Guide explaining some of the history of the Larapinta Trail | Linda Murden
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History of the Larapinta Trail

LARAPINTA Trail Development

The Larapinta Trail was first conceptualised in 1989 as part of a strategy to develop a national park in the West MacDonnell Ranges. The first section of the trail was opened in 1990, and was originally half as long as what it is today. 

Original plans for the Larapinta Trail extended from the Old Telegraph Station just outside Alice Springs to the highest peak in the Northern Territory, Mt Zeil. However due to the remoteness and the rugged terrain spanning between Mt Sonder and Mt Zeil, it was decided that the trail should end at the equally spectacular Mt Sonder, one of the territory’s highest mountains. After many years of development and community consultation, the Larapinta Trail in its current form was finally completed in 2002.

The full 223km of the Larapinta Trail today spans between the Old Telegraph Station and Mt Sonder, covering some of the geographical and cultural highlights along the way including Standley Chasm, Euro Ridge, the Ochre Pits, Ormiston Gorge, and more. Many of these sites are sacred to the Arrernte people, who have permitted tourists and walkers to visit the sites.

Australian Walking Holidays (a division of World Expeditions) were the first tour operators on the Larapinta Trail, beginning commercial Larapinta walks in 1995. The Larapinta Trail has since gained international fame and attracts a growing number of walkers each year. 

Indigenous history

We wish to acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the Central and Western Arrernte Country, who have provided us the opportunity to explore the ancient landscape of the West MacDonnell Ranges.

The Arrernte (pronounced Ah-runda) people are the original indigenous inhabitants of the Arrernte land, which stretches as far east as the Wallace Rock Hole, through Alice Springs, to the west to Watarrka (Kings Canyon) and as far as the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. Rich in waterholes, gorges, and spectacular mountain ranges, the land provides ideal living conditions for many plants and wildlife which can be seen along the trail.

The Arrernte history dates back to 40,000 years and is one of the longest continuing cultures on the planet. Their cultural heritage and connection to the land has been told over thousands of years through dreamtime stories, spiritual tracks and ceremonial places that still hold deep resonance with the people today. 

Our travellers along the Larapinta Trail can learn about this history through Cultural Conversations on our Classic Larapinta Trek in Comfort, told by local Arrernte woman Deanella Mack Person. Trekkers can also enjoy sampling of indigenous food from local indigenous chef Rayleen Brown from Kungkas Can Cook.

Tyurrentye (as the area is known to the Traditional Owners) is a living landscape with deep spiritual significance to the 16 traditional estates that make up the area. The country abounds with sacred sites, indigenous artworks and archaeological sites. The landscape is also home to many dreaming tracks (or 'song lines' as they are commonly known), such as the taye (moon man) dreaming that takes place between Mt Sonder and Glen Helen Gorge. Famous contemporary Indigenous Australian artist Albert Namatjira is a Western Arrernte man, with many of his paintings and those of his descendants depicting landscapes in and around the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Australian Walking Holidays believes in working with the local indigenous community to allow clients to gain a deeper understanding of the need to conserve the Aboriginal cultures and respect their place and lifestyle in Australia.

The launch of OUR semi-permanent ECO-COMFORT camps

It is thanks to our strong relationship with the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the Central and Western Arrernte Country that in 2005 the World Expeditions Travel Group began discussions with the Central Land Council to build a cooperative relationship to establish semi-permanent campsites along the Larapinta Trail. In March 2013, we launched two campsites along the Larapinta Trail, with a third semi-permanent campsite launched in May 2016, to provide shelter to our walking groups through a series of minimal impact structures.

They are located within indigenous owned National Park some 30kms and 130kms west of Alice Springs. A partnership between the landscape and the campsites has been established to maintain respect for country, to enhance sense of place and to provide a total environment experience of the Larapinta trek. World Expeditions’ long-standing relationships with the indigenous traditional owners and NT National Parks & Wildlife provided the basis for negotiation of an exclusive sub-lease, a cooperative arrangement that benefits all parties. The design development involved many face-to-face meetings with the Aboriginal traditional owners to ensure that local community contributed to and embraced the plan.

The guides still use traditional outback cooking over the open fire in the Larapinta Campsites |  <i>Caroline Crick</i> The Larapinta Semi Permanent campsites offer cafe style gas heaters to warm the dining and lounge area |  <i>Caroline Crick</i> Solar powered LED lighting systems are just one of the sustainable technologies behind the Larapinta Camps  |  <i>Caroline Crick</i> The semi permanent Larapinta Campsites offer comfortable facilities in an outback wilderness |  <i>Caroline Crick</i> Enjoy staying in our spacious sleeping tents at our semi-permanent campsites |  <i>Shaana McNaught</i> Trekkers relaxing on the porch of their campsites |  <i>Shaana McNaught</i> The Larapinta campsites enjoy splendid isolation, nestled amongst the West MacDonnell Ranges |  <i>Caroline Crick</i>

These innovative, stylish and sustainable semi-permanent campsite facilities along the Larapinta Trail were designed to enhance the experience of walkers while at the same time minimising environmental impacts. This allows walkers to experience the breathtaking beauty of the Larapinta Trail in an eco-friendly and sustainable manner. The Classic Larapinta Trek in Comfort trip fosters environmental and cultural appreciation and conservation through our facilities, practices and innovative improvements to our product offering.

It has always been our motto to "take only photographs and leave only footprints", and on our Classic Larapinta Trek in Comfort trip, our eco-footprint is one of the softest and most comfortable experiences trekkers can have along the Larapinta Trail. 

We have three exclusive eco-friendly, semi-permanent campsites that give walkers a relaxing base to enjoy the pristine desert scenery and outback solitude. Featuring a kitchen, communal lounge and dining shelter on a raised platform out of the dust, the camps provide a cool and shady open haven, and a warm shelter during the cool nights with gas heating. Water-free toilets are in a clean and airy amenities shelter, and waste is disposed of by the Alice Springs Treatment Plant. Hot showers add comfort for our guests after a day on the Larapinta Trail. 

These campsites would not be possible without a strong partnership with NT Parks and Wildlife and the Aboriginal Traditional Owners who jointly manage the land. The exclusive sub-lease ensures that the benefits of our tours are shared equitably with the Aboriginal Traditional Owners whose land we walk and camp upon.

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