Trekking the Larapinta Trail by day, sleeping in swags under a sky full of stars at night with the wind gently rustling the gum trees. It felt like we’d landed in central casting for Waltzing Matilda and turned out to be an all-Australian outback adventure complete with spectacular views, ancient red rock, blazing sun and deep, cold billabongs.
Starting at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve, the 223 kilometre Larapinta Trail ends on the peak of Mt Sonder in the West MacDonnell Ranges. However, we were seeing the highlights on a six-day, 67 kilometre trek staying in a secluded eco-camp (swags optional) near Ormiston Gorge, led by our experienced guides from Trek Larapinta, Kate and Sharna.
Walking on rocks formed 850 million years ago, about 200 million years before the first life on earth was not only a humbling experience, it made for tough walking. Every step needed full concentration on narrow tracks crafted from rock rubble, sloping rocks or huge man-made steps. Trees were few and far between, designed to conserve water rather than cast shade, while spiky clumps of spinifex grass dotted the landscape.
Back in Melbourne, we could easily complete an eight kilometre walk in less than two hours, so on our first day when Kate said the same distance would take four to six hours, we were incredulous. We had made pretty good time along the track before we stopped for lunch and then the rock-hopping began between the high, craggy sides of Ormiston Gorge, over boulders the size of armchairs.
Five hours later, as predicted, we rounded the final bend to find a wide, inviting billabong. It was unseasonably warm for April at 35 degrees and we couldn’t get our boots off fast enough to wade in for a refreshing dip.
Each day, our walks were filled with spectacular views and fascinating rock formations alongside a wide variety of flora and fauna, such as soaring birds of prey, mallee trees, flowering native holly and ancient cycad ferns. We could have done without the two king brown snakes sliding nonchalantly past as we held our breath, eyes flicking to our guides who were carrying the satellite phone and first aid kit, but they weren’t interested in us. We walked from Serpentine Gorge up to Counts Point; through the Inarlanga Pass to Hidden Valley and back to the Ochre Pits; from Ormiston Gorge to the Finke River and finally, some more rock-hopping in Standley Chasm.
However, the highlight was a night trek to the peak of Mt Sonder to see the sun rise. Setting off at 3.30am, we wound our way up the mountain path in single file for three hours, lit only by head torches, until we could see the horizon outlined in a dark red glow under the still-dark sky. As we reached the peak at 1350 metres the sun made it’s appearance illuminating the Pacoota Range to our right and Mt Zeil in the distance behind us, casting shadows on the undulations in between.
In the evenings, our group of seven – three friends from New South Wales, a couple from Germany, me and my husband Jonathan – sat around the campfire sampling the cheese platter with a glass of BYO wine while Kate and Sharna rustled up culinary delights in the camp kitchen. I’ll happily walk all day if someone else cooks, especially when meals like barramundi in dill sauce with sweet potato mash and broccolini are on the menu!
It was hard to believe our campsite was just 130km from Alice Springs. The Larapinta takes you into different world uninterrupted by phones, one foot in front of the other, lost in your thoughts or idly chatting. You can feel the history, wonder at the geology and appreciate why so many gorges and peaks became sacred sites for the Arrernte people. Like so many great places in Australia, they weren’t always easy to get to, but well worth the journey.
For more information about the trail, go to: www.larapintatrail.com.au
To book a guided trek between April and September, go to: www.treklarapinta.com.au
You will need to stay in Alice Springs the night before and night after the trek – take a look at: Things to do in Alice Springs to plan your trip.