Larapinta Trail – 230km over 17 days

Hiking the entire Larapinta Trail in the West MacDonald Ranges in Central Australia was life changing for me.  It’s the longest hike I’ve ever done (230km over 17 days).  It pushed me to the edges of my endurance.  It wowed me with its magnificence.  This was a unique and wonderful experience, and I am returning next year.  Once was not enough.  This National Park is known as Tjoritja by the traditional owners of the land and is considered of great significance in the local Arrernte Aboriginal culture.  Additionally the Larapinta River is also known as the Finke River.  During much of the year the river flows and connect underground, with waterholes along it, each have significance to the aboriginal communities that are deeply connected in ways I can not even imagine.

We began the hike from its western edge, Mount Sonder and Redbank Gorge, walking east towards Alice Springs.  We had sensational clear blue skies every day.  We had 2 food drops to look forward to and two tourist areas with canteens and showers!  Now when I say ”we”, initially I could not find anyone who would commit to doing Larapinta Trail in its entirety or without a tour group.  But quickly, once I decided on dates and mapped out this 17 day epic adventure, I had one friend express interest and suddenly we became a group of 7!

 I was mesmerised from day 1; the ever changing landscape,  the vibrant colours, the variety of flowers in bloom, the bird life, the deep and sacred gorges and the delightful waterholes were simply awesome.  It was the most spectacular visual overload.  I was expecting parts of the trail would be boring, but it wasn’t like that at any time.  It was pristine and glorious.


Our 17 Day Epic Adventure of the Larapinta Trail looked like this:

  • Sunset hike to Mount Sonder,
  • Redbanks Gorge to Hilltop high camp, 
  • Hilltop to Finke River,
  • Finke River to Ormiston Gorge (canteen and showers)
  • Ormiston Gorge to Hermits Hideaway (my sleeping mattress exploded in the night)
  • Hermits Hideaway to Serpentine Chalet Dam (collected a new mattress from the Orche Pits)
  • Serpentine Dam to Serpentine Gorge (food drop collected)
  • Serpentine Gorge to Ellery Creek North
  • Ellery Creek North to Rocky Gap (half way!)
  • Rocky Gap to the magnificent Hugh Gorge
  • Hugh Gorge to Fringe Lily (missed the camp spot so I ended up on Razerback Ridge – oops)
  • Razorback to Stuarts Pass via Birthday Waterhole (swim as often as you can)
  • Stuarts Pass over Brinkley Bluff (heart starter) to Standley Chasm (shop shut early due to road works – I nearly cried)
  • Standley Chasm to Jay Creek
  • Jay Creek to Simpsons Gap – a very long day with many highlights!
  • Simpsons Gap to Wallaby Gap
  • Wallaby Gap to Alice Springs

 If you are thinking about doing the Larapinta Trail end to end take as much time as you can!  I certainly would not have enjoyed doing this trek any faster. 

image of Jo Cordell-Cooper at Hugh Gorge, Larapinta Trail

Jo at remote and pristine Hugh Gorge, Larapinta Trail

cycads at Inarlanga Pass, Larapinta Trail

Cycads at Inarlanga Pass

Mount Sonder at Sunset

Sunset of Mount Sonder, from Hilltop Camp, Larapinta Trail

The topography (amount of up and down) of the Larapinta Trail did not look overly hard to me.  But what I under estimated was how hard the ground was and how tired I would begin to feel, so managing my sore feet was my biggest challenge despite not getting blisters at all.  Additionally if you are going to do any of the high camps this required you to carry about an extra 6 litres (KG) of water (hard yakka).  The amount of elevation is rarely more than 600 meters and the trails had been considerately carved into the landscape.  These are ancient trails made more prominent for the many tourists that visit the area so it’s hard to get lost.

Ellergy Gorge North is open to swimming - but very cold!

Ellery Creek North is open to swimming – but very cold!

Dingo footprint

Dingo footprint – that’s as close as I got

Jo Cordell-Cooper at Standley Chasm, Larapinta Trail

Standley Chasm – no-one else around!

pink hakea on the Larapinta Trail

Pink hakea on the Larapinta Trail

Desert Pea, Larapinta Trail

Desert Pea

Christmas Holly on the Larapinta Trail

Christmas Holly on the Larapinta Trail

The sky seems to go on forever and the caterpillar ranges reach for miles and miles – words really do not do it justice and my camera couldn’t really capture the grandeur of it all either.  The remote and untouched Hugh Gorge was my favourite place and is only accessed by hiking in with only 6 people visiting it on the day we were there.  The sacred Inarlanga Pass made me stop and deeply reflect on the traditional owners of this land.  I felt the privilege of being able to walk through this remarkable place.  You could feel how important this place was and still is to the aboriginal people.  Birthday Waterhole was another highlight and this one is easier to access if you have a 4 wheel drive. 

Mount Giles from Hermits Hideaway, Larapinta Trail

Mount Giles from Hermits Hideaway, Larapinta Trail.  This was my favorite campsite.


So if adventure to remote and diverse places is on your bucket list but you’d prefer something shorter and minus the heavy packs, fully catered and with more creature comforts than the solo hiker I invite you to travel with me July 3-14, 2024,.   (I have 3 spots left on my private tour with tour legends World Expeditions with full catering and light packs. 

This image describes the Larapinta Tour offered by Jo Cordell-Cooper and World Expeditions

If you are interested in this tour to the Larapinta Trail hosted by Jo Cordell-Coper and in partnership with World Expeditions email Jo directly here  Download an itinerary here.  Dates are July 3-14 2024.