Aussie Outback a special place
Jan and Rick Clare visit an immense moon-like crater on the last day of their hike on Australia’s Larapinta Trail. ‘The climate, vastness, infinite diversity and beauty of the landscape steeped in ancient Aboriginal culture made this a truly fascinating adventure,’ writes Jan.
Another clear, crisp June morning, the sixth in a row, greeted us on the final day of our Larapinta trek.
We were by now quite accustomed to the camp's morning routine, guaranteed to fully awaken the most sleepy-eyed among us. Stirred from slumber before sunrise by either soothing or rousing music depending on which guide was in charge of the sound system, you knew you had exactly 60 minutes before departure for a super-quick change in the frosty air into hiking clothes, an invigorating wash at the outdoor ablution facilities (with hot water from the ‘donkey'), coffee and a delicious cooked breakfast, followed by the final tidy up, pack and tent sweep-out.
It was a nostalgic goodbye to Camp Fearless, our home for the past two nights. The camp is named after renowned Australian trekking guide and climber Sue Fear, who died in 2006 when she tragically fell into a crevasse while descending Mt Manaslu in Nepal.
Today we were spending the morning at the Ormiston Pound and Ormiston Gorge, purported to be the best walk of the entire Larapinta trail. Each day on the trek had outrivalled the previous one for variety and magnificence of the scenery, so this was evidently going to be a spectacular day.
And we weren't disappointed!
After the previous day's 3am start for a 16km hike to the top of Mt Sonder, we were ready for a slower pace and it was indeed a pleasant four-hour meander through some extraordinary scenery.
The first section of the walk passed through landscape scarred by the summer bushfire that raged through 120,000 hectares of the outback in January 2019. Since Tjoritja (previously West MacDonnell Ranges) National Park was established in the 1990s, there have only been two similar-sized fires, in 2001 and 2011. The two earlier fires were fuelled by the rapid growth of native grasses after heavy rains. But this time around, the warming climate and the invasion of buffel grass seems to have triggered a new phenomenon in the heat of midsummer.
The Ormiston Pound is aptly named because it is shaped like a vast moon crater. And like the moon, there is no water, apart from a couple of waterholes in the gorge. I found an aerial photo taken by Luke Tscharke from a doors-off helicopter trip he took in 2017 which gives a great perspective of the area, which my camera phone could not do justice to.
We climbed first to a rocky outcrop which gave us an expansive view of the pound and was a good place for a short break and a drink. Our guides told us about the birdlife we could expect to see in the scrub — spinifex pigeon, mistletoe bird and the wedge-tailed eagle. Of these, we only managed to spot a pair of spinifex pigeons with their distinctive crests foraging for insects and seeds alongside the trail. Their rufous-brown colouration allows them to blend easily into the surrounding rocks and grasses.
Crossing the dry Ormiston creek bed, the only place shade can be found in this terrain, we could see the towering cliffs of the gorge ahead. As we entered this immense chasm, the largest on the MacDonnell ranges, I could see what inspired the famous Australian painter Albert Namatjira. His 1939 pre-war painting ‘Quarta-Tooma' of a waterhole in the Ormiston Gorge with the cliffs behind, sold four years ago for over $NZ90,000.
The rocks on the creek bed here are pretty shades of pastel pink and purple and the cliffs are brick-red and ochre. In a couple of places high above us, large loose rocks leaned precariously outward on the edge of the cliff face, and in the most unlikely places, wherever they could get a toehold, there would be a gum tree literally clinging to life.
One side of the gorge was brilliantly illuminated and the other was shaded from the sun. The waterhole photo by Yana Nan, one of our fellow hikers, beautifully captured the reflected colours and contrasting sky on this stunning last day of the trek.
Emerging into bright sunlight as if re-born from the almost dreamlike state of being in the gorge, we caught up with Matt, one of the guides, who had been given the day off because it was his birthday. He'd decided, as if walking for five days then climbing a mountain wasn't enough, to jog ahead of us around the trail and finish with a bracing dip in the waterhole at the end.
However no one else was game for a swim — not because the sun wasn't shining or we hadn't worked up a sweat, but due to the fact the water was extremely cold! Everyone finally trickled in for a picnic lunch at the carpark where we shared email addresses and our last few happy stories, before boarding the bus back to Alice Springs.
The Australian Outback is a special place. The climate, vastness and infinite diversity and beauty of the landscape steeped in ancient Aboriginal culture all combine for a truly fascinating adventure. World Expeditions helped make the Larapinta trail even more exceptional and we are grateful to our guides Shelby, Matt and Cat for a memorable, fun walking holiday.