The Larapinta Trail is an extended bushwalking track running west from Alice Springs to Mount Sonder (Rwetyepme); its 223 kilometres are fast gaining a reputation for offering one of the finest walking experiences in the world through the steep red slopes of the West MacDonnell Ranges/National Park (Tjoritja). The ranges rise dramatically from the Central Australian desert typifying the rugged landscapes of the Red Centre with the changing hues of the mountain peaks, rolling hills and dry river valleys made famous in the paintings of Albert Namatjira.
Our End to End Larapinta Trail trek is a 16 day wilderness adventure totally immersing you in the country, and allowing the time and space to fully appreciate and understand this spectacular place. The itinerary has been designed so we walk the entire length of the Larapinta Trail, all 223 kilometres, along with some special highlights not officially on the trail. You will experience all that the trail has to offer, from high ridgelines to sheltered gorges, open savanna country to magnificent mountains, dry and flowing rivers, and the best examples of the West MacDonnell’s vegetation and fauna. On each section you will be tested and rewarded until the final section: truly the trip of a lifetime.
Accommodation is bush camping style. This is a day pack hiking adventure.
|Plan kms||Done kms||Hrs|
|Telegraph Station – Wallaby gap||13.5||15||6|
|Wallaby Gap – Simpsons Gap||10.5||13||4|
|Simpsons Gap – Jay Creek||25||28||9|
|Jay Creek – Standley Chasm||13||17||8|
|Standley Chasm – Birthday Waterhole||17||19||9|
|Birthday Waterhole – Hugh Gorge||17||18||9|
|Hugh Gorge – Rocky Gully||16||16||7|
|Rocky Gully – Ellery Creek||15||15||6|
|Ellery Creek – Serpentine Gorge||14||13||6|
|Serpentine Gorge – Serpentine Chalet||15||20||7|
|Serpentine Chalet – Ormiston Gorge||29||31||12|
|Ormiston Gorge to Glen Helen||12||10||5|
|Finke River – Rocky Bar Gap||15||18||7|
|Rocky Bar Gap – Redbank Gorge||12||15||4|
|Redbank Gorge – Mt Sonder||16||15||7|
|Total Larapinta Trail||240||263||106|
|Extra Ormiston Pound walk||8||9||4|
You can watch a video of our end to end adventures here.
How we came to be there
Whilst we’ve done lots of day hikes and mountain summits in nearly every state in Australia, all our challenging multi-day adventures had been overseas. With Australia being locked away from the rest of the world, we had the perfect opportunity to do something locally. We soon discovered that lots of other Australians were thinking the same thing. On investigating out options for taking on the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory, we found we actually didn’t have any. The only two operators that offered the full end to end hike were full to the brim. With the 2020 season cancelled due to Covid, all the bookings had been moved out to 2021. And we certainly didn’t feel confident in taking on the independent option. We’ve never hiked carrying a full pack before, and being such an arduous long trail, we would need to organise food drops as we’d never be able to carry enough anyway.
As a compromise, we decided to register for Brisbane Marathon at the beginning of June. Having only done the ½ marathon there before, we figured it would be good to do the event – even if the last one we’d done was 5 years ago in Paris!
In February 2021, we were contacted by Trek Larapinta and offered two slots on a trip starting on 15 May. This meant we’d finish the hike exactly one week before the marathon. One could take this as 223km of training, or crazy to consider both. Known for our craziness, we decided to book for our 16 day hike. Had we known the extent of the blisters we’d develop from the arduous rocky track, we may have done otherwise – sometimes ignorance is bliss!
We did a couple of training hikes to make sure our poles, backpacks and shoes were OK and to practise some technical skills. Other than that, we largely relied on our marathon training. This went a long way to equipping us for the physical and mental endurance to get us through the walking. It did nothing to prepare us for the hardcore life of sleeping in swags, going to the toilet in the bush and spending 16 days without a shower, hairwash or shave.
Fortunately we had most of the gear that we needed from previous excursions. We just had to make sure we didn’t pack it when moving into storage and find a way to manage having so much extra stuff in the little apartment. Packing was a little like completing a jigsaw puzzle.
Getting to the Northern Territory
This was our first flight under Covid conditions so we had to get used to wearing masks at the airport and on the planes. The day was long as we had to fly Brisbane – Melbourne – Alice Springs as there’s only one direct flight and not on the day we needed. The plane from Melbourne to Alice was full – we found out later that there was a huge group of people doing a film / commercial shoot and they arrived with all their gear!
In Alice Springs
Having heard some horror stories about safety in Alice, we are happy to report that we didn’t experience anything untoward or sinister. That said, we didn’t go out at night. We did walk along the road parallel to the Todd River – a dry river bed – from our hotel into town where we enjoyed the quirky cafes. Great coffee, good food and very interesting decor. We even ventured a few kms afield into the industrial area to an unusual coffee place, the Horse Cafe. A slightly more rustic version of the Curious Caravan in Pullenvale.
Intimacy of a hiking group
It was a bit of a shock when 8 perfect strangers were bundled into the back of a troopy on day 1 and started rattling our way to the start of the trail at the Telegraph Station. It’s funny how the vehicle seemed to grow over the 16 days together as we got to know each other intimately.
Speaking of intimacy, getting to know each other’s toilets habits and getting changed in front of everyone (except the days where we had a tent) became a norm. The tribal stench of bodies cleaned only with wet wipes or a bird bath (a few cm of boiling water in a bowl) must’ve been terrible for anyone else we came in contact with. Fortunately that wasn’t too often – only in some of the bigger trailheads where there were carparks. Whilst at camp, at least we did have a bucket in a little blue tent for doing number twos, so that afforded us with some dignity. And we even had a bowl of cold water that we could draw off to wash our hands under a plastic container with holes in. It was a total shock when we arrived at a carpark with flushing toilet and running taps. And let’s not mention mirrors!!
We were blessed to have a great bunch of people in the group. A range of ages from 28-71, everyone had such varied backgrounds and I can honestly say that not one person had led what could be termed a mundane life. Our guides, Jill & Adam were fabulous and their friendly banter and supportive comments contributed to the encouraging ethos that was built.
Swags & tents
The first few nights were spent in swags set on top of tarps and open to the elements. The good thing about them was that we were able to view the expansive sky full of twinkling stars. This even afforded sighting of more falling stars than I had seen in my life to date! The not so good thing was that the icy wind that seemed to build up and howl through at 3am felt as though it was going to cause frostbite on my cheeks.
We were happy to erect tents when we were at a camp more than one night. Only one swag would fit in a tent, so we set up two next to each other with the window open so we could see each other and chat. It gave the added benefit of being able to put all our bags and boots inside away from the dingoes that had been happy to play with the boots of other hikers on the trail.
Whilst rugged as one would expect from a dessert, we were surprised by how much the scenery changed over the 16 days. As we traversed though valley floors and along mountain ridges, there was always something different to see. The much needed rains earlier in the year had led to lots of wildflowers, particularly the fields of white and purple mula mula. Sadly, the buffel grass imported from South Africa to reduce erosion had done what any introduced species tends to do. Following the extensive bushfires along the trail in 2019, the buffel grass had taken over vast areas that should’ve been full of spinifex. The only advantage is coming up against a stalk of buffel grass is a lot softer than a spiny spinifex. As expected, the gaps, gorges and passes were spectacular.
A friend that had completed some sections of the trail had told us he was surprised by how rocky it was. He wasn’t kidding!! When he mentioned it, we thought he must be exaggerating – after all we’d walked in so many locations and come across rocks before. The boulder hopping and navigation of rocks in the dry river beds was one thing. But the constant pounding of the rocks underfoot was relentless and even through thick boots, the balls of my feet started to throb. I am grateful that I never get blisters, even on a marathon. The Larapinta Trail’s reputation for blisters is certainly not to be sneezed at. The incessant rolling of the feet across the rocky terrain caused movement and created blisters in places on my feet I didn’t think possible. As I read in an article on the trail – “there were blisters on blisters”.
The first couple of day were sunny but windy, with icy winds continuing and even building up during the nights. The temperatures then escalated, with one morning minimum even being as high as 14 degrees. A brief stint of rain brought with it another bout of cold. Whilst the rain didn’t last, the cold did, making our time on Mt Sonder freezing cold!
The end of the trail was a bitter sweet moment. Being able to have a shower and wash hair, sleep in a bed and eat out of a china plate was bliss. Sorting out our dirty clothes was surprisingly cathartic and we even managed to catch the last stages of the Giro d”Italia (cycling race) on TV.
Leaving my old hiking boots in the garbage bin in the hotel room was sad. They’d travelled with me to Everest Base Camp, Kilimanjaro, Antartica, Argentina and New Zealand. Sadly the first 3 days of the Larapinta Trail had proven too much for them.
After being in such close quarters, it was strange to be separating, never to be together as a group again. Many of us met at the airport the following day as we were all on the same flight out to Sydney, bidding final farewells.
Dirty laundry was piled up in the passage of our little apartment for days as we slowly made our way through the washing process.
I am happy to report that a few days after getting back, we managed a run – the muscle memory worked. And a week after completing the trail, we ran the Brisbane Marathon together, finishing in a respectful, if not speedy time of 4 hours and 22 minutes. Job well done!!