Why the Northern Territory should be on your travel bucket list

Enjoy spectacular sunrises along the Larapinta Trail | Gavin Yeates
Enjoy spectacular sunrises along the Larapinta Trail | Gavin Yeates

Why the Northern Territory should be on your travel bucket list

This is a blog by Georgia Hopkins and featured on Vogue Style. This accounts Georgia's experience on the Classic Larapinta Trek In Comfort with Australian Walking Holidays. View the original blog here  
 
To be surrounded by the pristine desert scenery of the Australian Outback, home to the Aboriginal people and their culture for well over 30,000 years, is not only a privilege but an incredibly overwhelming experience.

The natural beauty and richness of this vast landscape is hard to describe–the redness of the dirt, the endless ridges, chasms and gorges, the colour of the mulga’s silver branches sitting pretty alongside a royal blue sky, the desert wildflowers, and the wide expanse of land with barely another person in sight.
 
 
Having just returned from a week-long hiking adventure along the infamous 223 kilometre Larapinta Trail, I feel a renewed sense of awe and inspiration for, and deeper understanding of, our ancient indigenous culture–the oldest culture in the world–and the Traditional Owners of the land.
 
To be surrounded by the pristine desert scenery of the Australian Outback, home to the Aboriginal people and their culture for well over 30,000 years, is not only a privilege but an incredibly overwhelming experience.

The natural beauty and richness of this vast landscape is hard to describe–the redness of the dirt, the endless ridges, chasms and gorges, the colour of the mulga’s silver branches sitting pretty alongside a royal blue sky, the desert wildflowers, and the wide expanse of land with barely another person in sight.

Having just returned from a week-long hiking adventure along the infamous 223 kilometre Larapinta Trail, I feel a renewed sense of awe and inspiration for, and deeper understanding of, our ancient indigenous culture–the oldest culture in the world–and the Traditional Owners of the land.
 
In the safe hands of three young and passionate wilderness guides, Alice, Earle and Andrew, our group of 16 began our walk at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, the official start of the Larapinta Trail, walking west through witchetty bush, mulga scrub, and shady woodlands. A diverse bunch of fellow adventurers–from a spine surgeon to a tailored-suit maker, a pig farmer to a production line manager, a student to a corporate high-flyer, and everything in between–our group was made up entirely of Australians and French.
 
We would stop for lunch under the shade of the mulgas, our guides setting up comfy picnicking spots along dry riverbeds. Food on the trip was always wholesome and plentiful–three courses at dinner, and a well-considered menu. The quality of your guides is crucial on a trip like this. We were fortunate enough to be led by a late-20 something go-getter from Tasmania, Alice, who has been working on-off in the desert for the past few years. A kind, confident, knowledgeable and passionate leader–Alice led the group like a pro.
 
Earle, a 21-year old also from Tasmania, had an eager enthusiasm and was truly at home in the bush. They were a great little team. It was the third guide, Andrew’s, first time on this trip (he had previously worked guiding around Uluru) and he was key for sharing with us stories of indigenous history and culture. Each night we would sleep in a swag, either inside a safari-style tent or out in the open, at one of Australian Walking Holidays’ impressive, architecturally-designed eco-campsites by Neeson-Murcutt Architects, nestled amongst the hills just off the Larapinta Trail. These innovative and sustainable campsites were the perfect place to kick back and enjoy the outback solitude.
 
Designed to help minimise environmental impact, the camps are home to a communal tent for dining, safari-style tents for sleeping, composting toilets (to ensure that no waste enters the environment), solar lighting systems, and hot water for showers that is heated in an outback-style, gas-fired “donkey” water heater. We would be given a bucket’s worth of water each day (2.5 minutes worth) to hook up to an outdoor shower. All waste and rubbish was removed from the camps on a regular basis, with everything being recycled where possible.
 
For me, highlights of the six-day trip included a sunrise hike to the summit of Mount Sonder, Central Australia’s second highest peak at 1,380 metres. Getting up at 2am, we were driven to the base of Sonder and from there it was head torches on as we hiked the 8 kilometers (2.5 hours) up in the pitch black, with only the stars above, the brightly-shining moon, and the other walkers aheads to lead the way. The view out over the rocky peaks and troughs of Tjoritja, in an ever-changing pink and orange sky, were breathtaking. 
 
 
View Georgia's video - Mount Sonder sunrise

Ormiston Gorge and Ormiston Pound was another favourite stop, largely due to the scale of its towering walls, and the richness of the red rock all around. We soaked in yet another watering hole, surrounded by red rocky walls and shaded by trees. Meeting up with local indigenous woman Deanella Mack, with her amazing passion and energy for her people and the country, was another highlight. Mack, the founder of Cultural Connections NT, aims to help raise cultural awareness by sharing her knowledge.

We learnt all about ‘creation time’ (commonly incorrectly referred to as ‘Dreamtime’), culture kinship, the skin system, and other cultural considerations. Mack taught us how to “tune into country” and we learnt that the Aboriginal culture is not about asking questions as elders never reveal any answers, instead they encourage you to listen, feel, and taste. Their knowledge is shared, always. No one person ever holds all the knowledge, it can’t be lost.
 
We were introduced to native plants (lemongrass for example, that the local people crush up, mix with fat, and use as a vapor on their chest), and they way Aboriginal people would test if a plant was poisonous–by rubbing it under their arms, near the lymph nodes, to see if it would cause swelling. Nature would tell their people what to do next.

Another local indigenous woman, Rayleen Brown, the passionate founder of catering company Kungkas Can Cook, taught us all about native bush foods. Indigenous people have been using bush foods for food and medicine for many years. The native Kakadu plum is considered to be one of the highest Vitamin C fruits in the world. The mulga bush is an important food source, its wattle seed being full of iron, minerals and proteins which reduce glucose and help to regenerate cells.

Things you notice in the desert: a staggering number of flies, an incredible quiet and calm, more stars than you have ever seen, an abundance of endemic bird-life, desert wildflowers in bloom, dingoes howling and the joy that comes from being totally disconnected from the outside world.
 
As our van made the 200 kilometre journey back into Alice Springs, the soft hum of Xavier Rudd’s Spirit Bird song played in the background. A song Rudd wrote as an expression of the beauty of the aboriginal spirit, and one that sends a strong message about two issues very close to his heart: environmental protection and the rights of Aboriginal people to their land. A reminder of how precious and ancient this landscape is, and how we must strive to protect and honour it.
 
If you are looking for an active way to enjoy the Australian Outback, and one that will not only be a humbling and grounding experience, but one that will enable you to connect with both each other and the land on a much deeper spiritual level, the Larapinta Trail is for you.

The Classic Larapinta Trek In Comfort is one of the ‘Great Walks of Australia’ collective and is operated by Australian Walking Holidays which is a division of the World Expeditions Travel Group.
Larapinta

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