The opportunity to slip into the silence of the natural world is something that we rarely get to experience in our modern lives. So, a multi-day solo hike has been on my bucket list for quite some time, and the hike that caught my eye was one of Australia’s newest, the Larapinta Trail. 223km of dedicated walking track weaving along the spine of one of Australia’s longest mountain ranges, the West MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia. Despite its recent construction, it has already ranked amongst one of the planet’s top 20 treks, taking you on a journey through an ancient geological sculpture of folds and faults of the earth crust created some 350 million years ago. With ripples of the inland sea still etched into the boulders that fridge the gorges and gaps in the range it hints at a landscape that offers far more than first meets the eye.
Having spoken with many solo female hikers who had already completed this trail I had been inspired to attempt this one for myself. Taking anywhere from 12 to 18 days, walking from 5km to 30km per day, in the rugged desert landscape carrying a heavy pack without phone reception or a hot shower for miles. Most people might think this is no place for women, but in fact, this is far from the truth. There are now more women completing the trail than men, prompting local trekking company World Expeditions to offer specialised packages just for women. I was eager to find out what the drawcard was…
Blessed with recent summer rains, I walked out of Alice Springs with a view of rolling green hills of Buffel grass and flocks of flirtatious budgerigars overhead, summitting Euro Ridge, the first of many ridgelines to come. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that each trailhead was not only architecturally designed but offered large undercover tent platforms, remotely monitored rainwater tanks, food storage cupboards, eco-toilets, solar USB charging ports and were often situated next to expansive freshwater gorges or rivers, perfect for an afternoon dip.
I relished the rare solitude I had found on the trail, setting my own pace for the day in tune with how I felt, naturally falling into mother nature’s rhythm drifting off to sleep as the stars appeared, and rising with the sun. Each day provided new challenges of boulder climbing, river crossings, ascents and descents, but the feeling of achievement as the distinct trailhead roof appeared around the final bend of the day was exhilarating, riding high on satisfaction as I strolled into camp.
I had tackled the hike early in the season, with the best time to hike being April-August, and so encountered few others on the trail. But it was other female hikers that I encountered most. We would stop, chat and share stories of the conditions in which we had just walked since it’s possible to hike the trail in either direction. It was the shared experience that offered a unique connection to one another, a knowing and a chance for honest conversation so rarely found in day to day life. Both then continuing along our paths pondering the sincere interaction we shared.
The ever-changing environment along the 12 sections of the track provides a glimpse at some of the endemic species that reside in the microclimates of every gorge, rock pool, chasm and ridgeline grotto. This region is a refuge for over 600 rare and threatened plant species and countless undiscovered animal species that have adapted to this terrain, enduring years of drought, savage sand storms, bushfires and now flooding rains, all occurring in succession in the past decade.
What I realised as the days progressed was that this had become an unexpected opportunity to learn more about the culture of our First Nations people. Local to this region, the Arrernte people have allowed hiking tourists the chance to pass through some incredibly sacred sites including Angkerle (Standley Chasm), Ulpma (Serpentine Gorge), and Ochre Pits as well as lesser-known sites like Inarlanga Pass, which is accessible only by walkers. I was intrigued to read more about the bush foods and practices in the trail notes from this culture who have a history that dates back some 40,000 years in this specific region, and witness places that inspired some of the very first indigenous Australian dreaming stories ever recorded. Having spent many years travelling abroad it was refreshing to gain a deeper understanding of the precious need to conserve our countries ancient culture.
As I hiked in the dark before dawn of my final day up the last summit of the infamous Mount Sonder I reflected on my experience on the trail. Sure, I had suffered through a few painful pebble-sized blisters, burning legs on the brutal accents and toe crunching rocky descents, but what I had gained was far greater, confidence in myself and my capabilities, a tribe of new female hiking buddies and a deeper understanding of the importance of our unique Australian culture.
There is plenty of ways you too can experience this magnificent part of country with options to suit any level of bushwalking experience; whether it be end to end through hiking, multi-day, overnight or even day walk options. Check out NT Parks for trail information, Larapinta Trail Trek Support for exceptional service with transfers, food drops, gear hire and are a wealth of knowledge in preparing for the trail or World Expeditions for a complete range of guided tour options.
We wish to acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the Central and Western Arrernte Country, who have provided us the opportunity to explore the West MacDonnell Ranges.