The Holland Track in mid-east WA has been on my bucket list for years and it certainly didn’t disappoint following in the footsteps of the legend himself, Mr John Holland. It’s claimed to be the longest cart track ever cut in one stretch in WA, the track opened up the goldfields cutting weeks of travel off for the miners, families and business folk.
It was around 1890 when hoards of hopeful prospectors were landing in Fremantle and Albany by steamships wanting to head north to the new rich goldfields, all living on a hope and prayer to seek their fortunes.
From experienced miners, shopkeepers and their families they all trudged northward on foot, pushing barrows and some with carts. The idea for a direct route to the goldfields was sparked to allow local producers and shopkeepers a faster way to supply the fields.
Several attempts were made but were very unsuccessful with one rider disappearing, another party ending up miles in the wrong direction & others getting forced back by the inhospitable heat that summer has in the area. Then along came a young 37-year-old who not only wanted to find a direct route but wanted to cut it open to use straight away for carts and carriages.
An experienced bushman, Mr John Holland took on the challenge along with his two brothers and another young man when they left after summer had finished in 1893. Amazingly they cut the whole 500km track in just two months and four days ready to be used straight away. All this without government assistance. Along the way they cut past rock mounds and granite holes with water soaks, this would help the travellers on their journey.
Several years after the Holland track was opened, a new rail section was finished to Coolgardie cutting travel times from several weeks to just days and putting an end to regular traffic on the track, the next few decades saw the track overgrown and forgotten.
Between 1950 and 1990, bands of dedicated Holland track historians and enthusiasts tried in vain to follow the original path and reopen the heritage track, and finally, in 1992 the track was successfully opened as a team followed a compass course and by sighting any traces of the old path pushing through a tractor.
My starting point to head along the track was the old historic town of Coolgardie which is 40km SW of Kalgoorlie. It was once the third largest town in WA and was known on the world map as the birthplace of a major gold rush in 1892, which fuelled a mass migration of people to the area.
It was known as “the mother of the Western Australian goldfields “. With reports of over 30,000 people in the area, they were wild times - with wide streets big enough to turn a camel train around, but over time the gold ran out with new richer fields discovered where Kalgoorlie is now.
Today Coolgardie is a fairly quiet place with heritage buildings lining the wide streets, it's where massive four-trailer road trains break their loads up and curious tourist wander parks admiring the relics on display, exploring museums and more.
The first of the Holland Track signs headed me out of Coolgardie to the south along Victoria Rock Road for about 40km. It was here that I found the turn-off onto the Holland Track with info boards.
The Holland Track ‘code of conduct’ sign, installed by the Landcruiser Club of WA, is the one to follow where UHF 28 is the channel to use and the recommended tyre pressure, plus 6 other tips on how to enjoy the track.
The Holland track can be broken up into several short trips or spending a week on the track to cover the whole distance. My plan was to do the top half of the track and peel off towards Hyden and visit Wave Rock.
I was lucky enough to have fine weather while exploring the track, as when I was doing research there were lots of clips on social platforms showing extensive recoveries when the tracks were very wet. But surprisingly it presents no problem at all in the dry, and in fact, there are chicken tracks around the harder sections.
The surroundings are peaceful as you travel down the track, from sand plains to woodlands and then there’s the rock platforms along the way. By visiting all of the poi along the way, which all are signposted I found that I only did about 100km each day.
Most of the points of interest along the way are significant to when the track and indeed the area was surveyed. From ‘Rocks’ where water was found and for their height to see over the low plains, to blazed trees and even old camps all these are available to visit.
The current-day track generally follows the original track that was cut in by John Holland but often veers away to preserve important parts of the Holland track and for environmental reasons in the area. Clay pans dot the surrounding area and thankfully the present track doesn’t go across them to cause any significant damage.
Some of the track is single lane only, and in other parts, the scrub is trying to claim its own back, pinstripping is non-optional in these parts.
Camping freely along the track is allowed but at Victoria Rock Reserve there are segmented camping bays with bbq facilities, tables and toilets. If just passing through it's a great place to stop and climb the rock for the stunning 360-degree views.
It was named by John Holland in 1893 after Queen Victoria, it was here they erected a rock cairn and a flag pole on the rock's highest point.
Another feature on the northern track is passing through one of the state barrier fences. This 260km rabbit-proof fence runs north/south and was built in 1954 to deter the rabbits and Emu’s away from the farmlands and wheatbelt areas of Bonnie Rock. Unfortunately the government at the time ran out of funds and the fence stops abruptly.
In the surrounding woodlands, Sandalwood was once sought after and remains of groves can still be found near Sandalwood Rocks, where Holland camped in 1893. Today there are small stands of Sandalwood but most of the original thickets have never grown back.
Back when gold was being discovered in the rich fields of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie to the north, timber was needed to power the boilers to make steam to power the stampers and other industries. Throughout the area that the Holland Track runs, there were a dozen or more tramway lines that were used to collect timber for the new settlements. This meant plenty of employment for timber cutters, rail workers, timer carters and storemen.
The way it worked was that that timber was cut several miles from the rail line normally by the hard-working Italian or Slav migrants who felled the trees and cut the timber into manageable lengths, then it was carted and stacked beside the line for collection, and as the timber ran out new feeder lines were laid into better timber selection areas.
Over time the country in a 35 km radius of Cave Hill was completely cut of all timber, leaving nothing but stumps and in 1937 everything was literally picked and moved to Boulder, southeast of Kalgoorlie where new lines were laid into virgin scrub. But in 1964 operations stopped when the rail company went out of business, it was around the time that diesel operations were on the increase and the demand for steam was on the decline.
Around the Cave Hill area of the northern end of the Holland Track, remnants of the workings can still be found where dams were built with a stone wall run-off diversions, pipelines to the overhead tanks for the engines and where the sawmill was.
My journey ended halfway down the Holland Track where I diverted out to Hyden to visit the world-renowned Wave Rock. Popular with the locals, Wave Rock made famous when it won the 1964 Kodak international photo completion in New York, and the rest they say is history.
At 110m long and over 15m high the rock is pretty impressive. But it's actually part of what they call Hyden’s Rock, which includes a hand-built granite wall to divert water into the town's old dam, also Hippo Yawn rock formation on the eastern end, there’s the Breakers formation and of course Wave Rock.
Weathering and erosion have caused this natural phenomenon, where it's estimated that Hyden Rock could be 2700 million years old.
Now while I only explored the top half of the Holland Track there’s a lot more to discover with giant monolith rocks, remote camps, old farm and steam implements left behind plus the hardened timber of the tramways and camps. The Holland Track itself is more than just a drive through the scrub.
Cut in the early 1890s, The Holland Track covers an impressive 500km from Broomehill in the south, north to Coolgardie, in mid-east of WA. This shortcut was initially cut through to aid miners heading north to new gold fields that were opening up, around today's Kalgoorlie.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Apart from being a historic track following in the footsteps of a great pioneer, The Holland Track has a stack of natural features to discover and explore. From massive rock outcrops to scenic views and stunning forest areas, the track itself can also be a challenge. The track is well marked as well as the many features along the way. Free camping is another highlight with an array of spots to find camp.
Apart from searching online and reading the many online articles and trip reports, the best line of information is to buy the book, Explore the Holland Track. Available online or at the Kalgoorlie Tourist Info Centre. The Holland Track is remote and isolated so you’ll need to be well prepared and carry enough food, water and fuel. Phone service is sketchy along the track with Telstra. Extreme care when it's wet. Would I do it again ?.... bloody oath !