Trip Report – Larapinta Trail, Australia

Larapinta Trail

Robin and Bernice Southern

The Great Walks of New Zealand include the Milford Track among many others.

Google “Great Walks of Australia” and you will find the Larapinta Trail on the top of the list.

About the only similarity are the words “Great Walks”

In the second half of April 2016, Bernice and I completed the walk. Officially listed at 223km long, it seems by most accounts to be much longer than that. Indeed half of the trail that I GPS’d, I found longer. An Australian we spoke to that had GPS’d the trail twice found it 280 odd km. Together with side tracks etc., it is probable that our feet walked at least 300 km.

The Larapinta Trail begins (or ends) at Alice Springs which itself is almost slap bang in the centre of Australia and progresses west along the West McDonnell ranges.

The trail itself is organised into 12 sections. We split two – 30km sections in half, meaning we walked 14 days and one of these half sections was the only one not to have tanked water. For that half section, we had to carry enough water to last two days. All the tanked water still required filtering. For Kiwi’s used to dipping into almost any river to replenish water, this takes a lot of getting used to. Not one of the many rivers/creeks we walked over had running water.

Anyway, after an almost 6000 km drive in a rented motor home, we arrived in Alice Springs earlier than planned. We put the “saved” time to good use by completing sections 1, 11 & 12 as day trips before we relinquished the motor home. This included the section 12 climb of Mt Sonder, a 16 km return climb, the highest point at 1379M on the trail.

On the 14th April, we started in earnest at section 2, with packs bulging with dehy from NZ, water, normal tramping gear plus an almost 3 kg tent. (Australia doesn’t do huts). All this crammed into 45 & 50 L packs. The usual size appeared to be 70 – 90 L.

This 6 day tramp included two graded “very hard” sections which took us 11 hrs and 11 hrs 15 mins next day. On the first of these “very hard” days, we arrived at the camp called “birthday water hole” which coincidently was the day of my (Robin’s) 71st birthday. After dinner, we walked the 1 km to the actual water hole with a view to cooling down and freshening up sans clothing only to find some 4WD campers there that had driven in from the other end. So that stymied that idea!

Eventually we completed the sections to the half way point and at that point Bernice who had magnificently organised the entire trail, had organised a few days back in Alice Springs to reorganise and recharge before completing what was left of the second half. What a great idea that was.

Continuing on a few days later, we were buoyed by the fact that we had completed the most difficult sections and yes, we would indeed finish the entire trail. At the end of the first multi day sections, that was severely in doubt.

On the 27th April, we arrived at Ormiston Gorge, a place where there was a kiosk, showers and a swimming hole not mention rubbish bins. Iced coffees, pizza’s and lots of other decadent food. Bernice had scheduled two nights there and we happily put the tent up for the last time.

Because we had already completed sections 11 & 12, all we had left was the short section 10 from Ormiston to Glen Helen which we completed by 11 am, and we had walked the whole trail. That evening we celebrated with an a la cart dinner and a soft bed.

Closing comments: Anyone wishing to complete this walk should spend much time doing their homework before setting out. One girl walking the same time as us had organised it in only one week. She abandoned the walk before the end. Another party we met, ran out of water only 1/3 along the section and had to camp. They sent the two fittest ones to get more water who got lost for a while going to get it. In the words of one of them “I thought we were going to die” You actually have to experience the heat & dryness to understand the comment.

The trail as a whole is more of a route, mostly, but not always well marked, with reflective arrows which show up well in pre-dawn starts.

Some positives:

  • Amazingly clear night skies on cloudless night after night. The stars were so bright.
  • The occasional breeze to “slightly cool” the extreme heat.
  • Spectacular red gorges and escarpments plus beautiful red mornings and evenings.
  • Makes us realise how fortunate we are in NZ with our plentiful supply of water.
  • Satisfaction that our aging bodies held together to complete the trail.

Some negatives:

  • The heat, heat and heat. Probably in the mid-thirties most days and much hotter on the body when the sun hits. We began most sections in the pre-dawn.
  • Carrying all the water you need for the day. Usually around 4L pp. Others carry about 7L pp.
  • Ants, Ants and Ants. Varying types. The big black ones could climb over your boots & inside your gaiters as you walked along. And they bite!
  • Flies and flies. The small bush ones. From about 9 am onwards. They seem to crave moisture on your face and the corner of your eyes. They keep returning to the same spot – very annoying.
  • Campsites rather primitive compared to NZ huts and toilets. Sometimes it was bush squatting.

Many, many thanks to Bernice, my super organising wife. Without your organising, I would never have done the trail.