which direction should I walk the larapinta trail?
W2E (West to East)
From a point of logistics I think it is easier to hike West to East in terms of pick up/drop off. If you start your hike at Yarretyeke / Redbank Gorge then you can adjust the length of your trip without affecting any booked pick-ups at the other end (as you finish in Alice Springs). I.e. if you're half way through and feeling pretty cooked, you can just take an extra, unplanned rest day, as it's only going to change the day you arrive at Alice Springs - you're not going to be missing your (expensive) booked ride home from Yarretyeke/Redbank.
It also means that to begin your trek, you can be a little more flexible in starting day/time and potentially hitchhike to the start to avoid having to pay the pick up/drop off fees offered by the companies. However, this is assuming you have a little time up your sleeve and don't have a flight booked out of Alice right after the end of the trek like we did.
Obviously when you are booking it may be quite far out from your actual hike commence date, so you are able to amend your campsites (dependant on availability) closer to the date. This can be done by calling the NT Parks directly if you haven't left for your hike yet. Also, if your plan changes whilst you're out on trail and you need to change where you're sleeping, then you're not going to get in trouble. It's just that sites may be busier than expected. Understandably the NT Parks try to control the number of hikers to avoid any one campsite being completely overrun with people on any one night - which we greatly appreciated.
This page is a great resource for all NT Parks Larapinta Trail Information.
Companies to organise food drops for the Larapinta Trail
The companies will drop you big plastic tubs to your accomodation that you can fill with whatever you like. They then come and pick them up and drop them out to your chosen locations on trail (different companies may offer different locations). They will then pick up the boxes (perhaps full of your rubbish from the previous section) for you afterwards on trail so you don't need to worry about them.
Important things to note:
We chose to have 2 food drops on the hike, meaning that at any given stage the max amount of food we were carrying was 4 days worth. Which is great because food sure adds up in pack weight.
Some of the companies to use for the above services include:
People often complain that these services are expensive, however when you take into account the cost of fuel needed to drop these boxes out there, or pick someone up, it would cost quite a lot to do it yourself. It would also take a long time, so if you don't have time up your sleeve before and after your hike these services are a great option.
AccomModation in alice springs (before and after larapinta trail)
What kind of food to pack on the Larapinta Trail?
For us it was important to have bulk calories, fibre and protein with each of our meals and throughout the day. As we don't own a dehydrator, and didn't want to use up too much of our limited pre-hike spare time buying one, creating multiple meals and then packaging them we opted for supermarket bought items. We also crammed this hike into Sean's limited holiday time mid year, so flew into and out of Alice with our hiking packs - limiting the amount of food we could realistically pack with us on the plane. As a result, we bought most of our hiking food from the major supermarkets in Alice. Here is an example of what we ate most days on the trail. I'm a vegetarian and Sean eats everything so there are options here for everyone.
Something else to note about food on the Larapinta Trail and your food drops is to pack some fun things (that may be heavier) in your drop boxes! We had a few things in there in particular which were super yum to when we got to our re-supply points!
How to keep your food safe on the Larapinta Trail
How much water to carry on the Larapinta Trail?
What shoes should I hike the Larapinta trail in?
Larapinta Hike Trail Report (a recap of my time on the trail)
Below is a report of my time on the Larapinta with my husband in June 2023.
We hiked over 9 days, averaging around 25-30km a day. This is faster than most people do it, and to be completely transparent I probably wouldn't recommend doing it this quickly unless you're an experienced light-weight hiker (as in carrying a light pack, which we were not). Without sounding like a dickhead, both my husband and I are both pretty fit (we both run 60+km a week plus other activities). We found this distance to be about the max we'd like to be doing each day with an average sized pack on this terrain. Whilst it's absolutely possible to go either faster or slower, we had an amazing time and this pace felt right for us. I think that more time on the trail for most people would allow you to soak in the trail a littler more, as well as hit all the epic side trips. As we've been to the West McDonnell Ranges multiple times before this trip we didn't need to do the side trips as we've done them all previously so this allowed us to do it in 9 days pretty easily.
That being said, it's up to you how long you take. We met people doing the hike over 3 weeks with multiple rest days, and we heard of people doing it in as little as 7 days. I guess that's one of the cool things about hiking and the outdoors; as long as you're outside the way you travel doesn't matter, and you can choose your own adventure.
We started our day at our hostel in Alice Springs, packed our bags and sorted our shit out.. anyone that has done a multi-day hike knows that there is A LOT to sort out. We then decided to walk to the Telegraph station (the beginning of the trail) which added a cheeky extra 4km, meaning our day was actually over 30km.
Once we got to the telegraph station we grabbed a coffee, hit the loo and put our rain covers on our packs. It had decided to start to sprinkle a little bit, not what we expected in the desert, but what can ya do!
By the time we started walking it was around 10am and we had 26km to get through before we arrived at our destination camp for the night, Simpsons Gap. The trail winds through the bush on the outskirts of Alice Springs, over the train tracks and out of town. There were no solid climbs today, however the vertical gain is pretty significant every day of the Larapinta and today was constantly slightly up and slightly down.
A highlight of the first days walk was the climb over Euro Ridge - the sheer knife like cliff edge looks pretty rad!
We got to Wallaby Gap, a spot where many people spend the first night, and planned to have lunch. However as soon as we sat down we were harassed by an angry Willie wagtail and had to move on quickly - he was a persistent little so and so. As we have both grown up in Australia, being swooped by birds at certain times of the year is nothing new to us - but I can safely say I've never heard of an aggressive willie wagtail before or since. Resultantly we bailed from Wallaby Gap. Lunch doesn't taste as good when you're being harassed... We stopped further along trail a quick lunch and then carried on to Simpsons Gap.
Once we arrived we set up camp, cooked up some dinner and got in to bed. The first of many big days!
DAY 2 - Simpsons Gap to Jay Creek
Day 2 begun with breakfast down at Simpsons Gap. We were lucky enough to have the special spot to ourselves for half an hour whilst we drunk our instant coffee, ate our porridge and watched the rock wallabies. We headed back to camp and packed up our belongings. After a little bit of rain overnight the day looked to be clear and warm.
Again the terrain today didn’t include any huge climbs, just more consistent ups and downs. We had the pleasure of lots of cute zebra finch & budgies today - a delight for a couple of twitchers like us.
We stopped for lunch, the loo and a water refill at Mulga Camp. We were pleasantly surprised by how many water tanks there were on the trail, and also that the toilets all had plenty of toilet paper. TP is a precious BYO resource on all the other multi-day hikes we’ve done.
After lunch we headed onwards to Jay Creek where we set up camp, sorted out our shit and watched a stunner sunset. That night in bed we heard a pack of dingoes and pups singing in the riverbed just below our tent which was absolutely incredible! It’s also worth noting that this was our coldest night on the trail. We woke up the next day to everything covered in frost. But that’s a story for another day (tomorrow).
All in all day 2 was another rewarding big day on our hoofs.
The morning of day 3 started out very fresh. We woke up to temperatures below zero and frost on everything. We’d heard lots of dingoes overnight at camp which is always pretty magical.
After a slow breakfast and coffee (hard to do much quickly in gloves) we packed up our gear and headed off from Jay Creek.
Our destination for the day was Brinkley Bluff, a summit camp at 1200m. However, to get there we had to first go via Standley Chasm and pick up our first food drop, which would add substantially to the weight of our packs.
The walk from Jay Creek to Standley was stunning. Lots of climbing and lots of epic views.
Once we arrived at Standley to collect our boxes we were lucky enough to grab a quick shower (bloody heavenly after a couple days without). So we both showered and then went about sorting out the supplies we’d packed in our boxes.
Once we’d sorted our new supplies we begun the trek up to Brinkley Bluff. It was a beautiful Sunny day, which was awesome but added to the difficulty of the climb with a very full pack. We were rewarded with more stunning views along the ridge on the way to the bluff.
The hike up to Brinkley from Standley is solid, and this combined with our full packs and the late afternoon heat really got to Sean. He was pretty buckled by the time we set up the tents, and this was definitely the lowest mental point for either of us on the trail.
Once we got there it was time to set up the tent, watch the sunset and hit bed. We had a chai tea and climbed into bed, pretty knackered!
Oh, we also hung up our food bags! To ensure those pesky little mice wouldn't get in!
DAY 4 - Brinkley Bluff TO Hugh Gorge
Holy Dooley day 4 was a beauty! And hard! We woke up early for sunrise on top of Brinkley. It was another gorgeous clear day and as we were at 1200m the sun was up early. We enjoyed coffee and porridge, just to shake it up (haha), and packed up our gear.
The day started with a descent down from Brinkley. Hiking up steep shit is hard, but hiking down steep rocky terrain is even harder. Especially with a pack when you're not completely used to it. Luckily we were rewarded with epic views all the way down.
We had a quick recess break and made our way on to Section 4/5 Junction where we filled up our water and set off for Hugh Gorge.
The trail to Hugh Gorge is beautiful and difficult! Lots of climbing and lots of hiking along river beds, which is always hard and slow as it’s rocky and fiddly to walk on, especially with heavy packs. It’s wild how long it can take to go just a couple of kilometres. Although difficult, this section was amazing and went through some really unique gullies and microclimates and rated up there with our favourite parts of the hike.
We stopped for lunch at the aptly named, Windy Saddle. Enjoyed a Nutella wrap and coffee and set off again. The trail then traverses Razorback Ridge before heading back down into the gorge.
The trail down from Windy Saddle into the gorge is pretty spectacular, and was some of our favourite terrain on the trip.
Not long before reaching the Hugh Gorge campsite there is a water crossing. You can either climb around a sketchy little traverse on some slippery rocks whilst carrying your pack on one side of the water, or you can get wet.
Whilst I'm sure our mates who climb would have had no trouble with the first option, we went with option 2. There is a rock ledge that you can climb up on before jumping down into what was for us some shallower water. With two people this makes it easy to keep your packs out of the water, as one person jumps in, and the other can pass the packs down. This would be tricky when hiking solo as the jump down is from fairly high onto a hard to see sandbar, which could be sketchy with a pack.
Once we’d made it through the water we only had a few kilometres to go until camp. We arrived just before sunset, set up our tent, ate our noodles and enjoyed a well deserved sleep.
Yet again, another big day!
DAY 5 - HUGH GORGE TO ELLERY CREEK NORTH
Day 5 was our longest day in kilometres on the trail thus far. We were headed from Hugh Gorge to Udepata / Ellery Creek North, a flat-ish almost 30km stretch. We tried out a different food strategy today and decided to wake up, pack up our gear and head off before breakfast so that we could have a little mid-morning breakfast stop along the way.
We did this so it would be a little cooler when covering the earlier kilometres, and thus we’d have less walking in the middle of the days heat. Although with a 30km stretch there was going to a lot of walking at all times of the day.
We stopped for breaky at Ghost Gum Flat about 8km into the day. There was a picnic table which is always easier than setting up on the ground, and to be honest, feels quite fancy to come across by day 5. We had porridge and coffee (obviously) and then headed off again.
We carried on to Rocky Gully for lunch and water refills before setting off again. It was the hottest day we’d have on the trail.
We arrived at Udepata / Ellery Creek North around 3pm, just in time for a swim and to set our tent up in the river bed. We’ve visited Ellery Creek South (aka Big Hole) which has a drive in campsite on prior trips to Alice so it was nice to have the option to camp on the northern side, where Larapinta walkers are separated from the rest of the public.
We then had a much needed dip in the water, which was f***ing freezing, but felt bloody good on our legs. After our swim, nice and clean, we got ourselves changed into warmer gear, refilled our water, cooked up some dinner and watched the sun set.
Another delightful day!
day 6 - ELLERY CREEK NORTH TO SERPENTINE CHALET
On Day 6 we covered two of the 12 “sections” of the Larapinta trail. From this day until we finished the trip the weather reports were becoming pretty dismal, and by that I mean real bad and unusual for the desert. The next day we were forecast to have up to 60ml of rain! Nevertheless it was a beautiful morning so we made the most of the sunshine whilst it was around.
The first half of the day we did Ellery to Serpentine Gorge. This was only 13km and took us just under two and a half hours. The trail was mostly flat and covered an open area that had recently been burnt. It was super beautiful with all the new sprouts coming up, and big red rock walls off in the distance.
We stopped at the gorge and cooked up some breakfast and refilled our water, as usual, before heading on to the next section.
The next section involved a bit of vertical gain as we climbed up and over Counts Point. Counts point is a super popular and beautiful spot to stay the night if you get the right weather. For us, unfortunately the weather was starting to turn and it was pretty bloody windy up the top. We hiked over the top and made our way down a little to an area more sheltered and cooked up some noodles for lunch. Nothing like a warm lunch when you’re a little chilly on the trails.
We then set off again to our next destination Serpentine Chalet. Once we arrived at the chalet we set up our tent before the rain begun and had a nice restful arvo. The next day was going to be the longest of them all at over 30km and didn’t have any water refill spots along the way, meaning we’d have to carry more with us, meaning a heavier pack.
day 7 - SERPENTINE CHALET TO ORMISTON GORGE
We woke up early and packed the tent in the dark. The day ahead was long and given the weather forecast was only getting worse we wanted to get as far ahead of it as we could. The weather has rolled in overnight and there was a little rain whilst we slept, however nothing near the predicted 30-60ml.
The day begun travelling through Inarlanga Pass. The pass was used as a gateway through the Heavitree Range. It was beautiful with towering red rock and cycads lining it. The pass has been used by indigenous Australians for thousands and thousands of years and felt really special to pass through.
Once through the pass, on a clear day, there are views of Sonder, however as there was a lot of cloud cover we could only see the foot of it. We were lucky as thus far in to our day we hadn’t had any rain so although we didn’t get the view, we weren’t complaining.
We travelled onwards to Waterfall Gorge and then made our way up the steep climb to the Mt Giles Lookout. After a quick coffee and snack at the top we headed onwards for Ormiston. The coffee we were drinking (in the bottle in pics) throughout the day was cold instant we’d made that morning, delicious. The idea with this was to save time on the trail today and not have to stop for too long to boil water..
As we neared closer to Ormiston the rain came in. It wasn’t pouring but it was constant drizzle and by the time we got to the campsite we were soaked. Although rain is never a lot of fun when hiking ti was actually really cool to see in comparison with the previous hot dry days. The mist throughout the ranges was spectacular.
Ormiston was our second food drop location. So we dumped our bags and grabbed our food box, ready to re-fill our packs with the next few days food.
Ormiston Gorge is a favourite camp spot for a lot of Larapinta Hikers. The gorge itself is stunning, as is the optional side trip of the Pound Walk. We didn’t do that this time as we’ve been to Ormiston a couple of times before and done the walk previously. Also the weather didn’t make leaving the shelter a very enticing idea.
Another great thing about Ormiston is there are HOT showers. An absolute treat after days of hiking, and even more so after getting soaked. We had our showers and then indulged in a couple of the treats we had in our drop box, kettle chips and fresh fruit (oranges and apples because not much else would last being in a box for a week).
That night was our first and only camp in the shelter itself. As it was so wet not having to set up our tent in the rain was excellent. We rolled out our mats and sleeping bags on the shelter platforms, along with all the other campers that night, 7 of us in total, and fell asleep!
day 8 - ORMISTON GORGE TO ROCKY BAR GAP
Day 8 was, as predicted, cold and wet. We woke up at Ormiston on the tent platform to the sound of rain. Resultantly we had a pretty slow morning. We had breakfast and packed up our gear, ensuring we hadn’t left anything that we needed in our drop box.
The first section of the day was Ormiston to Finke River. This section was only 9km and flat, it took us around 2 hours. It was cold and raining throughout this stretch so we were happy to reach the shelter at Finke River to cook up a hot lunch, mid goreng again of course.
After a couple of coffees and lunch we set off again. Our original plan on this day had been to stay up on the summit of Hilltop Lookout - a favourite of many walkers due to its incredible views of Mount Sonder. However due to the wind and rain it was pretty miserable up there, and there was no view at all, just a whole lot of fog. So when we reached the top we decided to hustle onwards to the next camp spot with water available, Rocky Bar Gap.
Although the weather was funky this day, it was pretty incredible to see the desert and ridges shrouded in fog. We felt we could appreciate it as we’d had a mix of weather throughout our time on the trail thus far. I can imagine being a little disappointed if your entire hike had this kind of weather, especially a desert hike.
Another big day, and our second last one. Tomorrow we’d head to Redbank Gorge before finishing the Larapinta trail by summiting Mount Sonder. Word on the street was that we had a clear weather window so we hoped we’d get views from the top of Sonder!
day 9 - ROCKY BAR GAP TO REDBANK GORGE AND UP MOUNT SONDER
The final day of our Larapinta Trek arrived, and damn we got lucky. Although still overcast in the morning there wasn’t any rain, which led us to believe that maybe we could get lucky and get views from the top of Mt Sonder when we summited it that afternoon.
We packed up our tent, made some breakfast, porridge and instant coffee to shake it up, and then begun the 11km hike to Redbank Gorge, our final campsite of the hike. The beauty of camping at Redbank, and also heading out to Mt Sonder from there is that you can hike up Sonder without your pack, something that feels incredible after carrying it everywhere for over a week.
Once we arrived at Redbank the top of Sonder was still shrouded in mist. If we climbed up too early we wouldn’t get a view, so we decided to have some lunch and wait for the clouds to clear.
After lunch we could see the top of Sonder poking through and we’re even treated to some partial blue skies. We decided to take our chances and head off. The return trip to Sonder was about 16km, a distance that without our packs should take around 3 hours, even with the vertical gain.
We set off with a bottle of water each and some emergency supplies (snake bandage, Garmin inReach & Nutella wraps).
The hike up to Sonder rose over 600m from Redbank Gorge, so was by no means easy terrain. However without our packs on we felt light as anything and it was a fun and beautiful hike!
We reached the top with clear views of the surrounding area, we couldn’t believe how lucky we’d been with the weather window. We met people along the way on their way back down who hadn’t had any views from the top at all. I guess thai made up for missing out on the views at the top of Hilltop the previous day.
We took it all in and enjoyed the view for a minute, but it was bloody cold up there in the wind so we ate our Nutella wraps and hightailed it back down pretty quickly.
We reached camp again later and had an awesome last sunset with a few of the crew who were also camping at Redbank.
One of the epic things about doing these sorts of adventures is the people you meet along the way. You’re generally guaranteed to get to spend time with some pretty likeminded individuals in an environment you all thrive in, and it’s really bloody awesome!
Let me know in the comments below if you think there is any information I missed about hiking the Larapinta Trail that you'd be interested in!
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G'day I'm Bec
I'm an Aussie who loves travelling, hiking, trail running and pretty much any activity you can do outdoors.
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