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Top Tips for Hiking the Red Centre's Larapinta Trail

22 Sep 2021

Australia is known for its frontier experiences. Hiking the Larapinta Trail is one of them.

At 223 kilometres long over some of the toughest, driest terrain in the country, the Larapinta Trail from Alice Springs to Ormiston Gorge is one of the most challenging and exhilarating in Australia.

Larapinta Trail   NT Tourism   Paddy Pallin 3Photo Credit: NT Tourism / Paddy Pallin

From Mars-like landscapes and magical swimming holes to epic views of the Red Centre, this iconic hike will not only have you scrambling through deep gorges and across arid mountain ranges, it will also connect you to Country.

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It’s far from easy - officially rated ‘difficult’ by most hiking guides - so for those attempting to get the whole thing done, it’s worth spending the time to prepare. As majestic as it is and amazing as it looks in the photos, this walk will test your willingness to suffer, then have you questioning why you even started, before rewarding you with a host of experiences you will never forget!

Here are 10 things to know before you set off:

1. You are in Arrente Country

It’s important to acknowledge that for the duration of any walk you take along the Larapinta, your feet will be in lands that have been home to the Arunda indigenous people for more than 40,000 years.

Larapinta Trail   NT Tourism   Paddy Pallin 2Photo Credit: NT Tourism / Paddy Pallin

Inclusive of 16 traditional estates, throughout the trail you’ll skirt sacred sites and dreaming tracks - some of which are not accessible to the public. These carry deep cultural and spiritual significance, so always respect the law of the land when you’re in these areas. Pay entry to campsites that ask for it and be sure to only swim in those gorges that don’t explicitly ask you not to.

2. It’s hot out here so be sure to carry enough water!

It’s recommended that you take on this trail between April and October, because outside of these times, temperatures have been known to soar. There are water tanks placed at each trailhead (every 15-30km) but be sure that you are not reliant on natural water sources as most of them can dry up!

20180816 D3A6149 GregSullavan 2Photo Credit: Greg Sullavan

3. Start your hike from Alice Springs

Apart from the fact that the trail has been designed this way, walking from Alice Springs means that you’ll always have the sun on your back, and not in your face! It also means that the hardest days of the hike will come at the beginning of the trip and not at the end, when you’re more likely to succumb to the heat.

4. Flash flooding is real

This natural phenomenon can occur along the trail during the warmer months, meaning the river bed can transform from bone dry to a raging torrent in a matter of hours. Be prepared for this fact whenever you decide to camp on apparently dry creek beds.

5. It’s possible to get mobile reception, but don’t rely on it

On some of the highest points of the West Macdonnell Ranges, it is possible to get enough reception to use your mobile phone. However, if you’re setting off solo, or even hiking with a buddy, it’s recommended you take an emergency beacon. You might only have the chance to regret it once.

Larapinta Trail   NT Tourism   Shaana McNaught 2Photo Credit: NT Tourism / Shaana McNaught

6. You don’t need to buy a hiking permit, but you may need to pay to camp

As mentioned, the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park is full of culturally significant artefacts that need to be respected. Wherever signposted, please adhere to rules about paying to enter campsites or swimming in protected gorges. You can find out more about this - and print maps of the entire region - from the NT Government’s Larapinta Trail website.

20180816 D3A6252 GregSullavan 2Photo Credit: Greg Sullavan

7. The best places to camp are up high

It might be tempting to crash in the valley, but you won’t regret the extra sweat when you wake up to unforgettable sunrises that can set an entire mountain range aglow. Brinkley Buff and Hilltop Lookout are only two examples that are absolute must-sees. Camping at the peak of Mount Sonder is not allowed, so be sure to wake up early and make it to the top in time.

8. Be honest with your hiking buddies

We all move at different speeds. There could be nothing worse than exhausting yourself on day one of a five day trek because your mate is a veteran of three Everest-summits while you’re on your first multi-day trip. Talk to each other BEFORE frustration and fatigue sets in, (which it will) and strongly consider walkie talkies if anything should go wrong. In any case, part of the attraction of the wide open spaces is the wide open spaces.

20180817 D3A6467 GregSullavan 2Photo Credit: Greg Sullavan

9. Take only pictures, leave only footprints

There are no bins on the Larapinta Trail, so take only what you need and leave nothing behind. This includes food, which if you’re taking on the full distance can be organised in drops with the help of the Larapinta Trail Trek Support team. An amazing service that comes highly recommended.

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10. Pack light but don’t forget anything!

This is obvious, but just like walkie talkies and emergency beacons, it’s worth having everything you need when you need it. Mosquito repellent is a case in point because depending on the time of year, there’s hardly any respite from the Territory's wide range of flying midgies. Sunscreen is also vitally important, as is a sturdy water bottle, which may literally save your life! 

Larapinta Trail   NT Tourism   Paddy PallinPhoto Credit: NT Tourism / Paddy Pallin

For a thorough breakdown of each of the 12 sections of the Larapinta Trail we highly recommend this article by We Are Explorers. It takes you through the highlights, unmissable geographical features and gives a summary of the type of walking required from Alice Springs to Ormiston Gorge. Also very useful is the comprehensive Larapinta Trail website which has maps, videos and more information about this iconic outback adventure!

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