DESTINATION: LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK

By: KARYN FANOUS, Photography by: JOSEPH & KARYN FANOUS


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Litchfield National Park’s spectacular waterfalls, swimming holes and monsoonal rainforest will enthral you.

DESTINATION: LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
DESTINATION: LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK

Breathtaking waterfalls seem to lie around every twist and turn of Litchfield National Park’s escarpments. In a region inhabited by crocodiles, swimming is usually off limits in the Top End, despite the enticing tropical climate, so to be able to swim in Litchfield’s magnificent waterfalls is a rare treat. Not only can you swim in the pandanus-lined pools at the base of waterfalls, but you can also swim behind and above some of the falls.

Litchfield was named after Frederick Henry Litchfield, a member of the first European expedition through the area. But Aboriginal people have lived in the region for thousands of years and it is significant to the Koongurrukun, Mak Mak Marranunggu, Werat and Warray people.

The park protects 1430 square kilometres of the Tabletop Range, south of Darwin. Here lies the secret of the park’s perennial waterfalls. This massive sandstone range has the capacity, much like a giant sponge, to absorb and store vast quantities of the wet season’s deluge. The water is then slowly released during the Dry, creating flowing waterfalls all year round.

Along with an abundance of waterfalls and walking trails, Litchfield offers a range of other experiences. There are delightful cascades and peaceful swimming holes in which to immerse yourself, intriguing termite mounds to visit, 4WD tracks to explore, as well as fascinating landscapes, historic ruins and fabulous camp sites.



WATERFALLS AND WALKING

Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole and Wangi Falls are the main visitor areas, all with great swimming, camping and walking trails. Tjaetaba Falls, Tolmer Falls and Walker Creek are also stunning places to experience the region’s splendour.

Florence Falls is a majestic double waterfall with cascades above and a large circular pool below. There is an easily-accessible viewing platform overlooking this magnificent waterfall. From the lookout, 135 steps take you down to the deep pool at the base. You can swim right up to the thundering waterfall, as well as behind it – it’s an exhilarating experience. Rather than climbing back up all those steps, Shady Creek Walk is an alternative route to the car park. This easy 1km walk (allow 30 minutes) takes you through cool monsoonal rainforest filled with palm trees, across the creek, and out through open woodland.

Nearby, Buley Rockhole is a series of beautiful cascades, natural spa pools and swimming holes. We chose to swim in a lovely, shaded pool filled by a little waterfall with a ‘spa pool’ above. The kids had great fun jumping in from a large rock. A track winds its way upstream along the side of the cascades and rock holes. The Florence Creek Walk (1.6km; allow 45 minutes) connects to Florence Falls through the woodlands fringing the creek and is graded as easy.

Wangi Falls is a stunning, double, jagged waterfall that thunders down into a large pool. The pool is closed to swimming when water levels are high, as strong currents and the possibility of crocodiles make it too dangerous.

The Wangi Loop Walk (1.6km; allow an hour) is an interpretive walking trail that takes you through beautiful monsoonal rainforest with lots of Carpentaria palms, up to a Treetop Deck for a view over the rainforest canopy, then further up to the stone country of the Tabletop Range plateau. Here you walk through open woodland and cross over the creek feeding the top of the falls. The track then winds back down the other side of the waterfall through more rainforest. The walk is graded as moderate as it is steep in sections, but it is well worth the effort.

A favourite walk of ours takes you upstream alongside Greenant Creek, again through the rainforest, and then climbs steeply up a rocky woodland hill to Tjaetaba Falls lookout. Further on, there is a small, round rock pool at the top of the main waterfall. A little waterfall tumbles into this top pool and it’s just spectacular. It was a new experience for us to be swimming at the top of a waterfall, and a wonderful one at that. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place. Allow 1.5 hours for this moderate 3km return walk.

Tolmer Falls lookout is accessed by a short, easy walk. It’s a majestic, tall, narrow waterfall plunging into a deep pool. There is no public access to the base of the waterfall as caves at the bottom house rare and protected ghost bats and orange horseshoe bats.

In the north-west of the park, Walker Creek has a series of swimming holes and eight small campsites strung along it. The trail involves a moderate climb and leads to a picnic area and crystal clear swimming hole. We swam at a lovely, sandy swimming hole complete with its own little waterfall. Allow two hours for the 3.5km return walk.

The Tabletop Track is a 39km circuit with links to Florence Falls, Greenant Creek, Wangi Falls and Walker Creek. These links can be used to take shorter walks along sections of the main track. Walking the main track requires walkers to be totally self-sufficient with food, water and camping supplies.



LOVELY LANDSCAPES

The vegetation of Litchfield is a patchwork of monsoonal rainforest, open woodlands, and savannah plains. Protruding from the savannah plains in the north-east of the park are large groups of termite mounds.

There are some massively tall, convoluted cathedral mounds along with magnetic termite mounds. The latter are grey, wedged-shaped mounds up to 2m tall. They are a striking sight as they are all oriented with their long axis running north to south. It is thought that the termites are able to sense this particular magnetic bearing and build their mounds in this direction as a temperature control mechanism. By positioning their mounds with their broad sides facing east to west, they catch the warmth of the morning and afternoon sun but only a thin strip of the top of the mound is exposed to direct sunlight during the hot middle part of the day.



OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

Two 4WD-only tracks head south from the main Litchfield Park Road and reward adventurous travellers with impressive sandstone formations, secluded waterfalls and historic ruins.

The first track leads to The Lost City, which is home to 25m high sandstone pillars and blocks that have been carved from the Tabletop Range over thousands of years by the weather. Reminiscent of ruins of a lost civilisation, the ‘city’ is 8km south of the main road.

The second is the Reynolds River 4WD track, which connects to the Daly River Road in the south and provides access to Tjaynera Falls, Surprise Creek Falls, and Blythe Homestead Ruins. Tjaynera (Sandy Creek) Falls and plunge pool are 9km down the track. Take the 3.4km return walk (graded as moderate; allow 1.5 hours) along the creek and past a hillside of cycads before reaching the plunge pool to enjoy a refreshing swim.

Surprise Creek Falls is 27km down the Reynolds River 4WD track. A short walk through monsoonal rainforest leads to a large, tranquil pool. A little further on are some rock pools near these small falls.



BACK IN TIME

Blythe Homestead Ruins is located 7km down the Reynolds River 4WD track. The homestead was built in 1929 by the Sergeant family, but was abandoned in the 1960s.

The Bamboo Creek Tin Mine ruins is just a short walk from the car park, not far from Walker Creek in the north-west of the park. Small scale mining took place here from 1905, but the difficulties of transportation and the wet seasons brought the mine to a close in the 1950s.



STAY AND PLAY

We stayed at Wangi Falls and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Apart from the nice shower and toilet amenities – complete with green tree frogs – there are free gas barbecues, communal campfire pits, a kiosk, and agile wallabies wandering around the camp sites.

If you are planning to stay at Wangi Falls, aim to arrive by lunch time in order to secure a spot. Look for one with shade as those without shade can be very hot. While there, we perfected our sultana damper and the kids took great delight in toasting marshmallows under a starry night sky. At night, the roar of Wangi Falls sounded like the ocean.

Litchfield is certainly a magnificent place of immense natural beauty, dominated by breathtaking waterfalls. The information sign at Walker Creek says that we are just borrowing the stunning landscape from our grandchildren. It asks us to give something back by taking care of it for future generations.

Not a bad idea.



HIGHLIGHTS

  • Florence Falls
  • Wangi Falls
  • Swimming at Buley Rockhole
  • Swimming at the top of Tjaetaba Falls
  • The Lost City


FAST FACTS

  • Litchfield National Park is 129km south of Darwin. The park is generally accessible all year round on sealed roads via Batchelor.
  • In the dry season it is also possible to access the park via Cox Peninsula Road (some unsealed sections) and the Daly River Road (4WD).
  • During the wet season, most 4WD tracks are closed, some of the attractions may not be accessible, and swimming may be prohibited.
  • The falls flow year round but are most spectacular in the wet and early dry season. The dry season is from May to October.
  • There are no park entry fees, but camping fees apply.
  • Campgrounds are located near Wangi and Florence Falls, and Buley Rockhole. Wangi Falls campground is the only one suitable for caravans.
  • Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole campgrounds are suitable for tents and camper trailers. All campgrounds are non-powered. Generators are not permitted.
  • There are a number of caravan parks just outside the park on the road in from Batchelor: Banyan Tree Caravan Park, (08) 89760330, www.banyan-tree.com.au
  • Litchfield Tourist and Van Park, (08) 8976 0070, reservations@litchfieldtouristpark.com.au or www.litchfieldtouristpark.com.au
  • Pandanus on Litchfield, (08) 8976 0242, stay@pandanuslitchfield.com.au or www.pandanuslitchfield.com.au
  • Located 4km to the north of the turn-off to Wangi Falls is Litchfield Safari Camp, (08) 8978 2185, don@litchfieldsafaricamp.com.au or www.litchfieldsafaricamp.com.au
  • For more information visit www.nt.gov.au/nretas/parks
  • Tourism Top End, (08) 8980 6000, 1300 138 886 or www.tourismtopend.com.au

Originally published in Caravan World #510, January 2013.