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Complete Guide to Crossing the Canning Stock Route

Looking to cross the Canning Stock Route by motorcycle or 4×4? I decided to create a guide to help you accomplish just that.

Canning Stock Route Crossing Guide

This 1,700-kilometer track is iconic and top of the bucket list for many adventurous Australians. Unfortunately, there has been crashes, disasters and indeed deaths over the years.

For this reason, everything comes down to preparedness. You won’t find mechanics, fuel stops or the local Woolies anywhere on this route. You’ll even need a permit to start it too.

It will require up to 17 days to complete the entire length of the Canning Stock Route. Some people have finished it in less than 4 days, however this is tough going.

Canning Stock Route fuel

One of the biggest challenges for Crossing the Canning Stock Route is fuel., so I decided to start this guide with the petrol/diesel situation.

There are no fuel stations on the way. Both Halls Creek and Wiluna have fuel, and depending on the season, there may be a fuel dump at Well 23 on the route. Alternatively, we’ve heard reports of the Parngurr community having fuel for emergency use but this shouldn’t be relied upon.

Canning Stock Route fuel - Diesel and Petrol

You will need between 200L and 500L of fuel to cross the Canning Stock Route. 200L for motorcycles, 300L for 4×4’s and 500L for offroad trucks.

For many people, this entails have multiple jerry cans. Some dirt bike riders have organized trips with a support vehicle which carries plenty of fuel to make it through. One such example is Outback Adventure Treks who run this trip every few months.

In the past, you were permitted to have a fuel drop pre-organized around the half way point at one of the wells. The Capricorn Roadhouse organizes this on your behalf. Unfortunately, this appears to be no longer permitted.

The Kunawarritji Roadhouse sits around halfway and may have fuel as might the Billiluna Community Store.

Best weather

Generally it’s best to do complete the Canning Stock Route during the winter months. From early May to late September. July and August are ideal to complete the trek either by motorcycle or 4×4.

During the Australian summer (December to February) it’s simply too hot to complete this route. You’ll inherently need to carry more fuel and aren’t likely to come across anyone else on this route.

Also, avoid Spring and Autumn months. The wet season can create excessively muddy conditions that could leave you bogged and stranded for days at a time.

Accommodation and camping

There are no hotels, motels or caravan parks on the Canning Stock Route. You’ll need to pitch a tent every night. Bringing a caravan, even a small one, is very much discouraged.

Most people camp at each well when they arrive in the evenings. This is because the wells sometimes have water though some aren’t operational too.

Couple camping on the Canning Stock Route
You’ll often come across others camping on the Canning Stock Route

For a comfortable experience, you’ll need to bring:

  • A high quality tent from a respected brand name
  • A high quality sleeping bag that is rated to minus 5c.
  • Depending on the season, a think sleeping pad

The desert gets very cold in winter, especially as night falls. It’s not uncommon to reach 0c but it never shows on the Canning Stock Route due to the low altitude.

Track conditions

The track conditions on the Canning Stock Route can vary, though it is typically very sandy. You will need to be an experienced motorcyclist with at least 1 year of sand riding experience to truly enjoy this experience.

We actually wrote a guide on how to take your motorcycle riding in the sand. Essentially, you need to keep the power high in the rev range while leaning back. This is fatiguing so you’ll need to have a high level of fitness in addition to your experience behind the handlebars.

Parts of the track have washouts and creek crossings, plus vegetation, big rocks and the biggest risk of them all – other users. That’s right – it’s frequented by 4×4 enthusiasts and other dirt bike riders quite often, especially in the winter months.

The Canning Stock Route is often closed for the entire wet season to tourist traffic, both 4x4s and motorcycles.

Wildlife

You will come across an array of wildlife on the Canning Stock Route. This includes:

  • Eastern grey kangaroos
  • Brown and black snakes. Taipans too.
  • Emus and dingoes. Plenty of these.
  • Camels. They love the desert
  • Lizards. These are the most common
  • Scorpions depending on where you are

You won’t find deer, koalas, buffalo or drop bears on the track. Nor will you find UFOs or the Yowie.

Taking dogs on the Canning Stock Route

As for taking your own animals, it’s certainly possible. Yes, you can bring your dog on the Canning Stock Route. You will need to be mindful of the dingoes and potentially wild dogs in the area, as well as 1080 baits which are routinely set by both station managers and the Western Australian government. Bring a muzzle just in case.

Remember that it isn’t a National Park so you’re very much unrestricted. If you do bring your dog, then ensure it has a safe and secure place to travel with you. Standing in the tray on a 34c day while bouncing up and down sand dunes isn’t enjoyable for dogs of any size.

Most travelers choose to have their dogs stay in the tent with them while they sleep, often in the open section at the front.

Deaths on the Canning Stock Route

Yes, sadly there have been multiple fatalities on the Canning Stock Route. Deaths could happen for the following reasons:

  1. Broken down engine and owner walked for supplies
  2. Vehicle crashes which lead to blunt force trauma
  3. Poisonous snake bites
  4. Contaminated well water
  5. Past medical history leading to heart attack

Remember you are a long way from help. While the Royal Flying Doctor can help people on the Canning Stock Route, there are almost no functioning landing strips apart from some nearby stations. And so if you do get stranded or seriously injured, you’ll endure a long trip first to find a functional airstrip.

As an alternative to the RFDS, helicopters are routinely used to rescue people in these parts.

List of people who have died (and survived) the CSR

There have been people who have died in their pursuit of making this crossing, with most of them attempting to do it solo.

  1. Bradley John Richards and nephew Mac Bevan Cody died in April 2005 after running out of water and fuel on the route. Their dog also perished.
  2. Kim Hardt from Germany was bogged in her hired 4×4 for 3 consecutive days on the Canning Stock Route.
  3. Phil Blampied survived for almost a month after his car became stuck in the sand dunes and later running out of petrol. A rescue helicopter had to recover him in the middle of summer.
  4. James Smith died in 1939 after a fall from his horse. Reference.
  5. In 2016, an unnamed man in his 80’s attempted the CSR but broke down twice and was grossly ill-prepared for the journey, despite his big motivations.

In fact, each year, dozens of people get stuck on the Canning Stock Route for various reasons outlined above. That’s why this expedition starts with solid preparation.

Food and toilets

There are toilets on the Canning Stock Route and these are only found at certain wells. For most travellers, a shovel does the job. Pro-tip: Bury it deep and bring the insect repellant as there are lots of flies, especially in the winter months.

As for food, you’ll need to bring your own. You won’t come across wildlife that you can comfortably eat and the vegetarian is very limited.

As with any expedition, take all your rubbish home with you. The CSR isn’t a rubbish tip. In the evening, have it sealed so the dingoes don’t find their way into your campsite at 3am.

Permits for the Canning Stock Route

You will need a permit for the Canning Stock Route. This covers vehicles such as trucks, motorcycles and 4x4s as well as bicycles and pedestrians.

For most travelers wanting to complete the entire route, you’ll need 2 permits:

  • The 1st permit is for the Birriliburu, Ngurrara and Tjurabalan sections of the CSR track. This makes up the bulk of the route.
  • The 2nd permit simply covers the Martu section which you’ll encounter roughly around half way.

In 2020, these can now be purchased online. The cost for the Canning Stock Route Permit is now $175 inc GST.

Information for ADV motorcycles

As we’re a motorcycle brand, we want to provide some more insights specifically for 2-wheel travel. Because each year, about 100 adventure motorcycles complete the entire length of the Canning Stock Route.

Adventure motorcycle riding the Canning Stock Route
Adventure motorcycle riding the Canning Stock Route

Here are some tips:

  1. It’s almost impossible to do an unsupported trip of the Canning Stock Route. Doing so requires carrying heavy amounts of fuel over vast distances plus making a fuel drop mid-way. You’ll find it much easier to have a support truck.
  2. Take 3 spare tubes with you. Inherently you or someone in your group will sustain a flat tyre somewhere on the Canning Stock Route. Some groups take spare tyres as well.
  3. Pack some muscle relaxant cream. Given the distance and challenges of riding on sand, you’ll be quite sore at the end of each day. It could be a challenge to get to sleep in a tent.
  4. Be wary of the dingoes. Those with rooftop tents have the luxury of staying clear of dingo packs. Unfortunately, ADV riders don’t have that privilege.
  5. Safety is paramount. Packing a GPS, EPIRB and satellite phone into your panniers isn’t going to take up much space at all. Wear all of your protection gear as well.
  6. Lastly, it’s not a race. Pace yourself and take it easy. Most riders only do 30km/h average when riding the CSR route. This isn’t the Dakar after all. It’s a challenging expedition for adventure motorcycle riders.

Fastest crossing of the Canning Stock Route

While we advise 2 to 3 weeks to finish the entire length, did you know someone has done it a lot faster? That’s Scot Brinell, an ironman from right here in Australia.

In 2016, the world record for the fastest crossing of the Canning Stock Route was set at 48 hours. That’s 2 days start to finish! It was completed on a KTM 690R Dakar requiring strategic fuel drops.

Often if you do the CSR in less than 1 week it’s considered very fast.

Check out the full article if you want to learn more about this unbelievable record set by Scot. And…part of it was in the rain too. What a challenge!

Getting started

The Canning Stock Route is a lot of fun and should be crossed off the bucket list for many adventure motorcycle riders. Getting there is half the battle and so are those first few hundred kilometres.

Get yourself prepared and pack just the bare essentials, while not forgoing your safety gear. It’s a heck of a lot of fun, but this all starts with planning.

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