Having completed the Larapinta Trail, I thought I would write about my opinion of it, and add something about the logistics of organising the hike. Read my day-by-day account of the trail here.
Wow! What a hike! The Larapinta Trail can’t be faulted in any way and is one of my favourite ever hikes. Everything about the trail is well organised, from the website, trail notes and really amazing maps (you buy the maps and trail notes as a package), to the campsites and water tanks. The trail is well waymarked, so it’s very difficult to get lost.
The trail notes give an estimate of the amount of time each section should take. We found these timings really generous, meaning that slower, more unfit hikers can easily complete each section in the designated time. Fit (or super light-weight) hikers can do another section the same day if they feel like it, and if weather permits.
I should have brought a book to read as some sections are very short and we often spent hours at camp.
Before hiking the trail, I had the impression that it was really in the wilderness. This isn’t quite the case (although if you’re bitten by a snake then it might take a long time for someone to come and help you). There’s a tourist road running through the West MacDonnell Ranges, meaning that tourists can access many of the same gorges as hikers by car. This means that at Redbank gorge, Ormiston gorge, Angkerie Atwatye (Standley Chasm), Ellery Creek, Serpentine gorge and Simpsons Gap you’ll see tourists and cars.
We walked the trail the opposite way to the official trail notes, from Redbank gorge to Mparntwe (Alice Springs). This didn’t really matter because there are waymarkers that guide you in both directions. It was more of a problem when reading the trail notes. I calculated that at least half of the 2017 hikers walked the trail from Redbank to Alice…maybe it’s time for the Larapinta officials to make trail notes for people hiking in this direction!
Oh, the flies! If you’re thinking of walking the trail, you’ve probably read about the flies. They’re everywhere and they’re persistent. They were crawling into our eyes and mouths. There was barely a moment when flies weren’t buzzing around us, but we kind of got used to it. We saw some tourists with fly nets on their hats, but we never bothered with them.
The Larapinta campsites are free (with a couple of exceptions) and well maintained, and all have water tanks. Many have shelters to protect hikers from the heat (or thunderstorms!). Toilets even had toilet paper in, and the water tanks had ample water in. (I felt very grateful to the rangers who drive in and stock up the tanks with water…the trail would not be possible without these people).
There were barely any water sources in between the water tanks, meaning that carrying a water purifier wasn’t really necessary. However, we did purify our water on one occasion – when there were frogs living in one of the water tanks. I use the Grayl purifying bottle.
When hiking, we walked to a number of Aboriginal sacred sites. I was concerned about this…should I really be here, and did the trail organisers seek permission when putting this trail through Arrernte land? My mind was put to rest when we chatted to an Aboriginal man called Laurie after the trail. He told us that the trail is “all above board” and that the custodians of the land were consulted about it.
Reflections on the weather
We hiked in October 2017, and sometimes had boiling weather in the late 30s. I wrote in my diary of the hike that we met no other thru-hikers on the trail, and had every campsite to ourselves! We counted the number of thru-hikers who had signed one campsite’s logbook. July and August were by far the busiest months. Although October was too hot at times, it had its advantages. The mornings weren’t cold, and we never had to worry about whether a site would be busy! Areas felt more remote because there was literally no-one around.
If I were to do the trail again, I’d probably pick May, June or September to hike.
We quickly learnt that the weather is unpredictable, and the forecasts – when we had phone signal to access them – were often wrong.
Doing the Larapinta on a tight budget: getting to/from the trailhead
Some prospective hikers might be put off when researching the trail because it can be a very costly hike if you arrange for a company to do your food-drops and to transport you to the trailhead.
We wouldn’t have been able to afford to do the hike if we’d done this. To make the trail cheap, we hitchhiked to the start of the trail at Redbank gorge. It took the whole afternoon, but eventually we got there! Tourists ply the road through the West MacDonnell Ranges, so hitchhiking shouldn’t be a problem for people.
If you’re walking the opposite way to us – from Alice to Redbank – then hitchhiking back also shouldn’t be a problem. There are two tourist campsites (with water tanks) at Redbank gorge (situated up the hill from the Larapinta campsite), meaning that a hiker finishing the trail should have no problem securing a lift back to the city.
Doing the food drops on a tight budget
Thru-hiking the trail involves organising a number of food-drops, as there’s no shops along the way. A number of companies offer to do this service for you. We opted to hitchhike to the places where we wanted to drop off our food.
As I said before, the tourist road through the MacDonnell Ranges visits many of the gorges on the trail. These tourist sites are also the places where the food lockers are for your food-drops. Therefore, hitchhiking with tourists and doing our food drops ourselves was pretty easy.
So, on the same journey – hitchhiking to the trailhead at Redbank gorge – we stopped off at a Ellery Creek and Glen Helen and dropped off our food. (We picked up the storage locker key for Ellery Creek at the tourist information office in Alice beforehand).
We did another food drop at Standley Chasm. We called them before we started the hike, and they happened to have staff visiting Alice, who picked up our food box for us and stored them, free of charge. In fact, none of the people storing our food charged us money. Thank you!
We also read that it’s possible to book a tour bus, which stops at all the gorges, and do the food drops at the same time.
The only problem with doing the food drops ourselves was that we had to provide our own big plastic food containers. We ended up leaving them in the food storage rooms because we didn’t want to hike out with them. This meant that our boxes were left to litter the rooms until a ranger cleared them out.
There are cafes with cooked food available at Ormiston gorge, Glen Helen (off the trail), and Standley Chasm.
Shoes worn on the trail
Me and Chris have different opinions on hiking shoes, so he did the trail using a pair of Salomon shoe/boot hybrids, whereas I wore Saucony trail runners.
Both choices were fine. The Saucony shoes gripped well to the dry, sometimes steep rocks, and they still had a lot of life in them after the trail.
For Chris, he thought that the boots gave him the protection he wanted on the rocky terrain, although he complained that it didn’t take long for the tips of the boots to start coming away. He tends to stumble more than other hikers, so he felt that the ankle support was very good for him.