Whether you’re keen for mud or prefer to stick to formed gravel, the John Holland Way and the Holland Track reward travellers with their pristine natural beauty.
“Are you absolutely, positively sure you want to tackle this track? We really don’t know what state it will be in after that rain last week...”
We put the question to my parents one last time. We approached the point of no return and it was their last chance to pull out before we were committed to tackling the 4WD section of the Holland Track in WA’s Golden Outback.
With our offroad camper trailer, we were confident of making it through. However, although my parent’s falls into that nebulous ‘hybrid’ category, somewhere between a camper trailer and caravan, dimension-wise it falls well towards the caravan end of the spectrum. And no matter how well-built an offroad caravan is its sheer height and weight will always be a consideration with respect to how far it can realistically go offroad. But they were still keen, so we aired down the tyres, attached the sand flags and ventured in.
CUTTING THE TRACK
The Holland Track was originally established in 1893 by John Holland and his team who set out to cut a track from Broomehill to the booming goldfields of Coolgardie. The aim was to provide a shortcut for prospectors from the eastern states who were arriving in droves by steamer boat to the nearby coastal town of Albany. On a more mercenary basis, it would also provide a route for the transport of goods and supplies from the southern towns to the fast growing goldfields market.
In just over two months, Holland and his team achieved their goal, cutting a cart track over 500km long through the previously impenetrable bush. Immediately it was put to use by thousands of optimistic diggers joining the rush northwards, but only a few years later the railway was extended through to Coolgardie and this put an end to regular goldfields traffic on the Holland Track. It gradually fell into disrepair, with the southern section being absorbed into farming land and the northern stretch, out beyond the Rabbit Proof Fence, being all but lost back to the scrub.
In the 1990s, Holland’s track was retraced and is now promoted as one of the Golden Outback’s self-drive routes. The John Holland Way is the 2WD accessible route and starts in Broomehill, winding its way north-eastwards through rich farmland and expansive salt lake country. Once you reach Hyden, you face the decision of either continuing on the 2WD John Holland Way up to Coolgardie or, for the more adventurous, detouring along the 4WD Holland Track.
A DESERVED REPUTATION
As we pushed forward onto the Holland Track it didn’t take long to realise this first section was going to live up to its reputation as being the worst, or in some hard-core offroad enthusiasts’ opinion the best, part of the track. Though there are no technical 4WD difficulties with the Holland Track, this first section is renowned for its very deep ruts and the recent rains had made abundantly clear how they came to be there. There were muddy expanses of water across the track, with no easy way of gauging their depth. There were chicken tracks around some of the more daunting ones, but this wasn’t always helpful as it was often difficult to tell whether they were actually a better option.
To add to the difficulty of the decision-making process, the chicken tracks frequently required quite sharp turns and wove narrowly between the trees, making a wide approach for cornering impossible. It wasn’t long before the hybrid was sporting a few trophy scratches along with a fascinator of greenery on her front annexe corner that would have been at home at the Melbourne Cup. That said, she lived up to her pedigree and kept up through the tough stuff.
If you’re up to giving the mud a go it is a good idea to travel in convoy with another vehicle as most of the trees are rather small and not really up to being winched 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 Forrestania-Southern Cross Road which T-junctions with the track near Mount Holland. If there has been recent rain, you’ll still encounter some mud further in but nothing to the extent of this first section.
It was pretty slow going and we made it a grand total of about 60km before it was time to set up camp. There are a couple of named campsites along the track which are basically just clearings big enough to accommodate larger convoys. For smaller groups there are endless potential bush camp sites right along the length of the track. There are no facilities available until you reach Victoria Rock, so you need to be totally self-sufficient.
GRANITE AND WOODLANDS
The next day’s driving proved nowhere near as challenging mud-wise and we made much better time, covering twice the distance of the previous day. Along the way we passed through country that varied from open sand plains and heath to eucalypt woodlands. There were numerous granite outcrops to explore, covered with pools of fresh rainwater, as well as some man-made waypoints like the track’s visitors’ book. We found it surrounded by a shrine of what can only really be described as rubbish; from empty bottles, shoes and hats to a Christmas gnome and even a desiccated emu’s foot.
Just past Thursday Rock, the track changed to become a formed gravel road and though there were some corrugations, being able to drive at a pace to feel the wind blowing through our hair easily outweighed their discomfort. We camped that night at Victoria Rock, which boasts the lavish facilities of a drop toilet, picnic benches and fire rings.
Next morning, we made the straightforward run into Coolgardie to top up fuel before starting our return journey. Rather than returning back down the Holland Track, we headed southwards along the John Holland Way. This is a formed gravel alternative to the Holland Track between Hyden and Coolgardie and after the last couple of days it was very easy going.
Near Lake Johnston, the John Holland Way merges into the Hyden-Norseman Road, which also forms part of the Granite and Woodlands Discovery Trail. There are a number of sites of interest, clearly signposted along the way. One of these that should not be missed is the Breakaways, which has a designated campsite with basic facilities and stunning scenery. A dark laterite (ironstone/granite) ridge-top caps the beautiful chalky white, pink, purple and orange shale and sandstone walls beneath. The colours and shapes of the eroded gully are truly breathtaking, and the whole area is a paradise for photographers and artists. Some of the campsites are located right in among it, with others set slightly back from the rock face under tall, shady trees. It was an easy decision to set up camp and sit back and enjoy the magical sunset.
Next day was an easy run back to Hyden, completing our John Holland loop. Though small in population, Hyden boasts a good range of services due to its proximity to Wave Rock which attracts numerous visitors annually. If you haven’t seen the inland wave before, it’s worth a look. Fuel is available and there is a tyre shop and mechanic in town for any repairs.
This area is a superb wilderness region with an ever changing landscape and access options to suit a wide range of travellers, from formed gravel to more extreme offroad alternatives. It is pretty much virgin bush land out past the Rabbit Proof Fence and given the level of use that the tracks get, it’s a credit to those who have gone before that there is a noticeable lack of rubbish and debris to be found, even in the more well-used camping areas. Long may it last.