Day 1 - Simpsons Gap
Text and photosSonya Muhlsimmer
I would like to start by paying respect to the traditional owners and custodians of the Central and Western Arrernte Country.
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L rapinta is named after the traditional custodian’s name for the Finke River. This river is thought to be the world’s oldest river, following the same course for over 350 million years, in the land of the Arrernte People. The Arrernte have generously allowed walkers to pass through some sacred sites, and the walk also follows some Dreamtime song lines. Arrernte mythology focuses on the landscape. Altijira is the creator being of the Inapertwa, the ancestral creatures that formed into humans and all living creatures.
In July 2023 my friend Elsje and I spent 16 days walking in the MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory, completing the Larapinta Trail, 231 kilometres, plus 27 kilometres
of side trips. The walk starts at Telegraph Station, just a few kilometres outside Alice Springs and ends at Redbank Gorge where you climb the fourth highest mountain in the NT, Mount Sonder, 1380 metres high. The trail passes through some amazing countryside, crossing over open desert plains, rocky creek beds, high rocky ridges and through some pretty spectacular gorges.
There are twelve sections of the Larapinta Trail and at each trail head there is a shelter, some of which have a solar charger but not to be relied upon, water tanks, pit toilets and campsites maintained by the NT Parks. There are costs involved in walking the trail end to end such as walking, camping and park fees in which all revenue raised will help manage the park's camp sites.
The outback is a magical place that will get under your skin.
Day 2 - Arenge View with Elsje. Lunch spot
This river is thought to be the world’s oldest river, following the same course for over 350 million years, in the land of the Arrernte People.
Also there are the food drops, pick up or drop off that you have to organise. You can complete the walk self-supported which we did, or you can go with a guided tour. Also, you don’t have to do the whole walk, doing as much or as little as you like, but I recommend doing the whole walk to experience the true variety of what the desert, and the walk has to offer. There are many other areas to camp along the way, and you don’t need to make the trail head each day. It is not a technical walk, there is a well-marked trail but it is rocky in many areas and there are some large hills to walk up too, it is just the kilometres, oh and
the rocks that make it difficult. It is well worth it and I suggest to take your time and factor in some rest days. The outback is a magical place that will get under your skin. This is the third time I have been in the outback and I dare say, it won’t be my last.
Elevation (max and min)
Alice Springs to Simpsons Gap
Simpson Gap to Jay Creek
9 h 40 m
Jay Creek to Standley Chasm
8 h 10 m
Standley Creek to Birthday Junction
9 h 20 m
Birthday Junction to Hugh Gorge
9 h 35 m
Hugh Gorge to Ellery Creek North
9 h 50 m
Ellery Creek North to Serpentine Campsite
4 h 5 m
Serpentine Campsite to Serpentine Chalet Dam
6 h 56 m
Serpentine Chalet Dam to Ormiston Gorge
11 h 50 m
Rest day, Ormiston Pound
3 h 25 m
Ormiston Gorge to Finke River. We did 19.1 km and camped at Hilltop Lookout
7 h 20 m
Finke River to Redbank Gorge. Starting at Hilltop Lookout we did 15.8 km.
5 h 10 m
Mount Sonder day trip
Pick up, to Alice Springs
It is not a technical walk, there is a well-marked trail ...
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0 km 10 20 30 km
Road, four-wheel drive track, walking track (treed)
Main track, side trip, alternative route
Cliff, major contour line, minor contour line (100 metre interval)
Lake, river, waterfall or creek
Start of the walk
End of the walk
Day 1: Alice Springs Telegraph Station to Simpsons Gap After leaving the creature comforts of the motel, the taxi dropped us off at Telegraph Station around 7.30 am where the walk officially begins. Telegraph Station is one of the original sites of European settlement and was established in 1872. It is an interesting tourist destination if you have time. However, onwards we go and in no time we reach Euro Ridge. This ridge provides sweeping views back to Alice Springs and the highest points of this ridge represents the head and back of the Euro ancestor. This spirit created the water holes around Alice Springs while digging for water. Wallaby Gap was reached around lunch time and provides a perfect spot to stop with a shelter, appropriately named as I saw a wallaby. Coming down the hill to the camp spot a little willy wagtail bird was following me; he even came and sat on my pack for a free ride for a bit and tried to share my lunch with me at the shelter. After lunch it was onto Simpsons Gap, or Rrengetyirpe as
it is known. This is a sacred site and I can’t quite name the feeling I had when I sat next to the waterhole, but it had the most peaceful feeling to it, a stunning and magical place. Back at the walker’s campsite, two solo walkers Gina and Darryl were there. It was funny as during the trip we ran into these two quite a lot. Apparently late at night there was a lot of noise coming from the carpark, which was a few hundred metres from the walker’s campsite, however I did not hear a thing.
Day 2: Simpsons Gap to Jay CreekSection two is mostly flat with a few points of interest such as Bond Gap, Arenge View and then Spring Gap. Also this section is the home of some brushtail possum colonies which is
This is a sacred site and I can’t quite name the feeling ...
Day 3 - Looking back at the Chewings Ranges
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quite rare in this part of Central Australia. The waterholes had water after all the rain from a week prior and made a stunning sight. Bond Gap is a permanent waterhole but Spring Gap is not so it was good to see it with water in it. Lunch was called around Arenge View, which is not far before Mulga campground, oh what a view we had. Onwards we walked until Jay Creek.
Day 3: Jay Creek to Standley Chasm Today was a lot harder that the first two days. It is the steepest, roughest and most rugged section of the trail through the Chewings Ranges. The guide book tells me Jay Creek to Millers Flat climbs up to 210 metres with a descent of 140 metres. Starting at Jay Creek, a sandy creek that leads to a permanent waterhole known as Fish Hole. In the Dreamtime a serpent found this passage, it is a sacred site. Past Fish Hole the track follows a rocky creek up the gorge, then climbs a spur, then descends then climbs
up into a saddle then descends into the next rocky creek. Then the track rises to a saddle then down into the next rocky creek until the track finally reaches Millers Flat. There was scrambling involved in some areas and it was unrelentingly rocky. From Millers Flat to Standley Chasm, this part of track rises with an ascent of 180 metres and a descent of 230 metres, here we go again.
After lunch at Millers Flat the track again meanders up and down over a saddle and down the rocky creek through to Fig Spring with more scrambling involved. Just when you thought you have had enough scrambling the
It is the steepest, roughest and most rugged section of the trail through the Chewings Ranges.
Day 4 - Standley Chasm
track seemed to disappear, I thought I had lost the track at some point but no it was more scrambling a few metres up the left side of a water hole, along another rocky creek bed and then a steep climb up a dry waterfall around 10 or so metres high, it was challenging. Once out of the gorge the track opens up and climbs to a saddle. You guessed it, then back down into the gully and back up a spur. This is now a lookout point near Standley Chasm. The GPS tells me we are not far from Standley Chasm, about 1.5 kilometers, but that is the way the crow flies. The track goes steeply down, then steeply up then steeply down again. By this time, we were totally exhausted, and completely over it but we finally reach Standley Chasm and set up camp. The next day is a rest day, thankfully. There are showers, a washing machine, a café and our first food drop at this camp site so a little bit of luxury with a real coffee, oh and a cider and yummy snacks too. Guess who we saw here, Gina and Darryl.
Day 4: Rest dayA rest was definitely needed today so it was taking it easy in the morning, indulging in a shower, real coffee at the café, doing some clothes washing, cooking pancakes, eating snacks and walking to Standley Chasm, which is all flat ground and only a short walk away. Gina had a rest day with us but Daryl continued on to the next campsite along the way. Standley Chasm, or Angkerle Atwatye, the Gap of Water as it is known, is an important cultural site for women and the area is privately owned by the local community members.
The chasm itself is 80 metres tall and around three metres wide at the narrowest point. There was a pool full of water through the chasm so unless you swim, you couldn’t get past. The walls in the chasm change colour depending on where the sun is and around
noon the walls light up to the most amazing red colour. It is spectacular to see, but a very busy place at that time. It was nice to visit the chasm again in the afternoon after all the tourists left.
Day 5: Standley Chasm to Birthday Junction Section four is graded very hard due the ascent and descent. Brinkley Bluff is one of the highest summits on the trail at 1209 metres with many false summits, and coming down near Reveal Saddle it is very rocky and steep. The walk starts just out from the entrance to Standley Chasm walking down a rocky creek bed, then the track continues to rise to the numerous saddles and follows narrow spurs then passing a few knolls up to the summit.
The views are amazing up here and Brinkley Bluff is a great spot for lunch, again the track is a very steep, zig zag descent. After a while, the track starts getting easy all the way to Birthday Junction, it was a real pleasant flat part of the trail. To see the waterholes you have to walk about 900 metres away from the shelter, passing smaller waterholes along the way. The first waterhole makes a fabulous camp spot for the night, you guessed it, Gina and Darryl were here too.
Day 6: Birthday Junction to Hugh GorgeSection five gets talked a lot and Hugh Gorge is a real highlight of the trip, and I must say it was spectacular. There is also a swim through cold water. The length of the swim and the depth depends on how much rain the desert has had. I packed a dry sack for the pack just for this section. Not too long after leaving the junction the rock scrambling through Spencer Gorge begins. It is not a long gorge, just over a kilometre but the amount of boulders you have to navigate will slow you down. However, the different plant species growing and the
... an important cultural site for women and the area is privately owned by the local community members.
To see the waterholes you have to walk about 900 metres away from the shelter, passing smaller waterholes along the way.
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rock formations it is worth a slower walk to take it all in. Once out of the gorge it is a climb to Razorback Ridge, this is an impressive, thin ridge line with amazing views which does involve a little scrambling. The track descends into the gully, cross Fringe Lilly creek and soon the track gets to the Hugh Gorge junction. We finally reach the water so we scramble on the right side for as far as we can, take off our packs and investigate. Gina was walking with us and there were also two other people we have met previously, John and Peter, a father and son duo. On the bank, after the swim there were two other people, Amy and Hien who we have met before and they instructed us on what to do. Amy waded through the water to the boulder, Gina lowered her pack off the boulder, Amy grabbed the pack and walked to the bank. Gina then jumped into the water to swim around the boulder, it is only about a two metre swim and then once around the boulder, the water
is waist deep. I am waiting on the boulder for Gina to take my pack, I jump in and swim then go to the other side of the boulder to get Elsje’s pack and so on. It was easy with the few of us. From here it was not long to the camp site.
Day 7: Hugh Gorge to Ellery Creek NorthOnce out of the gorge, the landscape opens up with less scrub and wide open plains, looking back to the Hugh Gorge, at Hugh View was impressive. However, in one part, a recent fire has cleared a lot of the shrub and all that was left was red dirt, rocks and burnt shrubs, it was quite surreal as in a sense this is what you expect the desert to really look like. It was hard as there was no shade and full sun so the walking was tiring. Passing through Rocky Gully was just that, a rocky gully, but it did have a little bit of water in the creek. Ellery Creek North was reached and our legs were sore and we were tired. It was good to get to camp.
Day 6 - Camp at Birthday Junction Waterholes
Day 8: Ellery Creek North to Serpentine Gorge After packing up camp, it was down to Ellery Creek to check out the gorge and oh my it was gorgeous. Oh and the birds that were around in this campground, in the creek and in the gorge, there were so many. We saw Galahs, Black cockatoos, a Falcon and Budgerigars too, such a special place full of life. On the way we stop to look back at Ellery Creek at the lookout, which is on the top of a
hill. The scenery is really something out here, I am in awe. A little while later Spring Gap was reached and a small scramble is required then it was not long to our next campsite. Another food drop is waiting for us here with some yummy snacks and a small bottle of cider.
Day 9: Rest day It was good to sleep in a bit and not have to pack up camp. Today is just about relaxing, walking to the gorge, up to the lookout to see down into the gorge and that’s it. Serpentine Gorge, Ulpma as it is known, is a permanent waterhole and is a refuge for rare plants and lots of animals. The Dreamtime story is of the Carpet Snake, the story can only be told to an initiated Aboriginal man. Swimming is forbidden. Gina and her dad Monty turned up tonight. Monty started the walk at Ellery Creek South and will be completing the walk.
The Dreamtime story is of the Carpet Snake, the