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Whatever you do, do not under estimate the CSR. Whilst an experienced 4WD driver will take most of its challenges in his or her stride, it was the longest most engrossing adventure Karen and I have undertaken. It is tough on vehicles and demanding on your physical endurance. It was I must say our most satisfying trip to date. It truly earns its reputation as the last frontier.
The CSR was to be the last leg of a rather long get away incorporating 4 weeks 4WDriving and prospecting in the Kimberley, a week cruising down the Kimberley coast in a catamaran and 2 weeks in Broome fishing and relaxing.
I know you hate us already but in our defence, we haven’t had more than 10 days off in a row for over 10 years!!
Having now done the trip I would have to recommend that the CSR , be a destination adventure and not coupled with other
escapades as did Karen and I. I will try and explain in our case, why.
Having now done the CSR, the following becomes very relevant.
You need all the room you can get, you need to be focused on what you are about to take on and you need your vehicle in
optimum condition on arrival at whatever end you start the CSR.
During our 4 weeks in the Kimberley prior we did some rugged 4wdriving and put the articulation of our cab chassis through some gruelling tests. From rock crawling on Mt Elizabeth station to gold prospecting in the hills and creek beds of old Halls creek we had a go at whatever the Kimberley threw at us. The biggest problem however for the vehicle was corrugations and water crossings. Parts of the road to Kalumbaru were bone crunching as were parts of the Gibb river road for trashing tyres and the 100’s of water crossings you encounter do nothing for wheel bearings.
When we limped into Broome, we had managed to bend our chassis, crack our tray supports and render the tensile resistance of our springs useless. Our wheel bearings were shot and our supply of useable tyre’s was gone.
This on top of all the goodies we had collected such as souvenirs and the gear we had taken such as fishing rods, mud crab nets etc. that we now didn’t need, wasn’t really a good start for tackling the CSR and we were still a 1000kms away from Billiluna!
Don’t get me wrong we were well prepared and had the wherewithal to survive and we had the vehicle rebuilt, but we were just a bit side-tracked for the two plus weeks of sand, rock and scrub that the CSR throws at you day after day and it was like a big hit on the head with a sledge hammer. Hello, wake up.
As I said we would now with hindsight, proffered to of tackled the CSR as single mission without the distractions ( as nice as they were!!)
We did the CSR North-South.
The beginning of the CSR through station country was good going.
How you prepare will depend on how you are to tackle the CSR. Karen and I did it by ourselves as a single vehicle so we needed to be fully self sufficient. We were not part of a convoy whereby so and so carried this and so and so looked after that etc. as is the norm. Our vehicle needed to be able to carry everything we needed as there was no sharing of gear and manpower.
In relaying our experience I will not tell you what you should take and what you should look out for. There are numerous and well known publications detailing the CSR and its history. I can only relate how we found it.
Our vehicle was a custom built GU cab chassis. This vehicle has a low GVM compared to the 70 series Cruisers and the Land Rover 130 but in my opinion the cab is far more comfortable and better appointed.
We cut the back wall off the cab and installed an extension “Sleeper” with gull wing doors. This made for more cab room and allowed the seats to recline that little bit more. Other advantages were that an accessible fridge was now achievable as was other bits and pieces such as cameras, laptop etc that a standard cab chassis could not cater for.
This made the trip far more enjoyable and Karen was happy which made it worthwhile.
A custom aluminum pod was made for carrying all our gear and to mount our new prototype aluminum roof rack to. The roof rack in turn catered for the heavy duty awning, a Hannibal roof top tent, a Space Case and spare tyre.
We had a 40 litre Engel in the cab extension mounted to an RV-FS-1 fridge slide which we used for everyday items such as drinks and a 60 litre Engel mounted on an RV-FS-2 fridge slide in the rear pod for all the tucker. Both had the Oliver designed Travel Locks which are needed in tough conditions to keep everything where it should be.
One of the best things we ever bought was our own cryovac machine. This goes with us everywhere. We didn’t use all the meat we took and it kept for weeks after as we ate it when we got home.
Also in the rear pod was an RV Storage Solutions twin drawer system, our tucker boxes and spare Jerry cans, camping gear, luggage etc.
We carried 75 litres of water under the tray in a water tank fitted with a pressure switched pump, 40 litres of water in Jerry cans, 220 litre’s of diesel underneath, thanks to a long range tank (130L) and the standard sub (90L) and 60 litres in Jerry cans.
We carried 3 complete spare tyre’s. We used them all and had several plugs in all the others by the end of the trip. Our tyre selection for the CSR was BFG all terrain. Our tyre’s were checked daily and our pressures were 26 in the front and 30 in the rear. These pressures were spot on for our configuration and never needed to be varied.
We averaged just under 5 km’s per litre on the CSR.
Other fitted accessories we deemed necessary to have on the vehicle were a bulbar and winch with side steps and rails, an HF radio, a 1000 watt inverter, rear diff locker, a barrel cooler, a 3 inch exhaust and twin dual batteries.
Other accessories we wouldn’t leave without were an exhaust Jack, a shovel with full length handle, our camp oven, sat phone and our thunder box. We invested in good torches and head lamps and a set of sand tracks.
We used a Magellan Explorer GPS with desert mapping. Its mapping of the CSR was a bit off, but in many cases saved us from extra unnecessary miles by knowing where we were, or at least in what direction we should be going when we hit the many undefined tracks that went in all directions in the early part.
We came across a few lost souls and in particular a group of middle aged Italian fellows who had been lost around the maze of tracks at Well 35 for a couple days. They seemed happy enough though as they invited us to join them for a drink at their camp. They appeared to have all the necessary items for survival including copious amounts of alcohol and weren’t too perturbed if it took them another couple of days to work their way out of there.
Fuel was filled to capacity at Halls Creek and not added to until we reached Well 33 and the Kunawarritji Community run by Graham (pictured). $3.20 a litre. We arrived there with half a main tank and the 3 spare Jerries.
It cost over $600.00 to top up the tanks and we reached Wiluna again with half a main tank and 3 spare jerries. Further south you can also leave the track and head to Carnegie station and the like for fuel if need be.
What Canning and his party endured and achieved is really put into perspective when you have completed the CSR in your modern vehicle. It really is mind blowing to think of the privations these men endured creating the CSR.
Those that have read my stories before will know that I am a mad keen history buff. I only know a couple of blokes that are as keen as I and we often have great debates and fun discussing the old timers exploits. It becomes a passion and a desire to see where and what these old timers endured and saw back then. Retracing their steps where possible is also a real buzz.
There has been a lot of recognised explorers that have been in one way or another in and about the CSR environs. The most notable would be Carnegie. The Northern end of the CSR is synonymous with his exploits with many places and landmarks named by the explorer.
Breadon Hills, Godfreys tank and etc which are CSR must sees. If you are interested in history and are contemplating doing the CSR, read Spinifex and Sand by Carnegie. You can then look about and try and find the many features he named that don’t appear on maps.
Other notable influences have been from Forrest (the first premier of WA), Giles, Wells and Warburton to name a few. The nameless old timers who prospected out that way in the late 1880-90’s and were never seen again would be countless. It was and still is a tough and unforgiving country and these people can only be admired.
If you are interested in history and want to learn more, a great first step is to have a look at the Hesperian Press website. They have books and info on just about everything that has happened and by whom.
Lonely graves bring home the vastness of the CSR. The stories behind the lonely graves out here are sad indeed. These men were experienced bushmen and of a different ilk to today’s standards. Drovers and CSR workers succumbed to the environ-ment, native attack and medical ailments.
We camped in Breaden Valley and witnessed the sunset and rise amongst the hills. We had it to ourselves and in the morning enjoyed the walks to Breaden Pool and Godfreys tank. The later was a must for me and I might say a fair old effort required to get there. It was worth it and we enjoyed seeing the inscriptions on the tank wall of the explorers and drovers.
Catering was easy for us as there were only two mouths to feed. Most nights it was an all in meat and veg camp oven or a one pot dinner. We ate well and we kept it simple. Catering can be a nightmare in the bush and we have both seen camp cooks blow their top when under pressure or trying to cook something that should only be done at home.
We were camped at Well 43 alone and watched with disbelief as we were invaded on dusk as 13 vehicles pulled up to set camp in the dark. There was only one cook and she proceeded to cater for about 30 people. It was like a small city. We heard them talking on the radio during the day and thought we had out run them. An early start saw us clear the rest of the CSR.
The Northern end is sand dune country interspersed with the track doing snakes and ladders in the interdunals. We made several comments about how the track continually headed away from where we wanted to go down one side of a dune and then finally crossed it only to head back the other way. Drove us crazy and made us wonder if the person that cut the track wasn’t half whacked. Len Beadell would never of made this track but then again he had a dozer and a grader!
We did the CSR in 2 weeks which was pushing it. If you want to take in all the side tracks such as Helena Springs, Separation Well and the Calvert Range, another week at least would of meant shorter days in the seat.
We covered around 2300 km’s with a moving average of 28 km’s an hour for the 2 weeks. This meant 8 hours of solid driving a day.
As you can see from the pic above the spinifex and scrub is quite high. More often than not the track would take a sharp turn up a dune unannounced. This coupled with lack of vision from the vegetation meant you needed to keep your wits about you constantly. Very different to the Simpson indeed. The closeness of the vegetation is also something you must consider. There were 100’s of Km’s where the car rubbed against and bashed into vegetation leaving the vehicle scratched to pieces let alone the carnage dished out to the side mirrors.
The dunes before Durba Springs were softer sand but the vegetation was lower and good vision meant better preparation and easier approaches could be negotiated. The dunes were definitely sharper faced heading south and there was no noticeable or unnecessary damage to the dune accent. The south side however was a different story.
The south side has longer and often very chopped up dune faces. In most cases they also have a run up track. I suppose this is for camper trailers which in all honesty are very comfy, are not really suited to the longevity of the CSR. Bad driving techniques also account for much of the damage also.
As these pics demonstrate, the CSR is an unforgiving territory. There are numerous cars that have come to grief either by fire or mechanical trouble.
Being more remote we found that the wells on the Northern end were more than not in a far better state. There has obviously been less pilfering and or fires. Most of the northern wells had more of the original parts still in tact such as troughing, pully wheels and whip poles etc. If not still erect they were laying about.
There is no need to camp on the wells as most wells have a cleared area nearby which can be utilized for camping. There are some terrific camp areas all along the CSR and we simply didn’t rely on what we read as to where to camp but took it as it came.
Firewood which we though would be scarce is abundant in most areas and we got into the habit of collecting it as we found it so that there was no last minute scrounging when we found a suitable camp site.
From the North the approach to Durba springs is barren of good fire wood as is the springs itself. If you are heading from the South collect your wood needs prior to getting to Durba springs. South of the Durba hills there is good wood everywhere.
To us a fire each night was mandatory. Not only for cooking but for warmth and relaxation. There is nothing better than sitting around the campfire gazing at a star studded sky. Star constellations are another bonus out here. The skies are so clear. We had a chart and had a lot of fun working out which was which. Each night the Southern cross got a little closer and every time I looked up I seemed to see a shooting star. Karen didn’t believe me as she constantly missed them. We went to bed it seemed each night when Saturn had risen to the height of the Southern cross which was about 9pm.
Nights and mornings were very brisk and our coldest night was minus 3 degrees. We had grown used to the warmer weather up North and as we headed south it became progressively colder. By the time we had hit Well 9 we went from shorts and singlets to long pants and jumpers.
We didn’t have a rest day which most people seemed to do. Sure we pulled into camp early a few times and had a few late starts, but we didn’t find it necessary to hold up anywhere for longer than a day.
After doing the CSR, I found it strange that people heading North were encamped at Durba springs for 2-4 days having a rest. One lady approached us at Durba Springs with a glass of Chardy in her hand and enquired if there was many spots up North on the CSR like this where she could enjoy a swim. We nearly fell over backwards. After chatting with her for a while it was obvious she had no understanding of what was to come.
If personal hygiene is a major issue to you and you need a shower daily, stay home. We had a wash at most wells where there was water and had a great hot shower for five dollars at the Kunawaritji community near Well 33. Places like Georgia Bore have water straight out of the ground that was warm and could be used to wash your hair etc. no trouble at all. In between, baby wipes do a great job keeping you clean and you can burn them on the fire afterwards.
Traffic was another unknown quantity. We knew there would be plenty out there this time of year but just how many and how often we would bump into people we soon found out. Without being exact we had days where we would pass over 20 vehicles which were made up mainly of tour groups and we had days where we would only pass a single car. In all we would of seen nearly 200 cars. You may think this is a lot but it’s a big place and once you pass them you are again in the quiet bush. We found the most important safety feature was the radio. The signs at each end of the CSR tell you that channel 40 is the used frequency.
Hours can pass and in fact full days can pass without hearing any radio chatter. We got in the habit of broadcasting our where-abouts so that any north bound travellers would be aware we could be on the other side of a dune. A simple call such as “Single south bound traveller 14kms out from Well 33. Any North bound please acknowledge”.
More often than not there is nobody there or within range. But every now and then a response would come back such as “Yes we copy that, 3 vehicles heading north just leaving Well 33”. You would respond, have a chat and more or less know when you would expect to run into them. This is the safe way and avoids any top of dune or blind corner collisions. The biggest concern is when you strike a convoy and they have had their radios set to a different channel. Not good!! The leader should have their radio on scan.
We bumped into some terrific people as well and enjoyed their company. A mob of six at Georgia bore were great fun and we exchanged stories and experiences so far on the CSR . It was their second attempt at the CSR being stymied by illness of one of the party first time round. Having completed the Northern section they were heading out to Newman to celebrate a birthday and have a rest for a day or so before returning to finish the southern section.
I think we only met a couple of others who were not taking an exit at some stage and were actually doing the CSR in one hit. One of those was Brett from Perth who was also a solo vehicle. Brett had his Mother and young son on board. As he said three generations experiencing the CSR. Good stuff. We got chatting to Brett on the radio and later in the day bumped into him at various times at stop points. He was also pretty handy with a jack handle and helped me change a tyre. Thanks mate!
There are many parts to the CSR and many changing landscapes. Through the Tanami, Great sandy and the Gibson deserts its just that, deserts. Dunes of various shapes and forms, differently vegetated interdunals, salt, clay pans and rocky outcrops mul-ga scrub and spinifex.
There were long flat sections between dunes notably either side of Well 33 that was a 100 km’s of car wrecking corrugations, to the majestic drives through the Durba and Breadon hills. Well 9 is where you start coming across cow dung and station country. This too is variable with good runs of flat country, lots of creeks and washouts and very bumpy rocky tracks.
All of a sudden its over and you pop out on the Wiluna Road about 30 odd km’s from Wiluna proper. It’s up with the tyre pressures and Zoom.
It took us quite a few km’s to get over 80 kph after two weeks of averaging just 28 kph. The exit off the CSR is not a stand out affair. There is a small yellow sign and that’s about it. It is easily missed for those heading North. We bumped into a couple near the granites late afternoon who said they over shot the entry to the CSR by 100kms and nearly ended up in Newman. The entry is exactly 38kms from Wiluna.
The last half a dozen wells is a drawn out affair. By now you are buggered and can’t wait till you hit that cold beer and hot shower at Wiluna. As for the wells, well, your welled out. We pushed on and visited them all but it wasn’t with the same relish. When we started way back in Billiluna we were bumping into people that were the same minded. Its just that “we’re nearly there” feeling we all experience where you can smell home after a long adventure.
The dirt road into Wiluna is like a god send. For the first time in 2 weeks our bones and poor old vehicle was not shaking incessantly. It was like gliding along on thin air. Marvellous.
First impressions can be deceiving. When we pulled into Wiluna we thought mmm!!
But all is not what it seems. The room at the pub was cheap clean and comfy. Still anything would have been better than a tent! The steak at the pub was cheap, tasty and as tender as we have ever had and huge.
The Gunbarrel grocery store was modern and had everything you could want such as meat, veges, dairy and dry goods and fuel.
It does pay to get your fuel when its there. On two occasions when we got our fuel in Halls Creek and Wiluna, they ran out the next day. People had to wait a couple of days for the tankers to arrive.
Barney at Jims Mechanical Wiluna is a wealth of information. Jim is in semi retirement says Barney. He loves the place and has a young family there. Barney fixed our tyres and gave us a run down on Wiluna. Some valuable inside info was that they were digging a pipe line out of town a bit and there was a few yellow flecks about!!
Whaler horses were also bred in Wiluna for the light horse he said and there is a few pure bred wild ones about worth a fortune if you can catch them. He tells of water holes for swimming, mud and clay pans for serious 4WDing and gold if you’re in the know. Barney makes his serious money from recovering people off the CSR. He told us stories about some of his recoveries that made our hair stand up. People unprepared and people with the wrong cars and just people that should not be out there. We saw an unmodified brand new Audi Q7 towing a camper trailer starting up the CSR. They only carried 100 litres of fuel. I rest my case.
Barney and Jim make a pre-season run up the CSR to check the conditions and is happy to take calls on the track conditions.
The goldfields highway is a great road and the run down to Kalgoorlie through the old gold mining towns was excellent. There is plenty to see and do and getting a hold of the book “The Golden Quest Discovery Trail” will see you busy for weeks!
I know the next opportunity we get, we will be back spending a few weeks seeing what we can uncover.
As I said the CSR is a great challenge so get out and have a go but be prepared.
See you on the road
Mark and Karen Oliver