Trekking the Larapinta Trail is the ideal experience for anyone interested in wildlife watching, ecology or earth science. The landscape is extremely old in geological terms, and despite harsh desert conditions, the ecosystems support a surprising amount of life.
The MacDonnell Ranges bioregion (the area traversed by the Larapinta Trail) is home to incredible diversity, including mammals both marsupial and placental, birds, reptiles and frogs and insects. There are more than 200 bird species in the region, and around 1500 plant species and numerous wildflowers that add colourful bursts of yellow, purple and red to the landscape. This is a surprise to many who expect a desert landscape to be devoid of life!
53 of the species found in this unique region are listed as threatened, including 14 plant species, 18 vertebrate species and 21 species of invertebrates. There are also a large number of species in the region that are found nowhere else in the world - including an incredible 15 species of land snails! This makes the bioregion an extremely important haven for wildlife conservation, and a very special place to experience.
The Black-footed rock wallabies (Petrogale lateralis) commonly spotted at Simpson Gap are extremely popular for wildlife watchers trekking the Larapinta Trail. These small, agile marsupials are less than a meter in height, and spend their lives on the rocky escarpments where they rely on caves and crevices for shelter. The main threat for these incredible creatures are introduced predators such as foxes, dogs and cats.
West MacDonnell Ranges National Park encompasses a significant proportion of the MacDonnell Ranges bioregion, and as such the Larapinta Trail passes through possibly the most significant conservation area in central Australia.
The MacDonnell Ranges bioregion is a part of the Central Ranges xeric scrub, which is characterised by sandy plains, rocky highlands and grasslands. The MacDonnell Ranges are dominated by spinifex grasses and acacias, particularly mulga scrub. The landscape is dotted with sheltered gorges and waterholes, where microclimates allow many rare species to flourish.
The biggest threats to this delicate ecosystem are overgrazing by cattle, and the impact of introduced species such as foxes, rabbits and feral cats.
The West MacDonnell Ranges were formed during a major geological event called the Alice Springs Orogeny, beginning in the late Ordovician and continuing right through to the Carboniferous period (450 million to 300 million years ago). Folding, faulting and erosion have formed the ranges we see today.
Prior to this event, the area was covered by a shallow inland sea. Fossils can be found in many of the valleys along the Larapinta Trail that show evidence of this.
Whilst the ranges are made up of a variety of rock types including limestone, granite, sandstone and silicone - they are most famous for their peaks and gorges made up of red quartzite.
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