Larapinta? What? Where’s that? I’m so glad you asked….
Firstly, let me take you back to before the Covid ruined everything… when I had a dream to walk the Camino from France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain – an 800km pilgrimage that has been walked by religious pilgrims for centuries… However, because I’d never attempted even a 2 day hike before, it was recommended by a more experienced hiker that I perhaps try out a shorter route first.
That experienced hiker is my mate, Madz… remember her?
So Madz suggested something a little shorter and closer to home… the Kumano Kodo – a sister pilgrimage to the Camino (approx 5 days walking, instead of the required 35+ days for the Camino) on the Kii Peninsula in Japan. This trek was looked into and an amazing itinerary was created including climbing Mt Fuji and attending 3 events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. It was booked…. we were ready to go!
Some of you will remember that on Day 1 of my training – a little hike in the Serpentine Falls area of the Perth hills, I stood on a gum nut, rolled my ankle and consequently tore a couple of ligaments – like right out of the bone! This lead to an ankle reconstruction and a lot of rehab and recovery. Sure, this put a small dampner on my things.
Day 2 of training happened about 6-7 months later.
I’ve never really been into going to the gym or doing any sort of rigorous, focused exercise before… I’m more of a team sport sort of girl… so I enlisted the help of a fabulous personal trainer who helped me learn about the importance of your glutes! These are very important muscles people. Very!
The 2020 Olympics were postponed until 2021 – I thought “Phew! that gives me another 12 months to get my fitness up and ready.” However, as the pandemic increased its chokehold over the world, the decision was made that regardless of whether the Olympics went ahead or not… we weren’t going to be there.
Desparately needing something to look forward to, we searched for a trek closer to home and Madz found the Larapinta Trail in the NT – just out of Alice Springs – specifically in the West MacDonnell Ranges. A 6 day trek with a small group, run by a company called Trek Larapinta. Done.
Facebook pages were followed and videos were watched to try and manage the anxiety about actually doing this… embarking on a 6 day hike in the centre of Australia with people I didn’t know… Was I going to be able to manage it physically? What if I was with a group of twits? What if I was the twit in a group of really experienced hikers? How was I going to manage a bush wee? Would I be able to sleep in a tent? Honestly, for somebody who has dreamed about walking the Camino – these questions seemed a little silly… I don’t know what to tell you, but these were the fears that were going through my mind. However, no matter how informed I was, nothing was going to really prepare me for the terrain of the Larapinta. Many people tell you that the path is really, really rocky and there are some really steep sections and the landscape is completely unrelenting… but, you won’t truly get it until you walk it yourself.
We booked it for May 2021 – a month before my 50th birthday – and so it became a special event for a special occasion… Something to accomplish. The first half of 2021 was also peppered with mini Covid lockdowns around the country, so being given permission to cross the borders was going to be a last minute, wait and see what happens – I can’t actually believe that I’m writing about needing permission to cross state borders! Two weeks before I was due to fly out and I still hadn’t received my border pass for the NT and SA (which is where I needed to fly afterwards)
To be totally honest… I was actually feeling a little bit disappointed mixed in with a bit of hope and relief when it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to go. Having to cancel after all the rigmarole of the lead up would have been totally devastating, but I could’ve lived with it if it meant that I didn’t have to actually go through with it.
Then, as if the sky was opening up after a month long storm… with only days to go, the border restrictions were lifted, and I found myself in Alice Springs. I felt a combination of excitement, nervousness and billiousness and a whole lot of ‘what the hell am I doing?’
I met Madz (who was coming from QLD) at the airport. We hired a car and had a look around the town called Alice, visiting all the sites, including the Royal Flying Doctor Museum…
Before heading a little way out of town to stay at The Squeaky Windmill – a glamping style tent situation… this was hopefully going to get me used to sleeping out in the bush – however these tents had their own bathroom and air-conditioning, so maybe not.
Viva La Larapinta…
Day 1 – Our tour was only going to have 8 people, so 6 strangers + 2 guides + us. I get on with most people but do find the build up to meeting a new crew in an unfamiliar setting quite daunting and intimidating. Especially when the possibility of the group being super fit, super experienced hikey type people and I’m not… I’m always a bit wary of being out of my depth. So, when the bus pulled up to pick us up and out bounded our two guides – smiling, arms stretched out welcoming us and carrying our bags… I almost didn’t need to put the brave face on. On the bus we found 6 amazing ladies all about the same age as us. They were friendly and welcoming and the butterflies in my stomach settled down to about a defcon level 3.
Before we started today’s walk we stopped at Simpson’s Gap and had an informational chat with our guides and a bit of an introduce yourself to the group. This is when I learned that some of our team were very experienced, having accomplished treks like Kokoda… (a la Madz’ level of experience) and some were novices like myself and had the same concerns about not being up to the challenge. The butterflies were slowing their wings a little.
Our team – Me & Madz… Gin, from Sydney and her friend C… Di, Chris, Jodee & Lou – friends from Sydney… Our Guides – Holga & Lani.
Today’s walk was a 10km stroll through the Ormiston Pound (although our Apple watches said we’d walked further… let’s call it a cool 13kms). Lani, our guide lead the way, being totally professional and completely hilarious all at the same time. She set a good pace and was aware of the groups abilities and just went with it… this made the butterflies all but disappear.
Our camp was a semi permanent set up with our own tents, sustainable solar powered everything and composting toilets. We got settled into our tents and got to know each other around the fire and were fed amazing food cooked by our guides. We were so lucky, our second guide was the owner of the whole operation – Holga – a really cool bloke, knowledgable, easy going and obviously loves what he does.
Life in camp…
Or K2, as we called it – she was definitely a killer on the uphill. The climb took us to the top of the Heavitree Range which we walked along to Counts Lookout. This is one of the most iconic views on the trail and rightly so… there is even a bench up there to sit and take it all in. Approx 16kms in total.
After lunch at the top and the sharing of medical supplies to ease our aching joints I volunteered to lead us down… I find the downhill much easier than the uphill, although my knees will probably have another opinion.
Our camp is right on the bank of the river, so we were able to soak our weary legs in the freezing water once we got back.
We were also lucky enough to have Chris – a braiding expert to do our hair…
Our guides decided to change the days around a bit to suit the group, so today we walked to the Finke River – finishing off our day with a picnic lunch by the water and an ice cold swim – complete with synchronised swimming. About 12kms.
Inarlanga Pass – This included a short, fairly easy walk/scramble to a lovely spot where we would eventually come back for lunch… some of the group stayed in that spot and set up the picnic and half of us scrambling over boulders to see the Hidden Valley, what we were seeing from Counts Lookout. In hindsight, I should have been on picnic setting up duties, but the FOMO got me… it was slightly unrelenting terrain complete with razor sharp rock formations… I started to question my addiction to the FOMO and considered turning around when Madz suggested to our guide that the group was slowing down and that maybe we needed to find this view… he said that it was another 2kms before we would see the valley… so ran up the side of a hill with the nimbleness of a mountain goat to see if we could see anything without having to walk any further – with a two thumbs up, we all followed. I have to say the view wasn’t really worth what it did to my knee. We took a couple of photos and turned around. About 12kms
The walk out was pretty simple, but with a knee that was continuously swelling, I was a feeling completely disheartened. My new best friends shared the drugs they had which eased things a little. We ended the day at the Ochre Pits which were pretty amazing, and I decided that I would not be climbing Mt Sonder the next day.
Mt Sonder – Another member of our team, Gin had decided that she would sit out the climb, so she and I would miss out on the 2am departure… an early start so that they could reach the top by sunrise. We were both devastated by this. It was the windiest day we’d had… fairly cold in camp, but at the top of Mt Sonder – there was a 60km wind with a chill factor of OMG! So Gin and I slept in, built a fire, cooked ourselves some toast and drank coffee… we entertained another guide who had dropped in for water and firewood for another tour… all in all, a busy morning! When the team got back to camp they looked exhausted and cold. I didn’t feel the FOMO AT ALL! The rest of the day was free to hang around the camp, do some reading and rest up for the next day – I slept the afternoon away… like I said, I’d had a busy morning.
I didn’t take many photos on this day for obvious reasons, but here is the shot we took on the crew’s return – you’ll notice everyone is donning their ugg boots and long socks except for Gin and myself… oops, and Madz, cause she’s hardcore!…. oh, and Holga, cause he’s a legend… #notsorryididntgo
Ellery Big Hole – this was just a walk from the carpark… people come here from Alice for day trips. One chap had a swim while we were there… she was a bit too cold for me.
And our final stop – Standley Chasm – today was an easy day, with an additional side leg for those who felt they could do one more climb. Naturally, Madz walked up with our stand in guide, Kate while the rest of the team ate hot chips at the cafe. Hey, someone had to.
Then all of a sudden – it was over.
All the panic, the anxiety, the butterflies, the self doubt… it all melted away when I realised that I had just walked approximately 60kms of the Larapinta Trail in 5 days… I’d done it. It might not be a such a big thing for some people, but for me – it was huge. It also dawned on me that at that pace it would take me at least 67 days to walk the Camino… 84 if you factor in a rest day every 4 days to let the swelling in my knee go down! Although I’m not sure how many boulders there are to climb on that route?
Feeling a little sad to say goodbye to our new best friends, we and our Sydney ladies were dropped at the same hotel… we all showered and put on clean clothes and met up with the whole gang for dinner to say our final goodbyes.
I’ve learned a lot on this ‘journey’, but the thing I think we are all taking away is the discovery of poached eggs on Vegemite toast – don’t knock it until you try it! Madz couldn’t quite believe that nobody had ever tried it before.
As a very special birthday prize, Madz organised a hot air balloon ride. We originally thought that we would float over the ranges where we’d walked, but the balloons are not allowed to fly over the ranges – the rocks are pretty sharp and there would probably be a fair bit of updraft… I don’t want to be in that balloon! So instead we sailed across the dotty sparseness looking across the ranges in the distance.
Side note: this landscape is apparently where the inspiration for dot paintings originated. Once we heard that, we couldn’t unsee it – everywhere you look – dots!
Viva La Larapinta….. 🎵Walkin’ next door to Alice… 🎵