Is the Larapinta Trail Australia’s best hike?

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The Larapinta Trail rocks the red carpet when it comes to ‘Best of’ lists. Hikers from all walks of life can’t get enough of central Australia’s famous trail. FIONA HARPER laced up her boots to find out if the Larapinta Trail is indeed one of Australia’s best hiking trails.

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Walking on country with Indigenous guides

‘You’ve got to listen with all your senses when you walk on country,’ says Deanella Mack from Cultural Connections explaining a fundamental connection to her land. Known as Dee, she’s a softly-spoken Arrernte woman bridging the cultural gap between blackfella and whitefella. Dee encourages open and frank discussion in her Cultural Conversations, inviting questions that we’re usually afraid to ask, either through fear of offending or through ignorance of Aboriginal customs. ‘There’s nothing you can’t ask me,’ she declares, her eyes crinkling into a smile.

Dee is is a bright young woman with an intuitive knack for putting Aboriginal culture and customs into perspective. She hopes for a day when she is no longer engaged to act as an intermediary bringing understanding to both sides of the cultural divide. When there is no more division.

Walikng the Larapinta Trail
Hiking the Larapinta Trail, Northern Territory. Image Fiona Harper

Stories are passed through generations via Songlines

‘Songlines are stories told through song, dance and painting and provide a passport for different tribes to pass through others’ tribal country,’ Dee says, explaining how 390 Northern Territory tribes who speak 250 languages are able to roam unimpeded. ‘Songs are our library, they’re how we learn about country. Songlines are our passport to other lands.’

Walking the Larapinta Trail
Hiking the Larapinta Trail, Northern Territory. Image Fiona Harper

Larapinta Trail has it's own magic

She compares these songlines to the Olympic torch relay where the baton is passed from one sportsman to another and is carried with high regard, respect and acknowledgement. As songlines are passed from one tribe to another the bearer and their kin are welcomed and granted respectful passage through country.

I’m reminded of these songlines on day five of our Larapinta Trail hike. We sip tea brewed by our guides at a traditional entry and exit point used by nomadic tribes. Shaded by cycads clinging to red iron oxide-stained quartz walls of tortured, twisted rock I imagine songs reverberating magically amongst the eucalypts of Inarlanga Pass.

Walking the Larapinta Trail
Hiking the Larapinta Trail, Northern Territory. Image Fiona Harper

Hear Dreamtime stories from Arrente people

The Arrernte people attribute the dramatic landscape we’re hiking through to the mythical Rainbow Serpent with Dreamtime stories that have evolved over tens of thousands of years. Geologists and scientists however have a different theory for the scalloped layers rising from the flatlands of a former seabed as the West MacDonnell Ranges. The Finke River is considered one of the oldest rivers on the planet. Folds, faults and erosion over millions of years have created mountains slashed with gorges, chasms and gaps. It’s an intriguing landscape that lures bushwalkers from the novice to hardcore multi-day hikers.

Hiking the Larapinta Trail, Northern Territory. Image Fiona Harper

Walking different sections of Larapinta Trail

The Larapinta Trail is a marked trail starting just outside Alice Springs at the Old Telegraph Station, ending 223km later at Mt Sonder, the trail’s highest point. It’s cleverly broken up into sections which can be tackled as day walks graded by ability. Our two Life’s an Adventure guides take care of all logistics, meaning that for each day’s hike we only need carry a small daypack for essentials like water, sunscreen and cameras.

With two guides to keep us on track, one guide leads our walks while the other takes care of things back at camp – setting up tents, preparing dinner and chilling drinks for sundowners. We hike into camp from the impressive Ormiston Gorge to find safari tents have been erected, beds made amid beguiling aromas of slow cooked roast lamb. There’s also grilled salmon, roasted Italian vegetables and leafy green salad awaiting hungry hikers. Sitting around the campfire, Tasmanian Pinot Noir in hand, we finish off our first night on the trail with Tiramisu before retiring beneath a twinkling canopy of stars.

Walking the Larapinta Trail
Hiking the Larapinta Trail, Northern Territory. Image Fiona Harper

The next five days continue much the same. Hikes are broken up with morning smoko of brewed tea and muffins taken in one of many gorgeous scenic locations, trumped by an even more stunning lunch spot. There is an alternative shorter version each day for those who prefer to hang out at camp relaxing, reading or just admiring the birds, wildlife, the sounds and smells of the West MacDonnell National Park.

We adopt an easy pace that allows us to connect with the country that holds such spiritual importance to the Arrernte people. Treading lightly leaving nothing but footprints, Dee’s parting words stay with me on the trail. ‘Our physical, sacred and human worlds are all interlinked: when one part is disturbed the repercussions are felt across our world.’

The Indigenous connection is just one part of the equation that indisputably puts the Larapinta Trail on most hikers Top Ten lists. It’s certainly on mine.

More information: Life’s an Adventure

The writer travelled as a guest of Life’s an Adventure

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