The Larapinta Trail is an achievable escape set in the scenic heart of Central Australia that encourages visitors to enjoy life’s small pleasures.
The Larapinta Trail is a 223-kilometre hiking track that follows the West MacDonnell Ranges (Tjoritja), stretching from Alice Springs (Mparntwe) westward towards Mount Sonder (Rrewtyepme) and Redbank Gorge (Yarretyeke). The Traditional Owners of the region are the Arrernte people (pronounced ah-ruhn-da). Their Dreaming describes the creation of the region and its landmarks by three caterpillar beings (ancestral beings) – Ayepe-arenye, Ntyarlke and Utnerrengatye – forming the MacDonnell Ranges and other significant cultural sites.
The word ‘Larapinta’ is the Arrernte word for the Finke River – believed to be the oldest riverbed in the world. Snaking through West MacDonnell National Park and Finke Gorge National Park, the Finke River seldom flows; usually only a couple of times per year.
The Larapinta Trail is grouped into 12 sections, most often hiked westward (one to 12). We chose to hike eastward, towards Alice, but with hindsight, westward would have been wiser – we often spent long mornings hiking with the sun in our eyes! Also, those hiking westward apparently experience a rising sense of anticipation as Mount Sonder looms in the distance.
Each section takes between one and three days to complete, and a day’s hiking can be anywhere from five kilometres to 30 kilometres. So depending on your pace, the entire trail (end-to-end) will take you between 10 to 18 days to complete. Personally, I’m a big fan of allocating extra days to fit in ‘time-consuming’ activities like a sunset cuppa or long gorge-swims!
Many of the section junctions and most of the trailheads are accessible by 4WD, which means that completing smaller sections of the trail is a popular option. My all-time favourite sections were four, five and nine, which take you up high to the desert ridge tops.
Sunset was the most magical time up on the high sections of the trail – we’d spend those golden evenings chasing the fast-changing light, our camera shutters click-click-clicking, frantically capturing the dusk sunbeams as they danced on the folds of the pillowed ridge lines.
Most advice will tell you that the most pleasant (and popular) time to hike the trail is between May and August. We did it in late April through to early May and enjoyed both ideal weather conditions and a quieter-than-average trail … win-win!
When planning the Larapinta there are two main things to consider: will you hike supported or unsupported, and will you join a guided tour group, or would you prefer to self-guide?
We hiked self-guided, but chose to engage the legends from Larapinta Trail Trek Support (LTTS), who shuttled us to Redbank Gorge at the beginning of our hike, and also dropped three resupply boxes for us, evenly spaced throughout the trail.
Hiking the Larapinta Trail end-to-end is a mission, so it’s worth thinking about whether you’ll need some support, or perhaps whether taking on a shorter section might be better for you.
If you choose to walk without a tour guide company, you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient, organising and carrying your own food, water, tent and sleeping gear. Sturdy shelters are found along the trail, however at busy times they might be at capacity. Some locations don’t have shelters, so carrying a tent is a must.
Most of the shelters provide you with a solar USB charging station, and all shelters have water tanks (with water that needs to be treated before you drink it).
On a practical level, the Larapinta was a beautifully put-together hike straddling the line between gnarly and isolated, while still feeling safe and achievable. But on a more personal level, the Larapinta gave me something that I always get when I hike for more than a few days: perspective. Hiking has the ability to shake my tired bones and my jaded heart, reminding me of the pure pleasure of the little things.
It’s as if being out there, hiking day in day out, preparing the same meals, packing the same pack and strapping the same blistered feet, reveals the repetition of everyday life back home, but draws into focus the beauty of it, rather than the monotony.
Without the drama of ‘real life’, you notice the little things; things like that tingly sensation you get on the tip of your nose when you’re snuggled on a desert ridge top watching the sun setting; or that giddy exhilaration you get when you realise you’re just one day of hiking away from a shower, a beer and a burger; or, that moment of silence just after sundown, when the trillions of flies that have travelled on your hiking pack all day disappear for the night, almost in an instant.
Those little moments happen in everyday life too, in life at home, at work, with family. And hiking the Larapinta reminded me to notice them, to watch them, to treasure them.