Litchfield National Park
Overshadowed but not out-shone by nearby Kakadu, Litchfield National Park is a surfeit of magnificent waterfalls, cascading rivers, rainforest and tropical woodland. Tumbling down from the Tabletop Range, the waterfalls provide safe swimming in their plunge pools and natural spas.
Many of Darwin's residents prefer this spectacular and easily accessible park only 100 kilometres south of the city. It is easy to see why.
Organised camp sites are located throughout the park. Modest camping fees vary depending on the facilities provided. Well laid out walks radiate from the camp sites, with information boards explaining the points of interest.
We approached Litchfield from the north along the Cox Peninsula Road. About 25 km from the Stuart Highway we turned south onto the Litchfield Park Road. This is a well-graded dirt road that crosses the Finniss River shortly before entering the National Park. Both the Finniss and the Reynolds River, which flow along the south western boundary, are unsafe for swimming. They are home to salt water crocodiles, but with the abundance of safe pools throughout Litchfield, just a short drive ahead, this is no drawback.
The old Bamboo Creek tin mine is just inside the park. The ruins of the mine itself and a series of small rockholes in Bamboo Creek are at the end of a short walk. The mine closed in 1955 after operating for 50 years. Some sections of the original buildings remain.
Less than a kilometre further the map shows a swimming pool at Walker Creek. We were there at the end of the wet and the area was being burnt so we did not linger.
Aborigines have used fire for thousands of years to help manage the land. This tradition is continued to control the long grasses throughout the park. To reduce the fire risk a prescribed cool-burning programme starts at the end of the wet, as soon as the grass is dry enough. For visitors from Southern Australia it can be alarming to come across what seems to be a bushfire, but the fire regime minimises any danger.
We camped for the first night at Wangi Falls at the end of the gravel section. The road is bitumen on to Batchelor and this is the preferred entrance for those towing caravans. Wangi campsite is popular, but even though there were many other campers, there were ample sites and each group had their own secluded camp. A grassy picnic area near the pool caters for day visitors.
The wildlife at Wangi is unafraid of visitors and we were entertained during the evening and at breakfast time by a variety of birds. The most persistent was a Blue-winged Kookaburra which was very friendly. The bloke in the next clearing was not so happy with it though, despite the words on his shirt. 'Our' Kookaburra stole one of his breakfast snags (sausages) from the hotplate and it didn't even wait for the snag to be properly cooked.
The walking track to the lookout above the falls is worth the steep climb. Steps installed up the steepest part of the escarpment clamber through the shade of rainforest trees and then on across the boardwalk over the top of the falls. Once back at the base, the twin falls make a stunning backdrop for a swim in the large plunge pool. Wide stone steps form an easy entrance to the crystal clear water.
At Tolmer Falls a well-formed walking loop (1.6km) leads up around the top of the falls. The start of the track is flat concrete for 400 metres to a lookout platform with spectacular views over the gorge. The gorge and plunge pool are home to a colony of the endangered Orange Horseshoe Bat. This is one of only six known colonies and the reason the pool and gorge are closed to visitors.
The 4WD track to the old Blyth Homestead outstation and Tjaynera Falls was closed because of the wet. When it is open there is a campsite at the Falls and the track continues, climbing the escarpment to the Lost City. The note on the map, "Extremely Rough — Experienced Drivers Only", is no idle warning. Since our visit access to the Lost City via this track has been permanently closed, as too many drivers got into difficulties.
Getting to the Lost City the other way, from the Litchfield Park Road, is along another 4WD track, easy at first, but more difficult towards the end. The map does not exaggerate when it indicates that a high clearance is needed. Allow an hour each way for the drive.
The Lost City consists of elaborately eroded and decaying rocks. Many openings and pillars throughout the weathered formation seem so regular that they appear to be man made. It needs little imagination to see it as the deserted remnants of some long extinct civilisation with nature reclaiming the ruins.
A turning to the north from the Batchelor road leads to Buley Rockhole and Florence Falls. Buley Rockhole is an inviting stretch of creek with water tumbling over tiny weirs. The rockholes form a series of natural spas as the creek rushes on to Florence Falls futher downstream.
A short path goes to the lookout high above Florence Falls which gives a lofty view over rainforest trees towards the gorge and falls. The plunge pool is another idyllic swimming spot. From the falls there are easy walking trails back to the car park or to Buley Rockhole.
Florence Falls boasts two campsites with minimal facilities. One is accessible by normal cars and the other at the end of a 4WD track. This track sported a notice declaring 'No off-road driving' which seemed superfluous. The track was rough enough.
The road out of the park passes Magnetic Termite Mounds. Unlike other termites' mounds these have no underground retreat to provide the stable temperature that termites prefer. This is probably because the mounds are on black soil flood-plains and any underground chamber would be inundated for long periods during the wet. Instead the tall mounds have thin triangular sections standing vertically several metres high. The axes of mounds align approximately north-south to use the sun for natural temperature control.
Anyone planning a top end tour will be well rewarded by giving Litchfield National Park high priority on their itinerary. Unspoilt scenery, safe swimming and tranquil campsites make it a top choice for family relaxation.
Litchfield National Park-Fact File
Best time to go: May to November.
What to bring; Firewood from outside the park, Tropical strength insect repellent, first aid kit, Food and Camera.
Nearest supplies: Batchelor-24 km from park boundary, 61km from Wangi Falls.
What to do: Swimming, walking, watch wildlife and photography. 4WD owners can test their skill on some tough tracks with magnificent scenery. Simply relax.
Accessibility: 128 km south of Darwin via Batchelor to park boundary. 122 km via Cox Peninsular Road to Wangi Falls.
Entrance charge Free
Maps Litchfield National Park. Available from the Consevation Commision Northern Territory. See below.
More Information: Contact the Conservation Commission Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT 0831.
Tel (08) 8999 4555
© Jim Ditchfield