Think of Australia’s
Red Centre and you may picture emblematic attractions such as the soaring ochre
monolith of Uluru
(Ayers Rock) or the mysterious wind-blown valleys of The
Olgas, all surrounded by shimmering heat and inhospitable desert
parchedness. But unknown to many, the area also serves as a backdrop for one of
the most impressive long-distance walks in Australia.
of mountain trails, dusty desert tracks and narrow canyons, the Larapinta Trail offers
travellers the chance to experience Australia’s pure desert heart in all its enormity. Out here, the peace is complete, the sky is endless and the varied
landscapes throw in new challenges each day. You can stand on a ridge and gaze
over an endless landscape where nothing is manmade.
this desert territory is both a physical and mental challenge of
endurance and isolation; most days you may not see another soul. But if you do, there is plenty of vastness
to accommodate all.
Larapinta can be walked end to end – a serious 18- to 20-day odyssey ― or it
can be tackled in parts via any of the 12 distinct sections that
are connected by Namatjira Drive, a paved road that runs parallel to the
MacDonnell Ranges for the length of the route. Road access also means that you
food drops to trailhead storage rooms supplied by trail management.
the Old Signal Station on
the edge of Alice Springs, a central town in Australia’s Northern Territory,
the Larapinta leads right into the magnificently crumpled West MacDonnell
Ranges. Trail signs and distance markers begin here and run the whole length of
the route, most of which is encompassed within the West MacDonnell National Park.
The first day
of the trail crosses the wide open desert panoramas of Euro Ridge, advancing to
the breathtaking, unpeopled expanse seen from Brinkley Bluff on day four or
five. From Mount Sonder at the trail’s eastern end, you can look back over much
of the route – or gaze further on into the inconceivable hugeness of
to traversing mountaintops and valleys, hikers will need to tackle gorges and
chasms, sculpted by aeons of water and wind. At Hugh Gorge, walkers may need to
take off their boots and cross through water, while incredible Standley
Chasm has towering rock walls that blaze a fiery vermillion when lit by the
Larapinta Trail winds its way through the MacDonnell Ranges, it traverses the
traditional territories of the Arrente and Luritja tribes. To learn about the
land and its people, walkers can embark on a journey guided by its
One of the
trail’s highlights is camping out in the velvet dark of the desert night under
an astounding display of stars. From sandy riverbed campsites you
can watch flocks of colourful parrots as the sun goes down, and the night becomes even more eerie when
dingoes fill the darkness with their howls.
Where you make camp
each night depends mostly on the availability of water. During winter, you may
come across enough water in the day to camp wild at night. Otherwise – unless
natural sources are brimming – you will need to replenish at campsite tanks set
along the trail.
desert centre is a place of extremes. The antipodean winter (May to August) is
the best time to tackle the trail, since daytime temperatures stay around a comfortable
20C (though a water bottle can freeze inside your tent at night). During the blazing
summer, walking is not recommended. The heat can climb to 45C and heat stroke
and dehydration are real risks.
The Larapinta Trail
is for experienced walkers who are familiar with the physical and mental
challenge of walking all day, in deep isolation and camping in the frigid
desert night. Make sure you have well worn boots, a tried-and-tested backpack, a
sturdy tent, a warm sleeping bag, a reliable cooking stove (no fires are
allowed on the trail), and an emergency communication device like a satellite
phone or a personal
If organising a
Larapinta odyssey seems too daunting, the trail can be experienced with
knowledgeable walking guides who take care of navigation, food, transfers,
planning and logistics. All you have to do is walk ― and carry your pack.
Several outdoor outfitters, such as Trek Larapinta, offer guided trips for parts or the
whole length of the trail.
If you prefer
not to abandon hot showers, arrange your trip with World Expeditions.
This will give you access to permanent campsites and solar-heated water, and
you will only need to carry a daypack while vehicles
whisk your gear to each night’s campsite.