Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Larapinta Trail

This is my first trip to the Red Centre Green Centre. Yup, very green Centre. This has been an excellent season for rainfall in central Australia, the infamously dry Todd River in Alice Springs has flowed five times already. Everywhere is green, and desert wildflowers are in bloom.

Larapinta Trail, West Macdonnell Ranges, Alice Springs

On the second day of the Larapinta Trail hike I met two girls from Alice. They were hiking the Trail because it had been such an excellent season. They assured me the landscape was covered in green plants, normally it was dominated by dry spinifex and red rock. One had lived in Alice for 20 years and knew her flowers well, some of the ones we were seeing are so rare she did not know what they were. They only flower after consistent rains, and that hasn't happened in twenty years. In the first four months of this year, it rained 372mm, last year only 116mm of rain fell, 302mm the year before that.

Almost every day I saw flowers I did not recall seeing previously. Some on mountain tops - many, some in open country, some only in sheltered gorges. They came in every colour: red, purple, yellow, pink, blue.

The Larapinta Trail took me somewhat by surprise, not least because of how green it was and the flowers, but also how magnificent the landscape was. It struck me as a kind of mixture between the Flinders Ranges and New Zealand. Dramatic red parallel mountain ranges, rocky outcrops, gum lined creeks - some with large pools of water, some dry. New Zealand? The mountain tops, vast windswept valleys with small, almost alpine like plants.

The weather in the desert winter is perfect for hiking. Warm, sunny days, between 18 and 20 degrees. Cold nights, about zero to five degrees. Nice for a small campfire, although, of course, we didn't have any, the collection of firewood is not permitted in national parks.

There are a few curiosities along the trail. Firstly, the debacle of Mt Sonder. All the literature and signage suggests you climb to the summit, when you do not. The cairn, marking the alleged summit, even states it is Mt Sonder summit, 1380m above sea level. You can't miss the Mt Sonder proper summit, laying immediately in front of you, across a small gully some 750m or so to the north east. The false summit is about 30 metres lower than the proper summit. This theme is continued, between Serpentine Gorge and Ellery Creek lies a trig, with a somewhat homemade look about it, which it would have, since it doesn't even mark the highest point of the low rocky outcrop, surrounded by larger mountains.

One website describes this section as "This is arguably the most boring section of the entire trail." Going further, "prepare to tear your hair out in frustration," referring to the constant hills and ridges the track follows, when there is a seemingly good route a few hundred metres to the south over flat land. "If you are a bird watcher or bushwalker this section may not be too bad," they state. Too right. Didn't mind a bit.

The trail regularly went up to the top of a hill or mountain, providing wonderfully scenic spots for breaks. From many of these Mt Sonder, and further beyond it, Mt Zeil, Northern Territory's highest peak, dominated the distant west.

I started from the western end of the trail, the alleged end of the trail. The trail starts just four kilometres north of Alice Springs at the Old Telegraph Station, running 223km westwards along the West Macdonnell Ranges to Mt Sonder. It made more logistical sense for me to start from the western end. I paid Alice Wanderer, a local bus company, $400 to transfer me from Alice Springs to the western end, which included two food drops along the way. The food drops are securely stowed in locked rooms, and they provided me with a plastic tub for each drop. If I hiked the trail out from Alice Springs, I would have to pay for the food drops to be driven out, and pay to be collected from the end. This would have cost something like $580, and I would have a schedule to meet.

I met several parties of hikers on the first day and night. The Mt Sonder summit (read false summit) hike is popular amongst day hikers. As it is a return hike, the campsite near the trailhead often has more people camping there: those starting out on the trail and about to undertake the summit hike, those just completed the summit hike, and those completing the trail and waiting for a lift back to Alice Springs. The campsite is not marked on the 2006 map edition, but is located just 200 metres from the trailhead, on the banks of Redbank Creek.

On the second night, at the excellent Finke River campsite, I was enjoying the free gas hotplates in the evening light, the sun having set just moments before, when a solitary hiker stumbled in. Cutting it fine, he had only left Redbank Gorge to hike the 26 kilometres at 11am. He had to catch up with his son, who had started out three days previously. I met the son the following day as i passed through a campsite, and the pair of them stumbled into a my campsite further down the trail just moments after the sun sunk over the horizon. We had similar hiking schedules, so hiked and camped together for the following days.

The trail is well marked with blue arrows, and generally well formed. Only on the rocky mountain tops did I ever stray from the trail, and usually it was just a matter of looking for the rocks crushed underfoot, or the white dust from within the crushed rocks.

Trail facilities are generally good. The shelter at Finke River was particularly impressive, of a similar standard to the Bibblimun Track and Munda Biddi Tracks in Western Australia. It included ample roofing, sleeping platforms, a vermin proof cupboard for food, multiple water tanks, a picnic table and benches, and, yes wait for it, a couple of gas hotplates. This shelter isn't shown on the 2006 edition maps, so a little research pays off. A good website for that would be the website, look at the Sections page for details of camp facilities and an honest, if not brutal, appraisal of the trail terrain. A little overwhelming perhaps to sort through before hiking any of the trail, but regardless a good supplement to the maps.

Water seems readily available at water tanks, and we had to drink none of the bore water that was about. Naturally, with so much rain, there was ample flowing water in the creeks. Many of the larger rivers required detours of several hundred metres to skirt around the widest, muddiest sections of the large pools.

I wasn't sure how long the trail would take me. The trail is divided into 12 sections, but some of these are defined as two day sections, with campsite options midway. That said, they didn't seem to be uncheckable far apart for a hiker like myself, so I used that as my template. So the trail could be hiked in as little as 11 or 12 days, but many hikers take their time, using up to 19 or 20 days. I had food for 16 days, and a few options to spread that food further, and there was kiosk near the end with a few basic supplies.

That said, my hike came to rather an abrupt end at Ellery Creek. I had hiked five days and 100 kilometres, six days and 120 kilometres remained.

There are two albums this time, one general album, and one devoted to all the desert wildflowers I saw.

General album:

Desert wildflowers album:

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit.
Download file in GPX format to directly upload to most GPS units.

Tracks and waypoints sourced from two sources. Source 1: Sections 7 through to 11 (excluding the last 6km of Section 11) - handheld GPS device. Source 2:- sections 1 through to 6 and Section 12 - from


The Larapinta Trail
Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday
07/08/2010 08/08/2010 09/08/2010 10/08/2010 11/08/2010
Redbank Gorge to Mt Sonder and

Redbank Gorge to Finke River Finke River to Waterfall Gorge Waterfall Gorge to Counts

Counts Point to Ellery Creek
Distance 14.55km 25.91km 22.86km 17.68km 18.97km
Start Time 10.36am 7.41am 7.51am 8.11am 7.10am
End Time 3.15pm 3.27pm 3.56pm 5.46pm 2.57pm
Moving Duration 3h14m 5h21m 5h35m 5h38m 5h24m
Stationary Duration 1h25m 2h27m 2h38m 3h57m 2h23m
Moving Average 4.5km/h 4.8km/h 4.1km/h 3.1km/h 3.5km/h
Overall Average 3.1km/h 3.3km/h 2.8km/h 1.8km/h 2.4km/h
Oodometer 14.5km 40.5km 63.3km 81.0km 100.0km
Overnight Low -0.2C 1.1C 0.9C 2.6C -0.4C

1 comment:

Unknown said...

great work in documenting your walk. For someone doing it in the future its a great resource.thanks

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