The Ultimate End-to-end Larapinta Trail

I just couldn’t get enough of the scenery of central Australia on my walk to Mt Giles in 2016. So, when a full pack end to end Larapinta walk was offered in July 2017 I just had to do it. I knew it would be hard and it was but so worth it. I trained and learnt a lot about specific muscles that would help me carry myself and all my gear for 15 days. At work, our Exercise Physiology students ran a staff fitness program and I now know what the difference is between my gluteus maximus, medius and minimus and about hip flexors and how they help when walking up and down hill and carrying a load. I still wasn’t real sure about how I was actually going to do it and survive. But too bad, I just have to do it or die trying.

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I did invite Grandpa, you know, just in case, but no, “you go and do it and enjoy yourself” he said, what a champ! 2017 has been my year of bushwalking in case you hadn’t guessed after our big motorcycling year in 2016.

I am becoming quite familiar with Alice Springs and this time I flew in 2 days before the start of the walk. I wanted to acclimatise a bit so I wouldn’t feel like dying on the first day like what happened last time. We had a meeting with the guides and the group the afternoon before setting out and they gave us the run down on what to expect and went through our gear to make sure we had what was needed. I had some luxuries, like my little chair and some red wine and some snacks, not that we had to worry about going hungry as there were food drops along the way.

We set off from the Old Telegraph Station and headed west across the highway and the railway track. The day was quite warm and the pack was heavy and I was regretting some of my luxuries but too late now.

One member of the group was suffering badly and fell behind, I was glad it wasn’t me this time. Our first campsite at Wallaby Gap set the standard for the rest of the trip, plenty of dirt, a shelter, toilet, water tank and a beautiful waterhole and red rock.

The second day was a killer, up at 5.30 for porridge and ‘cowboy’ coffee then 27km which seemed to never end and a burnt, hard campsite at the end. The next day was a cruisy 10km to Jay creek and it seemed like we were on holidays. I camped in the sandy creek bed without the fly on my tent and watched the moon and stars. Some members of the group started to suffer from blisters but my feet were doing fine.

I was starting to get a feel for this adventure. The next day we had our first challenge, take the high route along the ridge to Standley Chasm or the low (and boring) route. We stopped at the junction and the guides gave us a great pep talk and off we went up and over the top. It was our first real view of Mt Sonder, about 180km away. How the hell were we ever going to get there? We were all feeling trepidation about how we would keep going to the end.

There were some hard days to come, over Brinkley Bluff, down Razorback Ridge, scaling up a cliff to Giles Lookout, boulder hopping up gorges, sandy creek beds and rocks.

Did I say rocks, hard, sharp, pointy, broken, rounded, endless, endless rocks. For every heart pounding ascent there was a spectacular view to make it all worthwhile. By about Day 6, I was confident that I would make it and everyone in the group agreed that nobody was allowed to wimp out now.

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Our guides kept us going with encouragement, stories and lots of great food. Even though we didn’t need the extra weight of fresh veggies and our share of the food, it was so great to get into camp and have our ‘salty snacks’, tea and then dinner and dessert cooked for us. Larapinta wraps for lunch were better than any café fare and I was amazed to find that I found the Kraft packaged processed cheese that went out of fashion years ago could taste SO good after the fresh stuff ran out.

The guides knew how to motivate us, apart from food they would lavish praise at the end of the day or after a particularly hard part. You know, “Well done there”, “Awsome job today”, “You guys are epic” etc. This all went to our heads so much that we needed more and more reassurance to keep us going and we would complain if we didn’t get it. We talked about what would be the best way to commemorate our epic, awesome effort in the first of these treks the company had put on. Well a couple of months later, we all got a certificate of Awesomeness! How awesome is that? Pretty cool.

Another load to carry was 4 or 5 days supply of trail snacks, snakes and muesli bars. All that sugar adds up surprisingly to about 2kg. Add 4 or 5 litres of water and I was having a good workout everyday.

Each night we camped at one of the shelters at the end of each section along the track, except one night we camped up on a high ridge, you know, just to enjoy the view and had to carry extra water up. At each camp there was water in a tank resupplied by National Parks, a toilet, a shelter to cook, hangout in or sleep for smaller groups than ours and a map of the whole walk where we could ever so slowly measure our progress. It was such a thrill to reach the highlights or pass the points we had been dreading. We had two nights of luxury at the trek company’s permanent camps set up each winter for their ‘daywalk’ trekkers. As they were outside of the National Park we could have a fire! What a treat, they had sit down toilets and a ‘birdbath’ with hot water!! And tents set up, so we could just dump our stuff and sit in a chair!!! While the guides cook up even better treats like bread and butter pudding and ice cream.

It was such a letdown the next morning to leave but I chose this hard option after much long and hard deliberation to be right out there carrying everything and not glamping. I am so happy with that decision.

We saw quite a lot of other walkers, in groups or solos, it was quite busy really in some places but there was plenty of opportunity to enjoy the solitude and peace. Then you would get to the ‘tourist’ spots and it was overload time. We might take advantage of an icecream or proper cappuccino but we were keen to get away from the crowds and look at trees.

And sunrises and sunsets.

I had one down day around Day 13, partly, missing home, knowing the end was getting closer and it was hot and we were walking through sand. It didn’t last long, we climbed our last, well second last hill and there was Mt Sonder, so close. There is an Indigenous story about a woman turned to stone as she slept with a man not from the right skin colour group. You can see the profile of her face, breasts, pregnant belly and belly button. It is so beautiful.

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We would be camped at Redbank Gorge the next night and then we would walk up there to watch the sunrise, which is what you do at the end (or the beginning) of the walk. Getting up at 2.30am to have breakfast and walk up in the dark just seemed like the most natural thing to do.

The sunrise was spectacular and so worth it and the feeling of having DONE IT!!! All 234km.

 

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Around Australia – Heading East (and home)

We left the south west corner of Western Australia on a very wet and miserable day. When the sun did come out, the glare on the road was really bad, but we got to see rainbows in the rear view mirrors. The next thing on our list was to visit some big trees. We passed through lots of towns ending in ‘up’, which means place, like Nannup and Manjimup and they all had great food and coffee, too bad we weren’t working up an appetite sitting on the bike.

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Now that’s a wagon wheel

A few towns along the way had been yarn-bombed, but Bridgetown was the best so far.

I found the big Diamond Tree which you could climb and had a fire lookout at the top. It was 53 metres up a dodgy set of spikes going around the tree. Grandpa didn’t believe me that I was going to climb it. It did look a long way up and the spikes were a long way apart and cold. No matter, off I went. It didn’t take long and the view once you popped out above the surrounding forest made it worthwhile.

Then there was the tree-top walkway to get a really close look at the Karri trees for those not into climbing.

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Our next camp was at Denmark where we could see the full moon rising over the sea. Much more private than the “Staircase to the moon” at Broome.

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The next day the rainy weather continued, we knew the weather would be like this in these parts. It really was winter but we were getting used to it now, 2 pairs of gloves, thermals and plastic bags in the boots helped to keep us warm and dry. Albany was an interesting place but wet so we continued to Hopetoun on the coast. The rain had eased a bit but the wind was blowing so hard it blew me and the bike over when I foolishly parked side onto it down by the water. The pub had a fantastic fire box which could have kept us warm all night though.

Next stop was Norseman and then off across the Nullabor and the big, long straight. The weather had cleared by then so we made camp at a roadside stop just past Madura (which had THE most expensive fuel of the trip $1.99/l) and had a lovely fire, the best camp of all. We came across this ingenious way of getting water in the middle of the desert. A big roof and some tanks, probably only catches the dew, but it was enough for us. The Roadhouses along the way will not let you have any water, you have to buy it in a bottle.

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The next day we were back in South Australia and it got slightly warmer. This is where the cliffs start along the Great Australian Bight and we had to stop at all of the lookouts. It is amazing scenery and you get the sense of what a big island Australia is surrounded by all that ocean. The last one at the Head of the Bight was where the whales come to calve and play with their babies. The new viewing platforms meant that you could see them closer than if you were on a boat. If you look close you can see a tail! (the phone doesn’t zoom very well).

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Still cold, wet and windy so we stayed at a dodgy Motel/Roadhouse. Where the German manager did a fantastic job of keeping the locals in line. A big day’s ride to Port Augusta the next day and the highlight for me was seeing the setting sun on the Flinders Range coming into Port Augusta. One day I am coming back for a walk. We set up camp and then found the best old pub by the water, Hotel Augusta with good food and beer and ambience. We nearly ended up spending the night. Somewhere along the road today, there was a town claiming to be the halfway point across Australia but all we saw was a bloody big galah!

So cold, cold, cold that when we stopped at a little place called Orroroo we bought thermal socks and had the very best pie of the trip at the Gum Tree Café if you are ever passing through. This was also home to a gigantic gum tree.

We wanted to see Broken Hill on our way home but in typical fashion, we only had time for a brief drive-by and then on our way the next day. The winter rain had been heavy all over and some of the roads we wanted to take were dirt and we didn’t fancy riding on mud, so we headed south to Wentworth  where the Darling flows into the Murray and then along the Hay plain. Our last stop was at the Bland Hotel in Quandialla and a quick hello to Daniel.

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And so back home again. My first thought when going inside was “What is this place? Oh yeah this is a house”. It felt very strange to be inside after being outside for all that time but gee it felt good to have a shower and find some other clothes that I hadn’t been wearing for the last 6 weeks.

We had such a great time, yes it was tiring and yes we would do it again, sometime later and maybe in the car with a kayak. The next day Kevin hopped on the bike and did the remaining 40km so we topped 16 000kms!! The bikes were really great even if they did cost a fortune to service and of course we have already started talking about where our next adventure will be too.

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