Sometimes a trip is all about the destination…
The process of getting there and back is simply a means to an end. Other times it is the journey itself that is the trip. There is no iconic end point. You don’t ‘arrive’ somewhere. It is the travelling itself that is the purpose, and the sum of all the little things that you see and experience along the way.
It takes a certain mindset to be able to slow down and enjoy the ride. To appreciate and take pleasure in the process and not be focused on achieving an outcome. To drive all day and yet not be “going” anywhere. Those who don’t get it will never understand what the attraction is. But for those who do, this type of trip can be the most rewarding kind of all.
Tacking an extra day onto a long weekend opens up all sorts of opportunities for getting just a little bit further away from home. Perth being home, we’d decided to head for the Goldfields with little more planned than to drive along the Holland Track. John Holland’s track was cut in the 1890s to provide a shortcut from the south coast to the booming goldfields in Coolgardie. A century on it was rediscovered by adventurous 4WDers and remains a popular route for those who like to get away from the crowds and stretch their suspension.
We were approaching from the south along the John Holland Way, a 2WD accessible track which starts near the town of Broomehill and heads northwards through farmland to Coolgardie. Once it reaches near Hyden the track splits into two, one branch continuing onwards as 2WD accessible whilst the other branch becomes the 4WD only Holland Track. With us in our Landcruiser and my parents in their Hilux, with off road campers in tow, there was never any question which branch we would be opting for.
That said, this first section of the Holland Track is renowned for its deep ruts and, after rain, prolific mud. It is worth checking local weather conditions before entering as after too much rain it becomes impassable, or at best you will be spending a lot of time digging. There had been some rain through a couple of weeks ago, so we were unsure of what we would find. At least travelling in convoy if worst came to worst we would have something to winch off.
We aired down the tyres and put up sand flags to increase our visibility on the twisty, single lane but dual direction track before heading in. It didn’t take long to realize that the ground here doesn’t soak away quickly; evidence of the rain was still plentiful. The track was very cut up and the deep ruts were filled with sloppy mud. At times the whole track was covered with pools of murky water, effectively concealing any number of dangers lying in wait below. The worst looking sections had the option of a chicken track, but that wasn’t always much help as some of those chicken tracks were in such a state they could have qualified for chicken tracks of their own.
But when it comes to mud, men will be boys, and they had no hesitation at pitching their big boys’ toys at the challenge. Though there was the occasional bit of unintentional sideways drift in the slippery mud, both rigs handled well especially as, even with All Terrain tyres on, the tread quickly clogged with mud. Though we only made 60km that day it was deemed a success as we did so without having to lift a shovel.
The next day the track condition improved and we were able to spend more time enjoying the surroundings. The terrain that the Holland Track passes through is essentially virgin bush, a mix of sand plain and heath interspersed with open eucalypt woodland. There are also quite a few large granite outcrops along the track, many with multiple pools of water trapped on top. These provided great entertainment for the kids, along with spotting the speedy little lizards that make the cracks in the granite their home.
We covered twice as much distance as the previous day, making Victoria Rock for the night’s camp. This is the only campsite with any facilities along the track, prior to this it is simply totally self sufficient bush camping in whichever of the many clearings along the way takes your fancy. Just beyond Victoria Rock the Holland Track merges again with the John Holland Way and it was an easy 2WD run up to Coolgardie to top up the fuel. Rather than retracing our steps we then headed southwards on the Burra Rock Road.
It was a well formed gravel road that took us through to Burra Rock where we stopped to look at the catchment walls, built on the granite outcrop by the men working the woodlines to capture rain water and channel it into the dam at the base. Then instead of the old 4WD woodline track to Cave Hill we found ourselves on a newly graded gravel superhighway which delivered us quickly, if not as enjoyably, to Cave Hill.
This is one of the largest and highest granites in the area and is named after the caves on its western side. There is a 1km return walk over the granite rock to the caves which have a viewing platform installed to discourage entrance into the caves. A little further along there is also a wave like formation eroded from the rock. A camping area with toilets, picnic tables and BBQ pits located near the base of the rock, though much of it seemed inaccessible for vehicle based camping. Never mind, the march flies were ferocious and we were not inclined to linger.
There is a number of different tracks out of Cave Rock depending on where you are headed next. As our extended long weekend was rapidly passing, we headed west along the woodline formation to rejoin the John Holland Way. These were originally rail lines, constructed to bring wood cut from these southern woodlands up to the goldfields. This was used for both fuel for the steam engines which provided power to pump water and to run generators for electricity, and to shore up the underground shafts. It is estimated that on the goldfields, firewood was consumed at a rate of 350,000 tonnes annually, and this went on for 65 years. It’s no wonder the woodcutters had to venture further and further afield.
Rail lines were built to transport the cut wood. As the main line extended, feeder lines branched off so that woodcutters were never more than 4km from a line. Horse drawn drays were used to carry the wood to the lines where it was stacked ready to be loaded into the railway trucks. The modern track follows along these rail formations and in places it is still very obvious that you are driving beside, and on occasion on top of, the rail embankments. If you keep a sharp eye out there are many remnants left behind by the cutters, from bottles and cans to sections of rail sleepers defying the white ants. The 4WD Club of WA has adopted these woodlines and is seeking to open even more of them up to 4WDers in the future.
Though on occasion the track got very narrow and in places was so overgrown you had to look hard to see where it went, it was a lovely, peaceful drive. The regenerated woodland is very pretty and makes you wonder just how picturesque the virgin woodlands must have been. The smooth trunks of the salmon and ribbon gums, newly shed of their old bark, glow in the late afternoon light in a palette of beige and pink.
Back out on the John Holland Way our last camp for the weekend was at The Breakaways. This place is a photographer’s delight. A dark laterite (ironstone/granite) ridge top caps a beautiful chalky white, pink, purple and orange shale and sandstone wall beneath. Erosion has worked its magic on the soft walls and the exposed colours and shapes that are left are truly breathtaking. There are campsites located right up next to the rock face with fire rings and picnic tables, or you can camp further back beneath shady trees.
By chance we must have scored the best site of them all. A little alcove tucked into the 200m length of coloured wall. After setting up we sat back and watched the changing colours of the rocks as the sun slowly sank away. It was a lovely way to finish up weekend away. We hadn’t visited any big ticket places; we hadn’t even really “been” anywhere. What we had done is meander through some lovely, remote country, had some fun 4WDing, seen some lovely trees, had some interesting walks over granite rocks, seen a bit of history and enjoyed some time shared around a campfire. It really is the simple things in life. Enjoying the journey.
The John Holland Way
Over 600km in length and runs between Broomehill in the south up to Coolgardie (near Kalgoorlie) in the Goldfields region of Western Australia. The Holland Track parallels the John Holland Way northwards from Hyden.
You’ll need to be totally self sufficient for the bush camping opportunities along both tracks. Hyden offers a caravan park, motel, farm stay and B&B accommodation options. Coolgardie offers motel and caravan park accommodation. A much wider range of options is on offer in nearby Kalgoorlie.
The most spectacular time to visit is in spring, when the wildflowers are blooming and before the summer heat. Winter and autumn can be pleasant, but not after rain. Rain in any season can make parts of the Holland track impassable and cause parts of the John Holland Way to be closed. Enquire about recent and expected local weather conditions before entering.
Pamphlets on Holland’s Track are available for free from information centres. More detailed information can be obtained through dedicated publications such as Explorer Series’ Explore the Holland Track and Cave Hill Woodlines.
The Holland Track
Advertised as accessible to well prepared 4WD vehicles only. The main 4WD challenge arises from the very deep and sometimes water filled muddy ruts. Recent weather conditions will dictate the level of difficulty.
The first 40km or so of the track is usually the section which is in the worst, or depending on your outlook that could technically read the best, condition. If you are giving the mud a go, travel in convoy with other vehicles as most of the trees are too small to winch off.
If playing in the mud isn’t your idea of a good time, then this section can be avoided altogether by entering the Holland Track further along via the Southern Cross-Forrestania Road which T-junctions with the track near Mount Holland. You’ll still encounter some mud if it’s recently rained, but nothing to the degree of this first section.
Road tyres are not recommended due to the high risk of damage to side walls and poor traction in mud. High clearance and low range would be advantageous, and some form of recovery gear is essential. A sand flag is recommended for increased visibility. The track is narrow in sections with overhanging trees and some of the chicken tracks involve tight turning and poor clearance between trees. Those towing, especially larger off road caravans, may struggle with clearance.