Planning to do a guided tour of the Northern Territory’s Larapinta Trail? Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or first-timer, read our guide for handy trek tips, answers to frequently asked questions and practical advice to help you prepare for the walk and make things easier along the way.
There are several tour operators who offer guided treks of the Larapinta Trail, ranging from a few days to the full length which takes 14 to 16 days, depending on the company.
We did a three-day tour with the folks at Trek Larapinta, who offer sustainably run, small-group tours. They suggest this shorter trail, along with their six- and nine-day itineraries, for walkers of any level. Their Super Six Day and end-to-end trips (16 days) are designed for more seasoned hikers. Choosing an experienced operator you feel comfortable with will give you the confidence to enjoy the trek – and the comfort of having everything set up and prepared for you!
How to prepare for the Larapinta Trail
It’s not just about training to walk longer distances, although this is a great place to start when it comes to reaching a level of fitness you’re confident with. Itineraries are usually flexible and can be adapted to the ability of the group and the weather conditions to ensure everyone’s safety. Guides lead the way but walkers set their own pace during the day as the terrain can be varied, ranging from sandy and hilly to rocky and steep. Practice walking on different terrain (not just on paths) and up inclines and downhill.
To start with, try to work up to carrying a few kilos of water with the backpack you’ll be taking to test out how comfortable it is over longer periods of time. Make adjustments to the shoulder and chest straps and waist belt to ensure you get the correct fit. You can also check access to pockets and your water bottle or bladder. If you are taking a bladder with a drinking tube, give it a thorough rinse and try out the mouthpiece to ensure there’s enough water flowing through.
The right shoes are crucial for an enjoyable trip. Give them a proper workout with the socks you intend to wear. If possible, take them out for a spin on more uneven terrain and be sure to navigate a decent downhill to ensure your toes have enough room. If your shoes are more than a few years old, check the glue around the soles, the state of the tread and laces and repair or replace them if necessary.
Give your clothing and gear the once-over, too. Make sure the fabric of your rain jacket is still waterproof and in good condition, adjust and practise using your walking poles, make sure you have a hat that has a wide enough brim to protect your face and the back of your neck – a chin strap will help with those unexpected gusts of wind.
How many days does the Larapinta Trail take?
Companies offer tours of the full walk, which takes between 14 to 16 days, but most also offer three-, six- and nine-day versions.
How far do you have to walk each day?
Depending on the length of the tour, shorter days range from eight to 14 kilometres, longer days are around the 20-kilometre mark and there are a couple of days that are longer than 25 kilometres. The longest day on the three-day tour we took was around 16 kilometres – although incidental walking around camp can quickly add a couple of extra kilometres.
What to pack
The gear list provided by your tour operator should have details of everything you need to take but there are a few things to consider:
- Sunscreen: Take a waterproof 50+ SPF – it will last longer and require less reapplication as you will get sweaty while on the trail. An SPF-rated lip balm is also recommended.
- Spare shoes: Consider this if you haven’t had a chance to properly break your shoes in or if they’re a few years old. A pair of sneakers or back-up shoes with decent tread could come in handy.
- Neck-gaiter: Use these to protect your neck from the sun, especially if you don’t have a collared shirt. Wet and wring it out before wearing it and keep it damp to stay cooler on hot days.
- Mosquito repellent: If you’re prone to being feasted upon, bring some to use at the camp.
- Electrolyte tablets or sachets: There are some at camp, but sometimes you may want to have one while you’re walking.
- Head torch/lamp: Most trekking company’s packing lists have this but it should be stressed that it is very important to bring one along and you’ll soon realise how handy it is to have hands-free light at the campsite.
- Long pants: Even if you prefer to hike in shorts, once you discover a variety of thorny plant called dead finish that loves to grow along the trail (especially on the way up to Counts Point), you may want to have the option to protect your legs.
- Water bladder/bottles: Ensure you have capacity to take at least three litres of water with you – preferably four. It’s easier and more convenient to take along a water bladder with a drinking tube or a smaller 750ml or one-litre bottle to refill along with a water bladder. You can fill the bladders as required without taking up excess room in your pack.
When it comes to packing, check your pockets. Figure out where and how to pack what you need during the day to ensure it’s easily accessible, such as snacks and trail mix (which will be provided), water bottle/s and bladder, sunscreen and toilet paper (also provided).
You can pack things like your rain jacket and camera in your bag – most of the stops you’ll take for drinks, lunch and rest breaks are in scenic spots and you’ll have time to take out your camera and snap a few shots.
Where to stay
The folks at Trek Larapinta recommend the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Alice Springs. The recently refurbished rooms are spacious and comfortable, with balconies facing the pool at the centre of the complex (home to the hotel’s resident peacock) or the nearby MacDonnell Ranges. Convenient features include a decent-sized bar fridge to chill water and any goodies you may want to take with you, room service, a bath to soak in, a luggage storage service so you can stow away anything you may not want to take with you and plenty of places to air out your clothes before you leave (on the furniture outside or the pull-out clothes line in the bathroom).
While you’re there, don’t miss dining at one of the town’s most celebrated restaurants, Hanuman, located just off the foyer (book ahead to avoid disappointment). The Deck Bar is positioned at the front of the property and another restaurant, Saltbush, sits at the other end of the lobby building. The latter offers a full breakfast buffet complete with omelette station from 6.30am, so you can get in a proper meal before the team picks you up early in the morning for your Trek Larapinta briefing session at Simpsons Gap – a fitting backdrop to start the tour.
What to expect from the tour experience
Remember, it’s a group experience and the dynamic of the group is what you make of it!
Your tour guide will be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have about the day ahead. All experiences and skill levels are catered for – it’s best to be honest about how you’re feeling and whether you have any discomfort or blisters, if you’re running out of water or feeling dehydrated, or if you have any other problems, such as with your gear. This will not only ensure your safety but it will also mean you'll really get the chance to focus on your surroundings. It’s all about the amazing scenery, the atmosphere of the outback and being able to be somewhere that you can only walk to.
Finally, be considerate and supportive of your fellow walkers. Take the opportunity to be sociable, especially during downtime, travelling and meals – it will generally make for a more convivial atmosphere and a better experience for everyone involved, including your guides.
What to expect at camp
Trek Larapinta’s semi-permanent camp is located in and around a dry river bed and packed up at the end of every season. It’s set up with a camp kitchen, where your meals will be prepared for you, two composting toilets, a “bird bath”, tents for guests, a firepit and a communal dining set-up consisting of camp chairs, complete with handy side tables and drink holders.
- Sleeping arrangements: Guests stay in tents set up as single or twin with camp beds. They are also provided with a mattress, pillow, bed linen and a swag, should they want to sleep outdoors. This option is worth a try for at least a night – the weather is mild and it’s quite an experience to sleep under the stars. Just be sure to have some mosquito repellent on hand!
- Bathing: There is a very efficient solar hot water system and a beautifully arranged private bathing area. Guests help themselves to a generous bowl of hot water and a cup, indicate the bush shower as occupied and bathe under the trees.
- Toileting: The composting toilets are very clean and do not smell at all – the collected waste is taken off site and eventually turns into inert compost (the process takes around two years) and a local farmer uses this to fertilise the land on his organic farm.
- Food and drink: You’ll be amazed at what the guides can prepare in the camp kitchen for breakfasts and dinners. Buffet-style meals are generous, well balanced, nutritious and flavoursome and all dietary needs are easily catered for. Some chilled water is available before mealtimes, as are a range of electrolyte drinks and cordials (and freshly brewed coffee and tea in the mornings, of course). Snacks (trail mix, muesli bars, fruit) are available for guests to take on the following day’s hike. Just remember not to take them back to the tent as they will attract critters (mice)!
- Alcohol: You can bring alcohol to drink during your trip – although you may find you want to drink less than you normally do at mealtimes in order to stay hydrated.
Sustainability and socially responsible tourism
Guides encourage participants to be conscious of water use and to have as minimal an impact on the environment as possible. They are familiar not only with the plants and flowers and their traditional uses, but also with some of the Tjukurpa stories of Arrernte Country. It’s fascinating and offers a cultural perspective to the experience beyond the geographical history of the area.
Trek Larapinta also organises volunteer groups to prepare and maintain the trail in the off-season and work with the local Indigenous community to regenerate the seasonal campsite back to its original state. At the end of the season everything is taken off-site, including the kitchen shelter and furniture. The garbage, compost and waste is removed after each group leaves.
What to expect on the trail
You’ll be driven from camp early in the morning to the starting point of each day’s walk. The terrain and coverage throughout the trek varies depending on which part you’re walking that day. You’ll find yourself walking on gravelly dirt, hopping across boulders or picking your way across rocky slopes. And while some parts of the trail snake through shadier, forested areas, many sections span open areas with little shade.
- Lunch: There’s no way to describe it other than the ultimate sandwich (roll) spread. Every filling miraculously emerges unscathed from your guide’s backpack and is sliced, shredded or chopped and presented alongside condiments. Drink options? Hydralytes, of course.
- Water and hydration: Heat exhaustion is real. Always take at least the amount of water your guide recommends with you on your walk each day. Take regular drink stops and don’t try to conserve water because you think you won’t have enough for the end of the day. If you want to have electrolytes, it’s best to bring a cup or mug to dissolve them in, instead of making them in your water bottle or bladder.
- Toileting: On the trail things are a little… trickier, but quite manageable – just watch out for the spikier plants and grasses such as dead finish and spinifex. It’s easier (and less embarrassing) to have a personal stash of toilet paper on hand.
Here’s what you can expect on each day of the three-day guided walk.
At eight kilometres this circuit trail is a relatively easy day, winding up and over the entrance to the pound. There isn’t much cover as you ascend, but you’ll be rewarded with a wide view of the pound from edge to edge and the river bed below. Down into the pound, you’ll make your way across the grassy flat towards the dry river bed to lunch under the gums. Then continue across the dry river and out over the large rocks between the steep red-orange walls of Ormiston Gorge. On your way out, you’ll walk (or swim) through the waterhole to head up to Ghost Gum Lookout to see back through the gorge and view from high above the water below.
Tip for the day: Take a moment to have a drink when you pass a tree that provides proper shade.
This challenging one-way 15-kilometre walk starts at Serpentine Gorge, taking you up to the top of the Heavitree Range, where you’ll make your way along its windy, shrub-strewn spine and up to Counts Point. Here you’ll have 360-degree panoramas of multiple ranges on either side and it’s well worth navigating past the dead finish growing on the sides of the trail to take in the view. Enjoy lunch under the trees before making your way back to the pick-up point. There are steep parts towards the end of the day but there’s also a little more shade.
Tip for the day: Wear long pants.
Clocking in at about 16 kilometres and involving an ascent up the mountaintop of 1380 metres, this is one of the longer days. The beginning of the trek is a steep and rocky uphill and the rest of the day dips and rises along the distinctive curves of the mountain (there is a Tjukurpa story about what they represent) through areas with lots of trees and vegetation. You’ll have plenty of time to have a snack and take it all in before making your way back down. This last part of the walk can be very exposed but isn’t too hilly or as rocky. If there’s time, you may be rewarded with a swim in one of the nearby gorges to cool off.
Tip for the day: Drink plenty of water.
Kings Canyon side trip
Got more time in the Red Centre? While the Uluru Base Walk is probably already on your list of warm-up walks to do, Kings Canyon, about a three-and-a-half drive from Alice Springs, might have flown under your radar. The six-kilometre Kings Canyon Rim Walk starts off steeply but the well-constructed stairs make it easy to ascend. It’s a worthy and walkable warm-up trip with spectacular views down into the eponymous canyon and of the surrounding plains. You can also choose to walk into the gorge on a short, sweet and level walk along the creek – about 2.6 kilometres return. Both walks start from the carpark at Watarrka National Park, a short drive from nearby Kings Canyon Resort.
The well-positioned resort has accommodation ranging from tent sites to kitted-out luxury glamping tents and en suite sites for campers or caravans to newly renovated, air-conditioned resort rooms with private balconies.
You’ll find every required amenity provided onsite. There’s a general store and fuel station, a casual bistro restaurant and bar, an outdoor pool, which kids will love and adults will happily cool off in, and a substantial breakfast spread offered at Carmichael’s Restaurant – the perfect way to start a day’s walk.
The helpful staff at reception can help with directions and maps and you can buy a Mereenie Loop permit, for travel between Hermannsburg or Glen Helen and the national park, at the fuel station.