We are incredibly privileged to experience the ancient lands of Tjoritja / West MacDonnell National Park over the past 16 years. We are honoured to be able to offer tours on the Larapinta trail across this majestic landscape.
This post tells the story of the evolution of our Larapinta trail tour since 2004 – a journey of strong connection and deep respect.
The image above is of our first guests to climb Rwetyepme (Mt Sonder) in June 2004. When I reflect on these photos of that inaugural Larapinta trail tour my own memories of this amazing outback journey are vivid and will be forever present. Images are a great way to trigger memories but they can never fully encapsulate the beauty and spirit of this majestic region; a place that over time buries itself under your skin, never to recede.
On that first trip a combination of incredible excitement, alongside the inherent trepidation that goes with operating a new tour – particularly in a relatively unfamiliar environment – made the experience even more powerful. Sleeping under the stars, hearing dingoes howl in the night, walking along breathtaking ridge-lines and being with a fun loving group of friends who insisted on being fully engaged in all camp activities (including doing the dishes each evening), was all part of the joy. They embraced every part of this challenging journey with laughter, excitement, wonder and delight. It was the best introduction one could have wished for on this magnificent trail and provided huge motivation to continue developing the tour as a permanent fixture on our annual calendar.
Between 2004 and 2009 there were no private campsites for tour operators on the Larapinta trail and it was a matter of camping in approved areas in the National Park on a ‘first in best dressed’ basis. This presented many daily challenges but over time we settled into a routine where we moved camp three times over the 6 day journey and were mostly successful in securing the sites we preferred.
By the end of 2009 the system of free camping was becoming more and more difficult as independent tourist numbers grew. As a result, a number of tour operators, including myself, started discussions with NT Parks and Wildlife to consider setting up a structure where registered operators could be allocated a private campsite in the park on the basis of a permit system and ultimately a lease. This meant paying rent and a percentage of the operator’s turnover went to the traditional owners of the land and NT P&W.
In 2010 Epicurious travel was offered a magnificent private campsite in the National Park between the Ochre Pits and Ormiston Gorge. This was an incredible accomplishment for everyone involved in the negotiations and for the first time we had a secure private campsite. It also gave us the first opportunity to develop some very simple and basic facilities. Our number one priority was a bush shower and toilet – rustic and full of charm but sheer luxury at the same time.
It’s always been my preference to keep the camp as simple and sustainable as possible so that we could have minimum impact on the landscape and the environment and keep an authentic outback feel to the experience. At the same time I felt the need to enhance comfort levels for our guests and guides. In 2015 I teamed up with a fantastic tent and swag maker in Melbourne to design and make a stunning living and dining tent that would blend into the setting and be removable at the end of each season, leaving no trace. The result was outstanding. With the help of a friend we built a floating timber floor that didn’t require any soil excavation and could be completely packed down and placed into storage each year.
In 2016 we took another step to enhance the facilities of the camp. In conjunction with NT Parks and Wildlife, Traditional Owners of the land and Troppo Architects, we developed a proposal to build a kitchen, storage area and space for two new showers on the basis of minimal environmental impact. Troppo Architects were the perfect partners for this project as their experience and commitment to working with indigenous communities in the development of sustainable and minimal impact buildings was well established. We decided to use shipping containers as they could be built off-site and did not require any excavation of the land, removal of flora or insertion of footings. The other attraction was that they can be removed leaving virtually no trace. Part and parcel of the plan was a grey water system, solar power and a water catchment system including two 10,000 litre water tanks.
The images below take you through the developmental process from fitting out the shipping containers to installing them on the site. It was at times an extremely challenging experience but also incredibly exciting and rewarding. The father and son team who fitted out the containers and all the accoutrements, along with our guides Justin Dyer and Andrew Hagger and myself as builder’s labourers, spent 4 days installing the infrastructure in May 2016.
The final product has been an overwhelming success. It has enabled us to provide a unique outback experience that delivers wonderful comforts, like hot showers (albeit from a metal bucket with a shower rose), composting toilets, hot and cold running water, a fully equipped kitchen allowing us to cook sensational food for our guests, three fridges that ensure perfect storage for our delicious produce and a large dry store area in our second container for wine and non perishables.
The other significant benefit is that at the end of each season the complete camp can be packed down into the two containers and breezeway, enabling us to leave the camp in perfect condition for the off season.
The Larapinta trail tour has always been the heart and soul of our business. The evolution of these developments over 17 years have been undertaken with great care, devotion and respect for the environment and the traditional owners of the land. They have allowed us to offer our guests a unique Larapinta trail experience that embraces not only the magnificent natural beauty of the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park but also an incredibly stunning private campsite with superb comforts to return to each day.