Australia’s most iconic outback trek was the last tick on my Australian Bucket List, and one of the first things I tell people to add to theirs. The landscape is truly extraordinary, and with World Expeditions taking care of everything including the logistics, meals and accommodation, you don’t have to sweat it either. As with all the other experiences in my book, just a few photos made it to print, but I took so many more. I thought I’d share some of them this month as the outback sun cools down and the Larapinta Trail season kicks into high gear.
Firstly, a shout out to my group. Yes, they happened to be predominately women, which is awesome, and from New South Wales, which we won’t hold against them ; ) Point is, doing the Larapinta in Comfort, as this World Expeditions package is called, will appeal to all shapes and sizes, and anyone who enjoys day hikes. Don’t be put off by the multi-day trekking aspect of it, because we’re not in the Himalayas, there’s no altitude, and the pace is doable for anyone with a modicum of fitness. Two exceptionally able guides are with you all times, and if you want to sit it out, that’s entirely up to you. While I wouldn’t recommend this one for young kids, trekkers well into their 70’s have been “smashing the ‘Pinta” successfully for years.
I took this picture just minutes into the start of our six day adventure. Everyone was fresh and eager and getting to know each other on the trail. It’s also a good opportunity to figure out how your boots, poles and gear is going to hold up in the days ahead.
It doesn’t take long before you crest the plateau of the West MacDonnell Ranges and instantly grasp what all the fuss is about. The gradient is relatively flat, and the views incredible. Before each leg, your guides explain what’s coming up next, and prepare you mentally for the hike ahead. There’s plenty of time to stop and take photographs. Incidentally, I carried a mirrorless Olympus to keep things light. Some hikers brought their DSLRs, others were more content to just use their phones. One of the best shots in my book was taken by a fellow hiker using her Google Pixel phone!
World Expeditions have their own impressively sustainable camps set up. It’s like camping without the hassle. Delicious meals are cooked for you, there are solar hot showers, cots and sleeping bags in large canvas tents, and couches to stretch out your feet and enjoy a glass of wine. Speaking of which: hikers can pick up their own booze in Alice Springs before the journey, which is driven ahead (along with your bags) to each campsite along the trail. Just to clarify: You’re not doing the full Larapinta trail, but a curated six-day hike that encompasses the very best bits! And compared to sleeping in a small tent, carrying all your food and cooking it on scrappy camp utensils, this is very much what comfort looks like.
Each day’s hike has a destination highlight, bursting with natural beauty and cultural significance. Sacred watering holes and slices in the red escarpment, both of which attract wildlife and wonder. They’re also great spots for snack breaks! Most of these can be accessed by bus from Alice Springs and form part of the tourist attractions in the region. You’ve come in on foot though, so you’ve earned it!
Here’s some hiking shots to give you an idea of the landscape and trail quality. Low shrubs and trees, blue skies, and comfortable trekking. Most of us used a pole or two, some didn’t feel the need for them. We carried only daypacks with snacks and water, bug spray and sunscreen. One guide in the front (with the faster walkers) and one in the back (with the straddlers, like myself).
Lunch consists of sandwiches and wraps, fruits and nuts, carried in and out by our wonderful and superhuman guides. Always a welcome opportunity to top up the energy reserves, stop in your tracks to look for wildlife, and appreciate the surprisingly dense vegetation.
The climax is undoubtedly Day 5, which involves a steep, 8-kilometre long climb up Mount Sondor to catch one of the most epic sunrises in Australia. We woke up at 3am. It’s quite an experience hiking at night under the galaxy of stars that paint the skies in this part of the world. It’s hypnotic watching your headlamp light the way forward. Mount Sondor is officially the end of the Larapinta Trail, and also its highest point. We watched the sunrise, and returned along the same path to witness the spectacular scenery we’d missed in the dark on the way up. It’s a challenging day, but after 4 days trekking, your muscles are warmed up for it, your boots are broken in, and the sheer adventure gets you over the tough part. After that, it’s downhill all the way.
The final day is an easy 6-kilometre walk into Ormiston Pound, which isn’t technically part of the Larapinta Trail, but you can quickly see why its on the itinerary. Hiking between the spiky spiniflex, we were asked by our guides to enter the gorge in silence, reflecting on the beauty around us, and also the adventure we’d had this past week. It’s a very special place, and impossible not to enjoy a very special moment. From here, the bus picked us up, and returned us to our hotels in Alice Springs. The group met up that night for dinner and drinks, and a well-earned toast to one of the greatest adventures on The Great Australian Bucket List.
Special thanks to the ‘Smashin’ the Pinta’ crew who made my experience so memorable.
If you’re inspired to tick off the Larapinta Trail, click here for more information from World Expeditions.