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Darwin Festival 2021 – Hot August Nights

We had no idea that we’d be in the capital of the Northern Territory during their Festival and it was a wonderful surprise.

Parking was easy in Port Darwin and we walked past the impressive Parliament House, following the crowds and the lights to one of the entrances.

The art displays, entitled Wish Upon A Jellyfish, by Aly deGroot, were illuminated and free,

along with general entry which also gave you live entertainment in a huge Amphitheatre.

Having not scoured the program to see what we might be interested in, we just took a turn about the park, admiring the sculptures and the music and marveling at the number of people at long trestles, eating from the variety of takeaway on offer.

From here we took the road to the Waterfront precinct and from the skywalk, admired the illuminations of the Ferris Wheel.

There were many venues and exhibitions.

If you are going to be in Darwin in August, do some research beforehand and book in for your taste of culture, art and entertainment. We certainly will, next time.

Fogg Dam – Kakadu National Park

When you visit Kakadu NP in the Northern Territory, there is a lot of choice and many kilometres. We were staying in Darwin, so decided to visit one of the ‘outer’ locations, known for its birdlife.

This year-round wetland is an hour’s drive from Darwin, on sealed roads. There are a couple of parking areas and maps from there to help you decide which walk(s) you’ll take. We started with the Woodlands to Waterlilies Walk, as it was the shortest and we’d thought to measure our pace against the recommended time.

The path begins as a firm dirt track through paperbark trees,

to swamp

and finally on to the boardwalk and out to the 3 viewing platforms. From these you cast your eyes over lilies, through fine, closely woven brush, or up in the air as flocks fly past.

We met a couple of avid birdwatchers, one of whom let me use their binoculars to look at an azure kingfisher, and then pointed out the other ‘good’ finds. We also saw some intriguing insects.

We’d set out pretty early in the morning and was only about 32C but we mistakenly thought that the woodland walk would be covered and cool and hadn’t applied sunscreen. On the open boardwalk we were feeling it and almost as soon as we entered the woodland we were beset by mosquitoes, so be warned.

Making good time, we set off on the Monsoon Forest Walk, which was surprisingly very different. The tropical north has 15 000 small patches of monsoon forest and some of the plants grown there are rare. This is a saltwater crocodile area, so warnings about staying on the path are frequent.

Another firm, but undulating path, decorated by butterflies

and more golden orb spiders. They like making their webs across the path.

The boardwalk begins quite early and the thin, green palms reach straight up beside, above and ahead of you.

Shorter, stunted palms are close to the muddy swamp surface and roots and bark twist in their competition for light. The forest is alive with sounds and smells.

The wetlands increase and I peer through the trees to grasslands further afield, seeing all manner of beak, head, body shape and behaviour. It is a wonderland that at one moment bids me stop and the next urges me on.

Magical reflections are formed in the swamp.

Corellas, black-necked storks, ducks, swans, egrets, cormorants and masked lapwings, along with a whole lot more that were too far or too fast for me to identify. Just stunning and peaceful all in one.

Take a hat, water, camera, binoculars, sunscreen and insect repellant (might as well take a packed lunch). And it’s free!

Walks and Icons #6 – Litchfield National Park

Still in the Northern Territory, Litchfield NP is often overshadowed by Kakadu NP and its world heritage. We find that the former is more accessible, being closer to the highway and having less distance between each ‘hot’ spot.

From northernterritory.com/drive , a free resource

It’s common for people to do a loop, beginning about an hour and a half from Darwin, via Bachelor, but to see all the tourist spots in one day would be a huge feat, even if you were lucky enough to get carparks at each. However, you would also miss out on some of the walks afforded.

Bachelor, itself, is a very small town and may be useful for its supermarket or public toilets before heading on to the park entrance.

Florence Falls, about 30km from Bachelor, is very popular and it’s no wonder. However, on your way you’ll pass the magnetic termite mounds, which have a convenient parking area to observe the tall mounds and read about their formation.

From the Florence Falls carpark there’s a quick, easy and picturesque walk to the falls, where you get a birdseye view of the cascades that lead to the plunge pool,

or you can head upstream to an inlet that you can make your private space for the day and many of these have tables, benches and barbecue pits.

The plunge pool at the base of the falls is in a relatively small clearing  and there’s a metal platform and stairs to assist entry into the cool waters. Alternatively,  you could carefully step over rocks and moss until you find your way in. It’s worth it, as you can get under the power of the falls, or swim into the caves that border the enclosure. It’s a beautiful,  peaceful space.

We took the loop path that trailed through monsoon rainforest, crossing numerous creeks until it brought us to the walk to Buley Rockhole. 

Information boards about local flora and fauna had us on the lookout and we weren’t disappointed.

This 1m long specimen was across the river

On our way, we saw a series of small falls and thought that was Buley Rockhole, so explored there for about an hour.

It wasn’t until we got to Buley later that we realised we should have travelled on. No regrets, as it was ridiculously busy and we’d have struggled to find a space to cool down, at any of the levels of the cascading feature.

The Lost City could be next on the loop and it is accessed via a 10km dirt road that is definitely 4WD only, as it is sandy, rocky and has deep track furrows. Absolutely worth it, though, as these weathered sandstone towers and structures are quite impressive.

Tolmer Falls is a view-only watercourse, as there is no track down the steep, sandstone gorge walls. The longest drop of Litchfield’s falls can be viewed from an easily-accessed platform. However, I’m not sure if you can make it out but there are 3 people at the top of the falls, in that cave-like spot, one in a red top, so I think they knew something I didn’t. You can get a partial view down the long gorge from here.

Wangi Falls, further along our loop, is a large swimming area, with camping, kiosk, hiking, picnicking and other facilities, making it an ideal destination any time. It is a favourite of ours, as it has a wide access point, from which the swim to any of the three Falls isn’t too daunting. There is also a platform from which to take in the view.

Next on the loop is Cascades, which involves a demanding but rewarding 1-2 hour return hike to the main feature. You can choose a long, flat path through grasslands and then return via the more varied path, involving some scrambling, climbing and slippery surfaces. Either requires some vigilance with snakes, but if you stamp enough,  you should be right. The path along the river is very beautiful and people with children were stopping along the way to swim and picnic, as it was a more realistic option. The final destination is small, but picturesque, with the gently cascading Falls a selfy fave.

There are some other points of interest that we didn’t visit, such as Walker Creek, due to time, and others, like Surprise Creek Falls, because we had heard it was a grueling 4WD journey but provided a personal set of cascading falls beside which you could camp.

Another place we visited but which is less-known, is the Zebra Stone Gallery, 14km from Bachelor. This is a geological wonderland, where the enigma of zebra stone, estimated at being about 1.2 billion years old, is explained and displayed, with plenty of items for sale including stunning jewellery. If that’s not all, there’s also a cafe where one of the tables is a huge piece of zebra stone, and a campsite.

Assuming you decided to visit Berry Springs National Park, on your way home, an hour from Darwin,  it would only take you about 15 mins off the highway.

Berry Springs is the source of water for Berry Creek and in WWII a weir was constructed to provide a swimming hole for the 100 000 service men and women who were stationed there. This has resulted in the three ‘levels’ of pools at which Darwinians swim, to relieve the tropic heat. The waters are clear and you can see the little fish before they attack your dead skin or, occasionally, lesions. A noodle is a must, if you want to have very little work to do in keeping afloat or travelling downstream. The pools are huge, unlike other swimming spots, but if you don’t get a park, as the sign says, it’s full. Monsoon walks are possible and a visit to the local wildlife park, but as I did neither… have a splash at each level. There are platforms and ladders to help you enter the water.

What are you waiting for?

Grab your hat, water and sunscreen and make plans.

Walks and icons #5 – Leliyn

Once called Edith Falls, but known to the Jawoyne people as Leliyn, this is one walk I’d encourage everyone to do.

Situated about 1 hour from Katherine, it is part of Nitmiluk National Park. You can get a campsite if you’re very, very lucky, by asking at the kiosk, first thing.

There is a relatively short and easy walk from the start of the carpark, by which you can return or a longer return, 2.6km, affording views of the falls and the gorge, giving a ‘bigger’ view of the whole.

The top falls provide a refreshing swimming opportunity that is usually less crowded, as many don’t take the walk. You can sit under that short (4m?) fall, or swim nearby, and there are several access points, not all being slimy!

The different return trip, while providing views, can be slippery in parts, with dusty rocks or rubble.

Once you’re at the base, you cross the bridge that looks out onto the major gorge, with the 12m falls in the distance.

A few people had noodles to assist them in the swim there, but it’s less than a km, with little current.

Be aware of water pythons, as my husband had one swim against his legs as he was approaching the ladder to get out. I don’t think they have us on the menu, and it was pretty small, but it can be a trifle unexpected.

Enjoy a relaxing stretch in the sun or shade while you have lunch, buy something from the kiosk, or walk back to the carpark, reading the information boards as you go.

But do go.

Hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.

Walks and Icons #4 – BITTER, BERRY, BEST SPRINGS

There are several famous thermal springs in the region, in fact in the Northern Territory. Approximately 15km off the main highway, Mataranka has a reputation and well-designed pool for up to about 30 people, or 50 at a squeeze. The house from an author has also been recreated on the grounds and a campsite is available, as well as a restaurant and some entertainment.

But just off the highway, with room for perhaps 100, is Bitter Springs, where you all get in the water by platform or riverbank, and most float down the stream in their swim noodles. Out you get at the other end and walk back up the path to do it all again. There are rocks close to the surface, or tree roots and trunks that enable you to get a hold if you need to rest on your journey. Both the spring mentioned are in Elsie National Park.

In half an hour you would be in Katherine and the hot springs run through the town. So accessible. Try to get there at the quiet times – early in the morning, to feel the bubbles frothing up from underneath somewhere, and the current taking you downstream, the salts soaking into your skin and a faint cloud of steam settling over the water.

Now let me take you some many 130km up the Stuart Highway, into Litchfield National Park, and Berry Springs. Now that is the monster spring! The sign at the start of the carpark says if the carpark is full then the springs are full. We went on a day when there were maybe another 10 parks and 5 bus spaces. There were plenty of people but plenty of room to swim and I think 3 levels of pools from which to choose, or start at the top and float or swim your way down. The water was cool and refreshing, and on a hot day with a gentle breeze, when you got out of the water it was very pleasant. Not that floating in it wasn’t great. Turquoise pool, draped at the edges with palms and trees, birds chirping and chattering or hooting at you until, on every brave or thirsty hombre dives into the pool, grabs a drink and dashes out again. I truly think I found paradise.

Take a hat, sunscreen and water. A noodle is definitely the fashion. Keep an eye on your gear and an eye out for hanging spiders.

Emma Gorge

On the notorious Gibb River Road, near the Kununurra end, is a place called El Questro. It is a resort and was once only accessible by a rough dirt track, that is now a bitumen road. However, places that lead off from here are via dirt roads, that may be corrugated if the grader hasn’t been through. Emma Gorge is one such place and it is a jewel worth risking the bumpy 2km track.

Once at the carpark, there is a magnificent information bay, with restaurant, accommodation, toilets and permits to visit the park. We had bought a park pass, that gives us access to WA parks for a month, as we thought it could be more convenient than having correct change, getting permits printed, etc., so we went directly to the start.

This was a mixture of terrain, with rocky bits, smooth path, climbing sections and a couple of creek crossings, where the water as very low. Birds and butterflies flit across your path and the sound of gurgling water comes from somewhere near, either seen as a brook, or hidden by reeds.

It is such a beautiful sight that greets you after about 40 minutes, I don’t know where to begin. The gorge rises ahead of you and up maybe 100m. The walls are orange and laced with ferns or marked with patterns of erosion.

Water cascades down from a point on the left and bounces off rock ledges to splash into the centre pool of water. The pool is maybe 40m in diameter and on the right a rock ledge hangs over the water, dripping onto those who venture there, and the water there is warm, as I think it is thermal.

The edges to the pool are sandy and you can see the bottom, which becomes rocky and pebbly. Towards the centre it is very dark and you cannot make out what is down there. The temperature is pretty cool, but not quite cold. As you float towards the rock lip, looking up, you see an oval of blue sky, lined with a garland of ferns and rocks. It is so tranquil and beautiful.

This is a long way from anywhere, any time. It is ancient and unspoilt and majestic, like everything in the Kimberley. See it, breathe it, feel it and carry some of its magic away with you.

But take water, hat and sunscreen so that you live to tell the tale.

walks and Icons #3 -DALY WATERS PUB

Professing to be the oldest pub in the Northern Territory, the Daly Waters Pub gained some iconic status for travelers at least 40 years ago. Strewn across a line above the front bar is a wide selection of bras, with messages on them. Out the back are collections of thongs (the footwear) and hats and other paraphernalia, also with messages. But this hotel started life as a trading post and played a significant role in WWII.

Explorer, John McDouall Stuart, named the area Daly Waters in 1861, on one of his many expeditions from South to North. Ten years later, the overland telegraph made its way following the same path and connected Australia to the rest of the world. The Pearce family, in 1920, opened up a Drover’s Store, which forms part of the current pub. The indigenous people in the area helped to build the store, but are no longer in the area.

The Pearce family fed passengers and refuelled aircraft when the Daly Waters Airfield opened up to the England to Australia Air Race. The same airfield was the rear guard base in WWII when the Japanese bombed Darwin from Feb 1942 to Nov 1943.

Now, its quirky and a place to get a cool drink and a bite to eat, with great entertainment on offer most nights. When we were there, Lou Bradley and Phil were playing and they were well-received.

Old buildings and historical plaques on the town walk

There is a park behind the pub, with amenities, and one across the road for unpowered sites. Cabins are also available if you’re looking to break the long drive from Alice to Katherine.

Quirky planes, helicopters and animals are also in residence.

Bring hat, water and a sense of fun.