The Larapinta Trail across the West Macdonnell Ranges in Central Australia adorns many hikers’ bucket lists. Here’s what you need to know before you hit the trail.
The Larapinta Trail is a 230km/15-day hike from Alice Springs to Mount Sonder, traversing arid mountain ranges and scrambling through deep gorges that’ll have you delighting in the majesty of our great southern land.
With midges, mosquitoes, and flies, snakes, dingoes, and ants, you’ll never truly be alone if you decide to go solo.
At the end of March 2021, I completed the Larapinta Trail, taking 15 days to enjoy every gasp in wonder and every curse in pain. Here are ten things you need to know before you fly to Alice, jump into those boots and haul your backpack on:
1. The Indigenous History of The Area
The most important thing to know is that you’ll be hiking on Arrernte Country (pronounced Ah-runda). Along the trail, you’ll hug boundary lines to sacred sites that are not accessible to the public, and you’ll walk along dreaming tracks too.
There’s a deep spiritual significance to the 16 traditional estates that make up the area. Make sure not to swim in the gorges that have signs asking you not to and make sure you do the right thing and pay entry to the campsites that require it.
2. Start Your Journey From Alice Springs
Some prefer to start in Mount Sonder, but then you spend your days walking towards the face of the pulsing hot sun. By starting from Alice, not only do you get the hardest days out of the way early (sections 3-5), but the sun stays firmly on your back. This is also the direction the trail was designed!
3. Prepare to Camp on All of The High Places
Because it’s such flat country, the views from the top of the ranges are worth every drop of sweat. Brinkley Buff in section 4 and Hilltop Lookout in section 11 are a must.
Hilltop Lookout will give you the most majestic view of Mount Sonder at sunrise and sunset. It was my favourite sight to see along the entire trail (probably because I was also a day away from finishing!). You’re not allowed to camp up on Mount Sonder, so make sure you camp at the base and hike up for sunrise so you can see the range glow orange.
4. Have an Honest Chat With Your Hiking Partner
If you’re not doing it solo, sit down with your hiking partner/s and ask these questions:
- When you’re feeling really shit, what do you need? What will motivate you to keep going?
- How do you express that frustration/anger?
- What’s going to make you feel worse?
- Is there anything you’re hoping to work through mentally or physically?
You’re going to get frustrated with whoever you walk with, and it’s hard to escape each other. Having these conversations in a moment of peace and excitement about the upcoming trip will allow you to prevent unnecessary friction.
5. Pack Walkie Talkies And Batteries
I was a much faster walker than my hiking partner and, as a chronically impatient person, am not someone who likes to wait around. Walkie talkies allowed us to motivate each other and check-in, and from a safety perspective were very handy had one of us become hurt.
Make sure you pack enough batteries – we went through a few due to the fact they were on for 6-8 hours a day!
7. Organise Your Food Drops And Trail Support With Larapinta Trail Trek Support
The team at Larapinta Trail Trek Support will drop your containers off at your hotel before the hike and will ensure they’re there at the right place at the right time while you’re walking.
They’re huge advocates for solo hikers, and massive supporters of women doing bold and audacious things (~68% of the trail hikers that use them are women!).
8. Essential Gear You Don’t Think You’ll Need But You’ll be Really Thankful You Packed
Mosquito repellent (in gel form for maximum coverage). Often, we’d get to camp and instead of sitting out under the fading sun, watching the sunset, we’d race to put up our tents and hide under the screens, for the mosquitoes were shoe-stamping-ly, tear-jerking-ly awful (the area had received significant rains before we arrived, so there were more than usual).
Tevas. Apart from hiding from the mosquitoes, the first thing you’ll want to do when you get to camp is take off those hiking boots and give your sore and swollen feet some breathing space.
A bougie addition, the Helinox ultra-lightweight chair is amazing. At the end of the day all you want to do is SIT DOWN. Hikers laughed and rolled their eyes, but I didn’t regret carrying this thing for one second.
9. Throw Your Drop Sheet Under Your Tent or Under Your Camp Mat
Those prickly bastards that cover the range (I don’t know what the actual plant is called, but these little prickly balls are everywhere!) got into my mattress and now that thing deflates within two hours. A drop sheet adds another layer of protection from the pickles and the cold.