I talk a lot about wishlists. My mental list of adventures that one day, I hope to tick off. But it’s more than just ticking a box and being all task oriented about life. It’s about being able to bring these places into my own story and experience other people’s stories within it.
Ever since I did a 12 day hike in Kakadu National Park a few years back and found myself saying, ‘that’s the best holiday I’ve ever had’, I’ve wanted to go back to the Northern Territory and experience more of this amazing part of Australia.
After having to withdraw from a planned Larapinta Trail end-to-end trip with friends earlier in the year due to work, I was ecstatic when the opportunity came along to go with Trek Larapinta on their 6 day western end trip. This was the first commercial trip I’ve done in a while, so I was curious to see if I still enjoyed this style of adventure, as opposed to being fully self supported. I was in for a treat!
Larapinta : Alice Springs – Standley Chasm – Ormiston Gorge – Finke River
Most Aussie’s have probably heard of places like Standley Chasm and Ormiston Gorge. I’m a bit embarrassed to say, that until this trip, I wasn’t exactly sure where they were… apart from being somewhere in the Northern Territory (NT)!
Therefore, it was great to kick off the trip with a visit to Standley Chasm. After meeting my fellow walkers (a nice small group of 9 + 2 leaders) on the bus after being picked up from my hotel, we headed off for the approx 1km easy walk into the chasm.
I’d seen pictures of this before, but never experienced it myself. It really is an amazing feature and I had the sense that it was drawing me in, pulling me towards it as I came along the track. It was good to hear a bit about how this place was, ‘women’s business’ for the local aboriginal people, from Anne (our guide) and encouraging to know that we have full permission to enter here, as with all the other places we visited along the trip.
Back into the minibus, we continued towards the western end of the trail, where we would spend the next 6 days. Many people say that this is the most interesting and dramatic sections of the trail, so I didn’t feel as though I was missing out watching the MacDonnell Ranges whizz by me along Namatjira Drive (Red Centre Way).
Arriving at Ormiston Gorge (Ahhh, that’s where it is!), we denied ourselves a look at the waterhole as we’d visit it again later, and instead donned our day packs for the first time and started to walk along section 10 of the famous Larapinta Trail.
The Larapinta Trail is divided into 12 hiking sections and we were going to be spreading our time out between sections 8-12, with our basecamp at an amazing private campsite at Ormiston Gorge.
When lunch came, high up on the range I started to realise some of the great benefits of taking a commercial trip. The fresh salad and great variety of tasty treats that emerged from Anne’s backpack (which had the nickname, ‘Fatboy’) made my usual DIY hiking lunch look decidedly dull and uninteresting. Not only that, I got to try my first bushfood for this trip with the tasty Bush Coconut or Bloodwood Apple. When Anne cracked it open, it revealed the worm/insect who feeds on the white gooey insides. It was pretty tasty… oh, but I did avoid the worm.
The day was a great introduction to what walking in this country was going to be like. Big skies, rich colours, vast vistas and thankfully, enough time to oneself on the track that I was able to keep to my own (relatively fast-ish) pace and then meet up again with the rest of the group at designated points. Oh.. and our first glimpse of Mt Sonder… but more on that later!
The day finished with us walking along a dry, sandy creek bed and the Finke River campsite. Ahhh, the sight of our first waterhole for the trip and what was to be the first of many cooling (Ummm, that would be VERY cooling) swims. After a 34 degree day it was very refreshing!
Here we also came across another of Trek Larapinta’s groups that were doing the full 16 day end-to-end trip. Their temporary campsite was setup for the night and awaiting the arrival of the hardy group.
Ormiston Gorge Private Campsite
We, on the other hand, were met by Claire, the other guide, with the minibus and driven to our permanent private campsite at Ormiston Gorge. On arrival, we were given a full tour and briefing on how the campsite ‘works’. From how to set-up and then protect our swags, to the secret “engaged” signal that we were to use with the composting toilets. These loos were of a similar type that I’ve seen in Tasmania, with a bucket and seat (this one was fancy as it looked like it was formed out of an old wine barrel) and a good supply of sawdust that you scooped over your productions. Oh and the great thing was, it didn’t smell!
Each person also had the option of sleeping in a roomy 2 person car-camping style tent that was already setup and waiting for us. I opted to use this just for storing my bag and getting changed, preferring to sleep down on the sandy dry creek bed (yes… it was dry season!) in a swag.
Delicious camp food
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we had a call for pre-dinner nibbles by the fire. Lovely cheeses and biccies were set out for us, as we enjoyed getting to know each other a bit more as the Territory sun went down around us, bathing us in it’s warm, orange glow.
Claire set a high standard for the rest of the trip by cooking up a delicious prawn and chilli pasta for dinner, with crisp salad with fresh strawberries and chocolate to follow for dessert. Hmmm, I could really get used to this, however I found it very strange that I wasn’t able to help out. As an independent hiker, I’m so used to not truly relaxing until I’m horizontal at night, that this was really something that was going to take a bit of time getting used to.
Larapinta Trail : Serpentine Gorge – Serpentine Chalet Dam
Sleeping outside, under the stars in the Northern Territory is something that needs to be seen to be believed. A heavy blanket of stars pressed in on me during the first night and I found myself not wanting to close my eyes, for fear of missing yet another shooting star or satellite.
Waking up was easy with a holler at 6.15am that breakfast would be ready at 6.30am. Again, more food than you could poke a Leki pole at. Cereals, muesli, toast, croissants, english muffins and possibly the best porridge I’ve ever eaten, and as a keen tea drinker – real leaf tea (no bags here!).
Being the last trip of the season (2nd week of September), before the temperatures get too hot, we were away by 7.15am after stocking up on drinking water and our own supply of snacks for the day. This was really all we needed to carry in our daypacks, leaving us light as feathers along the way. We headed for Section 8 of the trail and what was to be our first real ascent for the trip. A steady 400m climb brought us up onto the Heavytree Range and along to one of the most classic lookouts of the whole Larapinta, being Counts Point.
It’s along this ridge that the dramatic geological forces and shifts are evident and again, it was great to have all this explained by our guide. I’m not usually one for getting into rocks, but out here in an environment that screams, ‘look at me’, it’s hard to not be curious and wonder how these features are formed.
It was here that we met the only other person out on the trail. ‘Mad Mike’, was a lone hiker from New Jersey who with a sunscreen induced ghost face, looked a little worse for wear on his day 16, but he was determined to see it to the end.
We finished the day by taking a shortcut back to the road along an old service road. This was a good decision as it saved us around 3kms of walking during the hottest part of the day. Anyone who’s done their share of road-bashing will know that any way to save 3kms of the stuff… is a good thing!
After picking up some of Central Australia’s finest red dust in the hot winds of the day, it was great to dive into the chilly waters of Ormiston Gorge and cool down. Also, for those who were keen, Ormiston offers $5 showers and the chance to indulge in a Magnum ice-cream. I’m not sure which they sell more of!