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.

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.

Walks and icons #2 – low level nature reserve and hot springs, Katherine NT

You could be based at one of the accommodation options in town, or just passing through and see the’hot springs’ turnoff from Victoria Highway, which will take you about 100m to a carpark and reserve. There’s currently a popular coffee popup,too. From here, there’s a moderately steep, but short, zip zagging stairway to the springs.

They are unbelievable and warm and soothing. Very popular, we found that early in the morning around 7, maybe one other person was there and you could delight in the faint steam, the effervescence of the bubbles from the mini waterfall. Unmissable. People take noodles upon which to float, but we had no trouble floating or standing up.

Platforms and steps help you in and out.

Grab your towel and take the path back along the Springs up to the back of a caravan park, where another sign says ‘lower level nature reserve 1km’.

This is a very easy bitumen path that leads to the other crossing of Nitmiluk/Katherine River. It’s the original one and now has a lovely area for recreation. There were birds, lizard tracks, snake tracks, fish and who knows what else. Up the steep hill is another caravan park and public toilets.

You could possibly swim here, I didn’t see any warning signs, but as it’s crocodile territory, I’d be mighty cautious.

Head back to the Springs for another dip and you’ll feel like a new person.

Take your hat, water and sunscreen and keep an eye on your towel and gear.

Walks and Icons in the North

We are travelling from the Winter of the South to the warmth of the Northern Territory and have landed in Darwin, the capital, only to experience a 3-day lockdown. I thought it was a great opportunity to recount some of the walks we have done and iconic stops we made, between the border and here. When we are free to move on, there are more walks awaiting, but they can be added at another rest stop.

#1 Baruwei Loop, Nitmiluk National Park

This walk is the shortest in the park, and you could just go to the lookout and back for an even shorter one. The direction we took, at the advice of the ranger, was back out through the entrance to the Visitor Centre, where all walks can begin, and along the flat, dry sandstone path, following the clearly marked yellow tags.

After about 1km the vegetation changes and the track commences an uphill gradient. It is moderately steep, with long flats and tyres(?) on the edges, to create what I find are pleasant steps. The path was well-shaded at about 10 in the morning and palms and grasses, called ‘transition woodland’ create a beautiful frame.

At the top of the 2km climb it flattens out and there is a turnoff to the other southern walks. My pre-reading led me to believe these were for the ‘well-prepared’ walkers, intending to spend the day(s) trekking. However, when we got back, I overheard a couple being directed this way to the Butterfly Gorge Walk where, at the destination, you can swim. It’s 4.5 km return, and we’d have started out earlier in the day to do that, but it would definitely be on our ‘next time’ list.

Onward we went and the vegetation changed again, with Kapok trees everywhere, in flower and fruit and plateau sandstone creating some interesting rock formations and gullies. Information boards appear at each change of environment, explaining the landforms, creatures, plants and importance to the Aboriginal custodians. Many of the plants have medicinal properties, such as spinifex.

Actually, I’d seen kapok flowers and fruit before and had forgotten their name, so when I got back I asked the ranger and she told me, along with the fact that the Jawoyn people used it to tell the seasons. When the flowers appear, the fresh water crocs start mating, the green fruit, which can be eaten, signifies that the crocs will be burying their eggs and when the fruit is brown and dry and starts opening to release white fibre, the young crocs are hatching and getting in the water. Brilliant, right?

The path is level or with a downward trend for about 1km and we passed water tanks where we caught a glimpse of the river, before heading down to the lookout. Nothing really captures the majesty and beauty of the Gorge. Having done the cruise before, I’d highly recommend that people do that to get the full extent of the variation and size of it, as well as a swim at the end in this timeless location. We could see a boat, below, and looked down the long valley.

I used my hat to shade the shot

To return to the Visitor Centre from here, there are many narrow, steep stairs. If you took this way as your approach, even if you returned, it would take some time due to the climb. An easy downhill way, though and we passed by about 300m of bat-laden trees, marveling at their attempts to fan themselves cool, while not choosing shady spots in the trees.

The Visitor Centre is gorgeous and a bird ( I think it was a blue-faced honey eater) fluttered around in the rafters while we sat on the deck, in the breeze, eating our fruit. You can book tours or do your own and there is plenty of information and some souvenirs, too.

The path is wide and relatively flat most of the way, until you get to the lookout. The walk took us the predicted 2 hours and we were not hurrying or brisk.

Absolutely carry water, wear a hat and apply sunscreen. Have an experience.

Uluru and the Field of Lights

It was an easy drive from Alice Springs to Yulara, but long, with 2×2.5 hour stretches each.

The section between Erldunda and Yulara have long scenic views, with red sand dunes and different coloured spinifex. The desert oak, resembling sheoak, are in two forms , either bushy or thin and I learned in later days that this was either mature or juvenile. They sway gently in the breeze, no matter their age, and add that touch of green to the soft colours already there.

We passed Mt Ebenezer and saw that the rest area was dilapidated and both felt sad that it had come to disrepair. We also passed a couple of viable rest stops, but couldn’t think of a situation where we’d need to stop overnight at that distance.

The campsite was busy, but only every second site was occupied. We bought tickets for the Field of Lights at $44/ea and had to catch the shuttle at 7.15 outside the campground. Although we both felt a little tired, we were glad we did this in the end, as the luxurious coach trip and very beautiful light show was soothing.

trying to catch the sweep

Apparently the artist set these up with about 20 helpers over a few months and, in 2016, intended them to be there for a few months. They are now intended to remain until 2027. The area is the same as 7 football ovals and you just get a sea of lights, in various colours that change, sweeping before you.

close-ups

It was hard to photograph, which was a shame as I wanted to share the experience with my family and friends.

We spent a day making use of the free shuttle on the campground and attending some free events that included collecting bush foods, cooking with bush tucker, astrology and playing the didgeridoo.

We visited Uluru once more, walking the 10km around the base, but I’ve shared photos on that before, so I’ll finish with the classic sunrise and sunset shots from the highest point in Yulara.

sunrise
sunset

Visit here, sometime. It will move your spirit.

Wear a hat and sunscreen and ALWAYS take water.

Safe travels.

Alice Springs and the East MacDonnell Ranges

It was the first time we had entered Alice from the north and it was pretty, with the MacDonnell Ranges in the background.

We chose our usual caravan park – Big4 MacDonnell Range and were able to use the afternoon to plan an exploration of the East MacDonnells and then relax.

Our first day took us to N’Dhala Gorge which involved magnificent scenery on the way there and some 4WD work from the main road. It was quite a short hike and although pretty, not worth the tough drive out, with lots of corrugations and sand, unless you planned to camp there. The gorge is the site of a large collection of Aboriginal petroglyphs, but as the track has lots of rocky sections I wouldn’t think a wheelchair would get very far.

Heading back towards Alice, the next stop was Trephina Gorge and this was really beautiful.

We also stopped at the ghost gum, a 300+ yr old tree. The walk was moderate/easy with the climbing at the start and sand at the end. It is quite majestic.

It seemed like a short stop to visit Corroboree Rock, so we took the turnoff. It is a startling structure in the middle of other rock formations, so easy to see why it was used as a meeting place.

We headed back to Alice and registered online for the Parrtjima light show, that another traveller had told us about. A shuttle from near the park took us there in the early evening and, surprisingly, we saw a couple we knew from SA on the shuttle.

Parrtjima is the only Aboriginal lightshow of its kind in the world and started in 2016. It is free to enter and the displays are beautiful, but nothing can describe the stunning projection on the West MacDonnell Ranges, accompanied by a narration that explains the relationship between the people and the land. I don’t think my photos will do it justice and we watched it twice, it was so moving.

I’d definitely recommend the event as it is free, spectacular but quite small, so it’s an early night. There are plenty of activities for children to take part in.

The following day, Ellery Creek Big Hole was gorgeous and had a large body of water suitable for swimming if it had been hot enough. We saw a girl going in and her partner was filming her with a drone. The water was icy cold so sooner her than me.

An easy, short walk.

Next we stopped at Serpentine Gorge which had an easy walk in, with a still pool of water at the end and a demanding, steep lookout walk.

The pool of water in the gorge is so cold that it has kept people and animals from going beyond it, for thousands of years. This has meant the ecology is preserved and both life forms can get a cool drink in summer when they need it.

Close to Alice Springs, we stopped at the original Telegraph Station, which is a well-preserved station with indoor and outdoor displays, showing life from as early as 1871. It is one of the first European settlements in Stuart, later named Alice Springs. There are short walks, bike trails and a walk to/from Alice township. We walked to the top of a nearby hill to take photos of the settlement.

We were back in time to watch the sun set over the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Travel safe. Take water, hats and sunscreen.