Saturday 15 September 2012

The Larapinta Trail: Wrap-up, logistics, lessons-learnt etc.

Some notes, advice, and gear recommendations for the Larapinta Trail.  Unless you're planning on doing the walk you probably won't be interested.

Maps, Trail markers, Direction of Travel

The map package is excellent, really great maps, you don't need anything else.  We bought the guide book, but barely used it, and couldn't be bothered carrying it.  The descriptions in the maps are for East-to-West direction of travel, but I doubt we would have spent much time reading them even if we were going that way.  I think direction of travel is largely decided by how you are doing transport and food drops.  We figured it made sense to do the short drive into Alice at the end of the walk when all you want is beer and a pub meal, so we chose West-to-East.

I think that the best way to do the whole trail is probably in two trips. A couple of guys from Darwin we met were doing just this, with 10 years separating the two walks! By the end of 7 days we were starting to get a bit over red-rock gorges and rock hopping. I think doing it in two separate pieces would give you the maximum appreciation of the scenery. The downside is that while the trail is fairly accessible, getting to Alice Springs itself is pretty expensive. Ellery creek is the obvious mid-point to use to break up the trail. With limited time I think our itinerary was about the best you can do: day trip up sonder plus East from Ellery.

The trail is generally very well-marked with blue arrows and distance indicators that count down to the next section trailhead if you are going West-to-East.  The first kilometer in and out of campsites often seemed to be marked incorrectly (too long): I'd like to say we measured it with the GPS, but we didn't, so this may just be psychological.  There were a small number of times where we faced some indecision about where the trail went, usually in dry creek beds, but generally route-finding was easy.

Food Drops

We'd paid the $50 deposit at the Visitor's Centre in Alice for a storage locker key, but since our only food drop was at Standley we actually didn't need it, but we did need to get to the Standley Chasm kiosk where they were holding the box before they shut at 5pm.  There are rubbish bins there (and ice-cream and a shower!) so you can get rid of your rubbish.  I think it is probably the only campsite on the trail that has bins.

Alice Springs stuff

Lone Dingo is the only outdoors store in Alice Springs.  It is pretty decent, although a little on the expensive side as you would expect for a small town.

We stayed at the White Gum Motel, which was pretty good.  Big rooms, so plenty of room to spread out gear, and they have a laundry with a communal washing line.  It's a 10min walk into town, but not far from the best pub in Alice Spings, Monte's.  The Todd Tavern, and The Rock Bar are also pretty good for food and drinks.

Shoes and Gaiters

I did the trail in breathable, i.e. not the goretex waterproof kind, trail-runners (Salomon XT Wings 3), and I think they were a good choice.  You need a tough sole to  protect you from kilometres of impact on sharp rocks, and enough mesh to keep the dust out but still allow breathing.  As a last minute purchase I picked up a pair of Outdoor Research short gaiters, which were fantastic for keeping rocks, sticks and dust out of my socks and shoes.  They stuck to my shoe perfectly using the shoelace hooks and heel grippy rubber - no need for an instep cord, which is great.  We saw some people wearing full knee-length gaiters, but I don't think either the scrub or the snakes warranted them, the sections of the trail we walked can be done reasonably comfortably in shorts.


There was almost zero natural water on the trail, and what there was I wouldn't have been too keen to drink.  So you're entirely dependent on the ranger-supplied water tanks, which means you either camp near them or lug a lot of water around.  The water in the tanks was good quality and probably didn't need treating, but we did anyway as advised.  The Sea to summit pack tap is perfect for minimising visits to the water tank and lugging around large amounts of water for dry campsites.


We used Trek Larapinta for transfers to and from the trail and they were great, but fairly expensive (about $500 for our original plan of 2-person redbank dropoff, standley pickup, and 2 food drops).  I think you could easily hitchhike by approaching people in the carpark at Standley or Simpsons Gap to get back to Alice.  Getting a ride the other way out to Redbank might be tricky, and you'll probably need to hire a car and make a separate trip to do the food drops.

Another benefit of using a company is that they provide plastic (i.e. rodent-proof) boxes for food drops that they collect later, so you can leave rubbish in the food drop box.

Other companies we looked at were:
I was actually pretty impressed with Trek Larapinta.  Richard is a font of local knowledge and he had great contacts with the park rangers that got us detailed info about the bushfires.  Trek Larapinta were also doing a lot of volunteer maintenance on the trail and repairing damage from the fire, which is great to see.  If the other commercial operators don't put some time/money back into maintenance, national parks should start charging them a fee to run commercial tours on the trail to reduce the impact of groups on the trail.  If you want a wilderness adventure in Central Australia, I'd talk to Trek Larapinta, they were doing reconnaissance trips for off-track walks up Mt. Zeil and others.


Carrying a few $5 notes is a good idea for camping fees and ice-creams and coffee at Standley Chasm.
Some campgrounds within the West MacDonnell National Park attract camping fees: Ellery Creek Big Hole ($5.00 per person), Ormiston Gorge ($10.00 per person) and Redbank Gorge ($5.00 per person). It is a good idea to carry the correct amount of money as change is not available.


We had fairly warm nights so I got by with just a thermal top and a gortex shell for the wind, but if it was any colder I'd definitely be taking the down jacket.

The ground is rock-hard pretty much everywhere, so the orange plastic trowel we had was essentially useless for the campsites where there were no toilets.  There are plenty of rocks though - I'd avoid disturbing any off-track rock cairns near campsites :)  National Parks would do well to put in some more toilets.  Most of the campsites are already accessible by some sort of rough track, necessary to supply the water tanks, so it wouldn't be impractical.  If money is an issue, they should institute a permit system, we would have been happy to pay to walk.

Packing List

My packing list, minus food since we improvised meals in a shopping spree in Alice and I can't remember the details.  We spent about $350 on food and booze for two people for 10 days of camping.  That was fairly fancy food, we had smoked oysters more than once :) so you could do it cheaper.  Alice has a nice big Woolies and a Coles.

  • Sleeping bag & liner
  • ¾ Thermarest
  • Exped inflatable pillow
  • Camelbak 2L and 3L
  • 4L goon bag for extra water carrying
  • Small extra bag with spare town clothes, etc. (leave at the hotel)
  • Tent (2-man Salewa)
  • Orikaso bowl, spork, plastic knife
  • Pocket rocket gas stove (2 gas cylinders with an extra cylinder in each food drop)
  • Cook set
  • Brew mug
  • Sharp knife
  • Sea-to-summit wilderness soap
  • Plastic jar for vegemite/peanut butter
  • Zip lock bags for cereal (and a few spare)
  • Large dry bag to keep food together
  • Small dry bag to carry each day’s lunch
  • Quick-dry walking pants
  • Trail runners
  • Short gaiters
  • Camp slippers
  • Quick-dry shorts
  • Thermals (top and bottom)
  • 2 x Wicking T-shirts
  • 1 x long-sleeve wicking shirt for sun protection
  • Sun hat
  • Dust mask (bandanna)
  • Sunglasses
  • Walking socks (wear one, carry 2)
  • Warm beanie
  • Rain jacket (mostly for wind protection)
  • Towel (there’s a shower at Standley)
  • Fly net
  • Handkerchief
  • Plastic bags for dirty clothes
First Aid
  • Small insect repellent spray bottle (30% DEET)
  • Katadyn Micropur Forte water purification tabs
  • Toothbrush and paste
  • Baby wipes
  • Blister kit
  • Band-Aids
  • Gauze pad x 3
  • Tiny antiseptic powder
  • Lip gloss with sunscreen
  • Tweezers
  • Sting eze liquid
  • Self-adhesive bandage (ankle strapping, snakebite)
  • Adhesive tape (Elastoplast)
  • Antihistamines
  • Ibuprofen
  • Sunscreen
  • Anti-bacterial gel hand wash
  • Map package
  • Backpack, yellow plastic liner
  • Ultrasil day pack (for Mt. Sonder)
  • Compass
  • Head torch, spare batteries
  • A few metres of hootchie cord
  • Spare belt buckle
  • Orange plastic poo trowel
  • Toilet paper
  • Something to read
  • Emergency beacon (PLB)
  • Watch
  • Emergency whistle
  • Walking poles
  • Camera
  • Basic sewing kit (needle and thread)


Al said...

Thank you very much for posting all this quality info regarding the Larapinta Trail - It has helped me a lot with my planning!

Anonymous said...

I second that, thanks so much for all the details as I am planning to go next year and your blog is the best one i have found.

Thanks again!!

Rob said...

I did the Larapinta in 2010 West to east and was very fortunate to be there at one of the best times for wildflowers. this link will give some idea.
I intend walking again this year East to West in April as it appears to be the best year ever.
Great info in the blog above.My favourite spot was Fringe lily but all is great just remember it gets as cold as it does hot.