The NT Hotspot that you need to visit
WHY LITCHFIELD NP HAS IT ALL – INCLUDING KIDS WITH CROCS AS PETS
KICKING OFF THE ADVENTURE
Litchfield National Park is located not far south of Darwin; and while it doesn’t get the press of its big brother Kakadu, it’s every bit as spectacular. And unlike Kakadu there are no permits or fees required to enter Litchfield. Being in the Top End it’s probably a safe bet that it’s hot – so if entering from the north (as we were), I highly recommend a cool down at Berry Springs. The spring-fed creek here runs all year and creates two permanent swimming holes. Nothing like a cool down in a stunning waterhole before the adventure even begins, eh?
ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A TERMITE?
First stop inside the Park for us was the magnetic termite mounds. You might see termite mounds all over the Top End but rarely will you get to see a better example of just how clever these little creatures are. The rows of mounds go on seemingly forever as if marked out specifically before each one was constructed. But that’s not the clever part. You see, these magnetic termites all orient in the same direction. This gives them the best sun protection when required and makes the most of the sun’s heat during cooler months. Thought your north-facing, architect-designed home was amazing? Your architect’s inspiration may have been these little guys.
CAMPING AT FLORENCE FALLS – IT DOESN’T SUCK
The National Parks of the Top End are well known for their waterfalls and Litchfield is no exception. The first such example we visited was Florence Falls. Either from the viewing platform above or via the 130-odd steps to the bottom, these falls are nothing short of stunning. Two tall cascades dropping into a single plunge pool that meanders away to a creek. You could not imagine a more picturesque swimming spot if you tried.
There are two campgrounds near Florence Falls (2WD and 4WD) and unfortunately the 4WD camp was closed for maintenance. No worries, it was still early in the day and if we couldn’t set up camp here we would keep on exploring. So on we went to the first four-wheel driving of the trip. The track to the Lost City is rough, corrugated and includes a few washaways. Nothing a moderate 4WD or even AWD can’t negotiate. The reward for the effort is a walk around some astonishing rock formations and caves. In places it’s like a doorway has been carved through the rock for no apparent reason. Time and pressure as they say… or more likely in this case, time and water.
The ‘feature waterfall’ of Litchfield is undoubtedly Wangi Falls. These falls are the tallest in Litchfield and provide the biggest plunge pool for swimming. Speaking of swimming, Litchfield includes several waterholes that are suitable for a dip and thousands of tourists do swim every year; however the authorities advise against it. Although they check for crocs before opening each swimming hole there is never a guarantee that the waters are croc-free. Keep that in the back of your mind before you go diving into that next refreshing-looking waterhole on a 35ºC day. I’m not saying don’t swim; just be cautious and aware of the dangers.
REYNOLDS RIVER TRACK, NOW IT’S GETTING INTERESTING
The next morning we began the real off-road section of Litchfield: The Reynold’s River Track. This track heads south, not far from Wangi Falls, to the southern side of Litchfield. It’s sandy, corrugated and includes some fairly serious river crossings. A snorkel is required to complete this track and caravans are not allowed. Don’t let these warnings put you off because this track is your gateway to some of the best and least-populated features of Litchfield.
BLYTH HOMESTEAD – KIDS WITH PET CROCS
The first such feature is the Blyth Homestead, built by the Sargent family in 1929. My first impression when I arrived was, ‘gee these guys must have been short’. The doorways and eaves on this isolated little shack are really low and a little investigation reveals why. This hut was actually built by the Blyth children – the eldest being teenagers at the time. The children sheltered here while working this section of land alone. Can you imagine kids that young running cattle and growing their own vegetables completely unsupervised now? This was a harsh and unforgiving land and these children were tough as nails. One of them, Michael, caught a croc for dinner but decided he wanted to keep it and it became his pet. A crocodile as a pet… these kids didn’t need no fidget spinners to keep them occupied. You can read all about it at the homestead.
DID I MENTION THIS PLACE HAS WATERFALLS?
Sandy Creek Falls are located further down the track and, despite the name, are actually quite rocky. A 1.6km walk each way will take you to the plunge pool… where after building up a sweat during the walk, is seemingly the perfect place for a swim. There are inviting-looking waterholes along the creek as you walk too; however these are not cleared for crocs. Don’t risk it. The campground at Sandy Creek includes a modern toilet block and (for somewhere so isolated) really is quite well equipped. But there was still more day left, so we moved on.
Surprise Creek Falls (perhaps the surprise is that it’s very sandy) lies not much further down the Reynolds River Track. The campground here feels more isolated than Sandy Creek and would become our home for the night. A roaring fire and a camp oven feed was just what the doctor ordered after a day exploring the north half of the Reynolds River Track.
The 800m walk to Surprise Creek Falls provided us with a second surprise. The falls have two plunge pools. The main pool at the base is quite big and can be waded into very easily. A second higher pool sits in the rocky section of the cascade – and the only real way to get in is to jump. It’s great fun; and when the falls are running it’s plenty deep enough.
REYNOLDS RIVER CROSSING – CROC FILLED WITH A HIGH PUCKER FACTOR
The southern half of the Reynolds River Track includes areas of scrub and wide-open floodplains, usually covered with magnetic termite mounts. The track through the floodplains is black soil and would be a show stopper in the wet. In the dry season however, these sections are usually easily passable. What’s not so easy is the actual Reynolds River crossing. It’s a long sandy-based crossing and no trailers at all are permitted through. I was down to 15psi in the tyres and still bogged down in the headlight-deep crossing. A light feathering of the accelerator and the car crawled its way out. These are the sort of crossings you only get in the Top End. Not the sort of places you want to get bogged – with crocs living in the river.
A little further down lies a second crossing of the river; however during our visit this was dry. Shortly after this second crossing is the southern boundary of Litchfield, which signalled the end of our adventure.
If you’re in the Darwin region, whether you live there or are just passing through, do yourself a favour and check out Litchfield National Park. If you own a four-wheel drive, then lucky you… because you will get to see the very best parts of Litchfield. And chances are you won’t have to share them will too many other people.