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 #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.