Popular with hikers, but never crowded – the spectacular Larapinta Trail.As soon as you leave Alice Springs and head out into the West MacDonnell ranges, you know you are in Namatjira country.
Most ns will find the ghost gums, red ranges and spinifex plains immediately familiar from the paintings of Albert Namatjira, whose home of Hermannsburg, is just a stone’s throw away, at least in Northern Territory terms.
I had signed up for Trek Larapinta’s three day guided walk, though I was soon to discover that the ‘West Macs’,as they are affectionately known, cater to everyone from the day tripper to the serious hiker.
I was more about stopping and smelling the flannel flowers than putting myself through a test of physical endurance. But on the plane over it became clear that hordes of people were heading in the same direction as me; to walk, run, cycle and ride the famous Larapinta Trail.
I was grateful for my small group, (Trek Larapinta caps numbers at eight), and once we were whisked away to our private semi-permanent camp in a sandy riverbed, it felt like we had the desert all to ourselves.
On the way to our first day’s walk at Ormiston Gorge, we visited Simpsons Gap, where the sun hadn’t yet made its way over the red cliffs. Our guide, Rob Shaw, pointed out the flock of Zebra finches, which for thousands of years had signalled to Aboriginal people the presence of water.
Sunlight glows on the red ochre cliffs of Ormiston Gorge
On our nine-kilometre walk to Ormiston Pound we had our first taste of the rocky terrain the Larapinta is famous for. Our guide’s knowledge of the ancient geology of the area was impressive, but my true respect was earned as he patiently taped up the already blisteringfeet of my fellow walkers.
We finished the day with a plunge into a freezing waterhole, which had the same effect as applying ice to tired muscles.
Back at camp, our second guide Zoe, barbecued local barramundi for us, which we ate around the campfire as temperatures dropped. I had bravely made up my swag in the creek bed in daylight before someone mentioned dingos, but once ensconced in the -5 degree sleeping bag all fears were banished by the vista of the night sky.
The Southern Cross was huge and close, the Milky Way spilled overhead. The canvas changed throughout the night as the constellations travelled across the sky. I lost count of the number of shooting stars – I was possibly seeing glimpses of the Perseid meteor shower which is visible during August.
Our second day of walking was a steep hike up onto Counts Point, a pinnacle of the Heavitree Range with incredible views in all directions.
The weather was unusually hot which made the walk hard going. I dutifully drank my three litres of water, but forgot about reapplying sunscreen to winter-white legs.
However, our efforts were rewarded with endless views in all directions, another freezing swim, this time in the Finke River, and a beer at the nearby Glen Helen resort.
The water hole at Ormiston Gorge
After another campfire dinner, we were given the sobering news that we would be woken at 2am for an eight-kilometrepre-dawn slog up Mount Sonder guided by headlamps. But like a photograph slowly developing in thesolution, during the night my legs revealed the true extent of the day’s sunburn and I decided to pass on the walk.
In the late morning, the more hardy souls among our group returned to camp for brunch with tales of the steep climb and the freezing, gale force winds at the top and I began to think my sunburn had been a blessing.
But, they say, the views were worth it, and the Mt Sonder dawn hike is considered to be one of the highlights of the Larapinta Trail.
On our way back to Alice we detoured for a walk between the stunning redwalls of the famous Standley Chasm.
The once-in-a-lifetime walk through Namatjira country Simpsons Gap
The Larapinta Trail provides panoramic views
Trek Larapinta’s semi-permanent campsite near Ormiston Gorge.
The view from Counts Point on a section of the Larapinta Trail
TweetFacebookIF YOU GOPlaces in the MacDonnell Ranges for day visits andshort walks.
Simpsons GapOrmiston GorgeStandley ChasmEllery Creek Big HoleGlen Helen GorgeTrephina Gorge Nature Park in the East MacDonnell rangesMt Sonder Lookout (for those not fancying the eight kilometre climb before daylight)