The Lonely Planet Adventures: The Larapinta Trail

In 1908, it was called the finest walk in the world. It's still the country's most popular hike

Every day, busloads, carloads and planeloads of people squirm through the mountains of Fiordland National Park to visit New Zealand's postcard-perfect Milford Sound, but once it was only walkers who could make it to these shores.

Not all desert adventures need be about hardship and Herculean endurance. First mooted as a walking trail in 1987, and completed 15 years later, the Larapinta Trail delves into central Australia’s finest natural features – waterholes, gorges, razorback ridges – squeezing the beauty out of Australia’s harshest desert environment. Such is its accessibility, that the Larapinta has become one of the most popular long-distance trails in the country.

It begins (or ends, depending on which direction you choose to walk it in) at the actual springs that the township of Alice Springs is named after. The trail follows the length of the West MacDonnell Ranges to its most striking peak, Mt Sonder. Its 223km of twists, turns, mountains and gorges are divided into 12 sections, each somewhere between 13km and 31km in length. Every section represents a day or two of walking, and each is intent on showing off hidden mountain wonders.

Campsites are spaced at manageable distances and, though the land is as dry as bones, there are water tanks acting as virtual oases found no more than 33km apart.

Along the way the trail passes through tourist set-pieces such as Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Serpentine Gorge, the Ochre Pits, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Resort, but also seeks out walker-only delights such as Hugh Gorge, Inhalanga Pass and the signature Larapinta view at Counts Point, one of the West MacDonnells’ best lookouts.

The adventure unfolds

It’s been a long haul across the desert plain, switching from one line of mountains to the other, but you’ve finally arrived at Hugh Gorge. Inside, the rock walls are as smooth as plates, towering above you as you step around waterholes. At Hugh Gorge Junction, the trail turns east into Linear Valley but you continue up the gorge for a few hundred metres, until its walls almost clamp shut above a waterhole.

You turn back to camp at the base of Razorback Ridge, saving this gymnastic mountain ascent for the morning. The cry of a dingo cuts through the evening and temperatures slip below freezing as you lie beneath a sky flecked with stars.

When the sun hits in the morning, the mercury rises. It’s a long hot day across the ridge, the exposed rock feeling like the very bones of the land, but soon you’re weaving through dry Spencer Gorge to Birthday Waterhole. The gift here is rest. It’s been a tough few days and tomorrow brings another ascent to Brinkley Bluff.

Approached from the west like this it’s a grunt of a climb, ascending 500m to its summit, where you make camp before a golden sunset. You half-expect to be able to look west and see Mt Sonder yet again. This mountain, shaped like a sleeping woman, has been part of your view for so many days. But the mountain is gone; you’ve finally left it behind. Instead, to the east, there’s a faint glow of light on the horizon that can only be Alice Springs. The end is nigh.

Making it happen

Independent walkers can make food drops at Standley Chasm, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen Resort and the walkers’ camp at Serpentine Gorge, meaning they need carry only four or five days’ worth of food at a time.

A number of companies lead guided walks on the trail. Locally operated Trek Larapinta is one of the most experienced. There are also walker shuttle services to Mt Sonder from Alice Springs.

This is an extract from ‘Great Adventures’, published by Lonely Planet (£29.99). Readers can buy a copy for £25, including UK P&P, by going to shop.lonelyplanet.com and using the code INDEPENDENT

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people

Actress isn't a fan of Ed Miliband

Arts and Entertainment
Rooney Mara plays a white Tiger Lily in forthcoming film Pan
filmFirst look at Rooney Mara in Pan
Life and Style
health

Do you qualify – and how do you get it?

News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
i100
News
Privately schooled, Oxford educated and a former editor of arguably the world's poshest magazine 'The Lady', it's perhaps unsurprising that Rachel Johnson rarely mixes with ordinary Proles.
people

The Mayor of London's sister, Rachel Johnson, apologises for shocking tweet about the PM

Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital