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What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

A statement that perhaps seems a little dramatic when in reference to a holiday, but on my week away trekking the Larapinta Trail the idea wafted through my mind on more than one occasion. 

For a while I had been thinking that I had become a little too used to the comfortable city life and it was about time I headed back to the red dirt. So, when my sister-in-law Elizabeth suggested a walking holiday in the Northern Territory – it seemed like the perfect solution. A cursory glance at the website and daily strolling distances sealed it – easy. I paid my deposit – mini break confirmed. 

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The Larapinta Trail is known as one of Australia’s best walking trails, 223 kilometres between the Redbank Gorge and Telegraph Station at the Red Centre of the Northern Territory.  If you are doing it end to end you can expect about 15 days hiking – we were only doing 6 days of selected sections. Easy. 

In hindsight, I should have done a little more reading and paid a little more attention – ‘know your limits’, ‘for experienced walkers’, ‘one of the toughest walks I’ve ever done’ – I didn’t read ANYWHERE ‘ideal for first time trekkers’.

The Larapinta is not a pleasant stroll through the outback, it’s rugged – it is rock hopping, steep climbing, loose rocky terrain and it is tough, really tough. My first tip for anyone considering the trail is train – train (quite) a bit harder than I did. Oh, and shoes – make sure you’ve got good ones, the rugged terrain is hard under foot and at the end of a day’s walk everything will hurt. I promise – no matter how prepared you are, it’s going to hurt. 

You need to take your time. Some of the best advice I received was from a fellow trekker ‘Alby’. He is an awesome and inspirational 84 years of age and a life time trekker and rock climber, a veteran of just about every outdoor adventure you can imagine, so worth listening to. He told me to walk slow, and then walk slower again, and to keep a bend in my knees, take it slow and don’t try to rush. There was a biomechanical reason for this, which I won’t bother sharing right now, but needless to say it was solid advice. He also told me the Larapinta is about mental strength more than physical, and that I can promise is true.

Going slow was not only important physically (and to prevent falling) it was essential to allow me to take in the immense landscape – the tortured beauty. It is incredible, and at times difficult, to comprehend the beauty of the place. It is certainly not the typical ‘pretty landscape’ but it’s awe-inspiring and almost apocalyptic – from the charred beauty of the recently burnt landscape to the cool and silent chasms.

The quiet is heavenly and one of the unexpected highlights. There is no mobile reception – zip. So, it is a week without ringtones and message notifications, no overheard one-sided conversations or taping on keypads, perfect electronic silence –I didn’t realise how loud it was until it was gone. Beyond the electronic silence, the nights were perfectly still aside from an occasional gentle rustle of a critter outside my tent or the tap of a moth colliding with the canvas. On the final day I opted out of a little rock hopping and took the opportunity for an hour’s meditation in Standley Chasm. It was just me with the occasional ant scurrying past or moment of birdsong accompanied by perfect silence, magical.

Living in the city we often forget to look up at night. However, sitting by the fire and enjoying the night sky is one of the purest pleasures of camping. The lack of competing city light meant that the stars put on their best show – the milky way snaked across the night sky along with shooting stars, satellites and planets all putting on a dazzling display. Pure pleasure.

Worth a special mention is the red dirt – it’s what I was missing and what started this adventure, and it gets into everything. You will be washing your hair and gear for weeks till you think it’s gone, but as the last of it runs down the sink, it’s still in your heart and you’ll be wishing you were back and planning your next trip.

Would I do it again? 100%. Getting out of our comfort zone is something I strongly believe is good for us all and the Larapinta was certainly that – and I’m the better for it. 

See you on the trail.

I wish to acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the Central and Western Arrernte Country for allowing us the opportunity to share this magnificent place – the Larapinta Trail in the Western MacDonnell region.

For more information www.treklarapinta.com.au

THE ITINERARY

Day 1: Simpsons Gap, walk Ormiston Pound and Gorge 
Day 2: Trek section 8 Serpentine Gorge to Serpentine Chalet Dam, including Counts Point 
Day 3: Hike section 10 Ormiston Gorge to Glen Helen/Finke River 
Day 4: Explore the Ochre Pits, walk section 9 including Inarlanga Pass, Serpentine Chalet 
Day 5: Summit Mount Sonder 
Day 6: Ellery Creek, explore Standley Chasm

Word: Claire McGowan

Imagery: Claire McGowan