for hours at a time; other are harsh stony regions.  Both these are a true tests of stamina and no fun at all.

The track at times is just two wheel ruts winding through spinifex and thick mulga scrub, often with multiple washaways, detours around small creeks often requiring low first gear to crawl through.  Detours may be necessary around claypans with water in them. Then of course, there are the sand dunes – these are the most pleasant, soft, scenic and fun to traverse.

Allow 20 days with 25 days + ideal and allowing the occasional non driving day. Remember that on the  Canning Stock Route travelling 100km in a day is a big day and not always achievable.

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Explorer 4WD Motorhome Suitability

We took 17 days, and had no troubles coping with stones, corrugations and sand dunes; we never got stuck and had no punctures. The HiLux was a joy to drive. A lot of the track traverses thick mulga scrub, often much higher than the Explorer, so expect to have both sides extensively scratched no matter how careful you are.

We used a professional detailer on our return and after detailing and application of ceramic protection it has come up looking brand new again The ceramic protection forms a hard coating that binds into the duco and gel coat; do this before the trip and it takes the scratches, not the gel coat.  A simple re application after detailing is all you will need.

Dust

A few small gaps needed additional silicon early on in the trip and thereafter we had minimal ingress – generally just a wipe down of flat surfaces.

Fuel

This is a major planning issue as it is over 900km of tough country between Bililuna and Kunawarritji, and the same again from there south to Wiluna.We had a long range fuel tank fitted – 140 litres, and carried 6 x 10 litre Jerry cans. We opted for 10 litre containers for ease of handling and lifting.Leaving Bililuna, 4 fitted perfectly on the floor between the fridge and the Step / Drawer, keeping the weight well forward. The other two were kept in the rear hatch. After a day or two, all these can be emptied into the main tank and the empty cans stored in the rear hatch.

200 litres got us into  Kunawarritji and Wiluna with a 10 to 15% safety margin. Apart from range considerations, this temporarily overloads the vehicle, so travel slowly, easing the vehicle over rough ground.

Bililuna, Kunawarritji and Wiluna all take credit cards. There can be a long wait at Kunawarritji as this is the only fuel for 900 km N and S for everyone!

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Water

Do not fill at Halls Creek; the water at Bililuna is much better.

We did not find water to be an issue, with a number of the wells having good water, as well as Well 33 near Kunawarritji.  Never more than three days between water – these were the shower days with the rest being “Wet One Showers”.

At  Kunawarritji there is a new shower, toilet and laundry block for travellers to use – bliss! There is also a good General Store there.

At wells, water is obtained by winding up a bucket, so you need some means of getting the water into the tank. We simply used a clean (new) bucket and funnel, but some people had 12 volt pumps to transfer water directly. We had good water at Wells 49, 46, 33 (just 6 km from Kunawarritji), 26, Georgia Bore – a new bore with unlimited good water near the abandoned Well 23, and Well 6 (Pierre Springs).

Spares

  • All the usual spares and tools
  • Air and Fuel Filters particularly
  • A spare UHF aerial should be considered. We had a thin whip aerial, and this stress fractured through about 2cm above its base during the trip. Without the aerial you can still receive quite well, but never transmit. Acknowledge a message by flashing headlights etc.
  • Air Compressor and Tyre pressure gauge essential.
  • Spade
  • Maxtrax highly desirable

Daily Maintenance

  • Clean Air Filter
  • Tyres for cuts, etc.
  • Clear Spinifex from under the radiator – highly volatile and can catch fire if builds up against the exhaust manifold.
  • Check Oil and Radiator
  • General check for anything loose including battery mounts
  • Bubble Wrap etc for cupboards and drawers to stop annoying rattles and crashes from the cabin – constant when on corrugations.
  • Scrubba bag – a great little bag for washing small amounts of clothes – it really works; look it up.

Driving Techniques

GPS is a Must Have, as there are areas that have become impassable and new tracks have been pioneered; over time this can lead to a bewildering array of tracks to choose from. An iPhone with GPS, using Hema Maps App is fine.
Three MUST DO’s

  • Use 4WD all the time – completely unnecessary degradation of the track if you don’t.
  • Go Slow
  • Deflate tyres.

Sand Dune Techniques

There are two main techniques for tackling a dune:

  1. Take a run at it, and use momentum as well as traction.  Back off the power when nearing the top as some of the peaks are short and steep.
  2. Deflate tyres significantly and crawl up using low range

The latter is preferable in all cases as the former invariably digs ruts in the sand, making the run up very rough.

Change to Sport Mode (manual Shift) on the dunes; this locks the transmission in the chosen gear and allows for instant change down if more power is needed, as distinct from when the auto thinks you need it.

For the vast majority of the dunes, High First was all that was needed but for the larger ones, Low 4th was ideal.

We travelled from North to South whereas South to North seems more popular and as a result of fast run ups the Southern slopes were more chopped up.

For safety it is a good idea to put out a UHF call from all high points eg. “Three vehicles southbound leaving well 36”. This minimises the risk of meeting oncoming vehicles on dune crests.

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Tyres, Pressures

Preferably new All Terrain tyres, absolutely no more than half worn.

Choose tyres with strong side walls, as bulging when deflated makes them a bit more vulnerable to mulga stakes. We used BFG All Terrains and they performed faultlessly.

There is some controversy over deflating tyres for corrugations and stony ground, but there is no doubt in my mind that a softer, pliable rubber is less likely to be penetrated that a hard one.

The ride and handling characteristics off-road with lower pressures are dramatically better, with the scary sideways chattering of the rear end on severe corrugations almost eradicated with tyre deflation and the use of 4WD.

On the dunes, you simply will not get over them with road pressures.

We found these to be ideal pressures:-

  • Corrugations: Front 26psi and Rear 32psi
  • Stones: A bit lower, but go slow
  • Sand Dunes: Front 20 psi and Rear 25 psi

With Tyre deflation, never exceed 80kph.

The mulga scrub is incredibly tough and you must be eternally vigilant for sticks on the path – they will easily puncture a bulging sidewall and if that happens the tyre is beyond repair.

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