Today we were heading into the heart of Litchfield National Park (‘Litchy’ as it is affectionately known to the locals).
We were coming from the south having entered the park via the short 44-kilometre Reynolds 4WD Track where we spent 3 wonderful days and nights on a somewhat challenging track and visiting some of the Northern Territories most beautiful and remote waterfalls and campgrounds.
Litchfield is one of our favoured destinations on the ‘Top End’ and as for the waterfalls and swimming holes… well they just keep getting better and better!
We were so looking forward to swimming at Wangi and Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole again.
These gorgeous waterfalls and pristine rock pools, being only 100-kilometres south of Darwin and easily accessible by 2WD, make for a perfect day or weekend trip for locals, campers, caravanners and tour coaches… and as a result it was a very busy National Park when we turned onto the black tar.
On the cultural perspective, this 1,500 square kilometre park is the original home of the Wagait Aboriginal people and their ancestral spirits are still considered actively present in the surroundings.
The first European connection to the area was with the Finniss exploration, and the park was named after Frederick Henry Litchfield, a member of the expedition.
For 75-years the area was the centre for tin and copper mining then in 1955 it became a pastoral lease until it was designated a National Park in 1986.
This now popular tourist park draws up to a quarter of a million visitors annually… and at times, it is difficult to get a car park, let alone a campsite.
Most visitors access Litchfield via the Stuart Highway and Batchelor Road travelling through the small town of Batchelor.
Batchelor is only 12-kilometres from the highway with a population of around 500 people (mostly indigenous) and is the nearest town to the beautiful park of termite mounds, waterfalls, historic sites and a lost city.
Batchelor, named after Lee Batchelor (who was responsible for the Northern Territory back in 1908), started slowly with brief spurts of mining until World War II.
It grew to importance in 1949 when a prospector by the name of Jack White discovered uranium deposits at nearby Rum Jungle. As a consequence, Rum Jungle Uranium Mine was set up in 1952, but closed in 1971.
There is a great museum in Batchelor showcasing aspects of the local aboriginal culture along with the Federal Government’s agricultural plans of 1911, a lovely coffee shop and the towns centre piece, a castle built by a Czech immigrant Bernard Havlik, is worth checking out too.
After making his home in Batchelor, Bernard spent most of his life working for the community, mainly as a gardener.
His claim to fam is an unusual castle, a castle he created after transforming an unused pile of boulders sitting in the centre of town, into a replica of a famous castle he recalled from his homeland in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia – Kalstein Castle.
Bernard spent many years crafting and moulding the castle by hand but sadly he died in 1990 just before his replica was completed – the final piece, a water wheel, found under his death bed. The castle was eventually completed on his behalf.
If coming in from the Batchelor end the first tourist attraction to greet you on the 35-kilometre stretch into Litchfield National Park is the incredible Magnetic and Cathedral Termite Mounds… then comes the rugged sandstone escarpments, perennial spring-fed streams, monsoon rainforest, waterfalls, off-road tracks (4WD only) and historic ruins.
We have traversed this route through Batchelor a number of times over the years but this time we were exiting from the Reynolds 4WD Track…
… and with still another off-road track to complete just down the road we decided not to increase the tyre pressure on Harry Hilux until we had completed the 4WD trek into the ‘Lost City’.
Having visited Litchfield a couple of times this was one tourist landmark we had never ventured to, so we were looking forward to comparing it with the territories ‘Southern Lost City’ on the Gulf Savannah Track.
Turning on to the bitumen our first stop before the ‘Lost City’ was a short detour to Tolmer Falls, home to rare ghost bats and orange horseshoe bats.
From the parking area, it was only a 250-metre walk to a viewing deck that offered expansive views of the top of the escarpment and the lowlands further afield.
A further 150-metre walk brought us to the ‘Tolmer Falls Lookout’. Situated on the edge of the escarpment this lookout presented an elevated view of Tolmer Falls.
Although these falls are quite a distance away, last trip we were privy to a stunning waterfall cascading over the rocky ledge… but unfortunately today they were reduced to a mere trickle, obviously the result of the lack of a ‘Wet Season’.
This entire area, including the plunge pool below the water fall is a protected area so even though it’s not possible to get up close to the falls there is a short 1.5-kilometre loop walk long Tolmer Creek back to the parking area, which is accessible to visitors.
After lingering at the falls lookout for some time enjoying the glorious views then making our way along the creek walk back to the carpark, we continued down the road, finally turning off the bitumen towards the ‘The Lost City’.
With another rough road ahead our driving skills were tested once again as we bumped our way along an extremely rutted, rocky and corrugated single-lane track, once more disappearing into the rugged landscape of Litchfield National Park.
In the distance ‘Magnetic Termite’ mounds rose to as much as three metres in height.
These tombstone like mounds, all facing the same way with their thinner edges facing north-south and broad backs east-west, gave the distinct impression of an abandoned graveyard.
Located in a remote and hard to access area in Litchfield National Park, this 10-kilometre track into ‘The Lost City’ is only suitable for 4WDs but once there the natural structures that have formed over thousands of years by wind and rain erosion are a sight to behold.
Estimated to be over 500 million years old these ancient wall like structures, narrow passages and domes are spread out over an area resembling the ruins of a city and are easy to explore via well marked paths.
For those who haven’t seen the ‘Lost City’ this awesome attraction is well worth a visit.
For us it was just a lovely ‘walk in the park’, and even though quite spectacular, it really didn’t compare to the structures of ‘The Southern Lost City’ we had visited on the Gulf Savannah Track on a previous trip.
Travelling over the corrugations, through the ruts and over speed humps we made our way back to the main highway. The Parks people try to encourage visitors to keep the speed limit down on these tracks by placing erosion mounds every now and then. These humps also trap water behind them and occasionally we had to negotiate our way through a muddy puddle.
There’s no better way to see everything the Northern Territory has to offer than in a 4WD so if you’re planning a road trip remember off-roading allows you to explore these hidden gems and geographical landmarks that you normally can’t access.
Back on the highway, and with tyres aired up, the journey to Florence Falls was easy and brought a satisfactory end to a very enjoyable day.
There are a few of caravan parks on the outskirts of the park but we preferred the bush camps… and arriving at the Old 4WD Campground we were surprised to find there were plenty of options for us to park up for the night. There is no entry fee to visit, but it does cost a minimal amount to camp with camping fees payable on site.
Other than admiring the remote natural landscape and the unusual termite mounds in this park, the most popular activity at Litchfield is swimming at its various rock pools and waterholes and at the Old 4WD Campground we were camped right on the doorstep of Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole.
Over the next 3 nights the campground became our home and although the it soon filled up and became very crowded, we didn’t mind… we had plenty of room to spread out!
By day we swam at the beautiful waterfall only a short distance from the campground…
… walked the lovely walking trails or lazed in the rock pools at Buley Rock Pools… and at night we relaxed around our camp, gazed at the many stars then fell asleep to the sound of the waterfall and nature.
For those entering Florence Falls from the carpark it is a descent of 135 steps then a 430-metre walk to the waterhole but for us from the campground it was only a short flat walk of one and half kilometres that followed a creek bed along a lovely path lined with tropical trees that formed a beautiful, shady canopy overhead.
This was just another beautiful place to explore … but you really must be careful where you put your feet on these tracks and keep a constant eye out for our little slithery friends.
Ambling along we were unexpectantly stopped in our tracks when a snake slithered across our path. Our first response was to stand still to determine what it was doing… in this case laying in the sun on the warm rocks, then we moved away slowly in the opposite direction to allow the snake to move on into the bush…
… but not so a group of Asian tourists who ignored our warnings and, oblivious to the dangers of some of our Aussie reptiles, proceeded to move closer in an attempt to get that good photo shot!
Set in a pocket of monsoon forest, Florence Falls (Aboriginal name Karrimurra) is a segmented waterfall on the Florence Creek where two impressive waterfalls cascade over a rocky ledge into a plunge pool below… and it helped that we were camped nearby as it is an awesome spot for an afternoon swim after the crowds had dispersed.
This spectacular waterfall is around 25-metres high and cascades into a lagoon easily the size of a couple of olympic swimming pools.
There was a constant stream of people coming and going throughout the day at these falls with at least 30-40 people congregating on the narrow rocky edge at any one time, each contemplating a swim or just basking in the sun and admiring nature at its very best.
Given it was a very small, rocky space around the waterhole it was hard work skirting people and trying to negotiate the slippery rocks for a swim… and even the steep 135 steps down into the valley didn’t seem to deter tourists from checking out this famous waterhole – even if they did have to climb back up the steps in their thongs and wet cozzies!
Free of the crowds each afternoon we were able to clamber over the rocks, plunge into the crocodile-free swimming hole and splash about in the clear waters at the base of the falls. Fish were in abundance. This waterhole is filled with large smooth rocks and black fish and we spent a lot of time sitting on the underwater rocks as they swam around undeterred by us… but take heed – they like to nibble on your legs and toes and are attracted to cuts and and bites! My immediate thought at the time was, it was better these little hungry fish than a big hungry croc!
There are several walking paths in the area with the main one, ‘Shady Creek Walk’ wrapping around the back of the waterfall and exiting either further up at Buley Water Hole or back at the main carpark and the top of the 135 steps.
We usually followed this path each day from Buleys just to take in the view of the waterfall from above then we would proceed down the steps for a cool dip in the waterhole before making our way back to the Old 4WD Campground.
The ‘Shady Walk’ route provided us with our daily exercise and was an easy and delightful walk to Buley Rock Pools from Florence Falls in the heat each day.
This 1-kilometre partially paved path winds through contrasting monsoonal and dry woodland areas and passes over several creek crossings. It really is a beautiful stroll!
Buley Rock Pools is a series of small waterfalls and gorgeous rock pools where water bubbles from one plunge pool to another then into a larger pool at the bottom then continues to weave its way down a hillside covered in thick tropical vegetation to Florence Falls below.
It is one of our favourite spots in Litchfield where although very easy to get to resulting in it being quite crowded also, there are so many individuals pools to swim in that we were able to tuck ourselves away in our own exclusive bit of paradise and enjoy a lovely soak and massage as the water tumbled over the top of us.
After 3 lovely relaxing days it was time to move on again and we reluctantly left Florence Falls and headed straight to the most popular visiting spot in Litchfield – Wangi Falls.
Wangi is the undisputed draw card in this park boasting all the infrastucture that caters for the large volumes of tourists, tour buses and day trippers including an information centre, a restaurant/cafe, a lovely day use areas with bbqs, toilets and showers, a great camping area, a beautiful waterfall that cascades over the edge of a rocky escarpment into a large plunge pool and an invigourating 2.6-kilometre hike to a summit that affords beautiful views and another splendid swimming hole. It was exactly as we remembered it from our last visit… only this time it was closed to swimming.
Kangaroos, goannas and a variety of birds all call this place home, but unlike Florence Falls, the real king in these parts is the fresh water croc… and apparently there was one here that liked to nibble on backpackers… and they preferred the taste of German backpackers so we were told!
Crocodiles are an ever-present danger in these waterholes and although mostly ‘freshies’, which are considered not dangerous, there always has to be one rogue one that keeps the parks people on their toes. We now knew why Florence Falls Campground was so crowded.
With the pool and access to the loop walk and top waterhole closed and all fenced off, the campground almost void of campers and the surrounding day use area, which is always busy with large numbers of tour buses and self-drive tourists deserted, there seemed no point in us staying so we continued along the Cox Peninsula Road, the alternative route to Darwin.
The Cox Peninsula Road is open during the dry season and links Litchfield with Berry Springs, but this route does have some unsealed sections.
Just north of Wangi our first stop was the old Bamboo Creek Tin Mine where, complete with dozens of hitch hikers (flies), we wandered amongst the ruins and inspected some of the original machinery of the old mining operation that began at Makanbarr in 1906.
When high quality tin was often found in the ancient riverbeds and on the surface of the hills small groups of miners moved in creating this tiny settlement.
They bagged and sold their finds for the next 30-years and by 1941 miners had begun following the tin-bearing seams into the hills.
Using picks and shovels they dug their way into tunnels and some entrances can still be seen on the hillside today. Sadly, souveniring has been quite common at the mine over the years and apparently many of the mining relics had been stolen.
By lunch time we found ourselves soaking the dust off in Walker Creek a bit further down the track.
Walker Creek is one of the best kept secrets in the Litchfield National Park with some of the best campsites… if there’s one available!
Walkers Creek car park is close to the road and has a lovely picnic ground with a couple of tables and barbecues and a lovely creek to cool down in – but you can’t camp here!
This is where you leave your car, pop your camping fee in the box and register your reserved campsite in the book provided… and from here you must walk! That means carrying all your stuff – tent, overnight gear, food and whatever else!
This walk is also a section of the 39-kilometre overnight Tabletop Track that starts or finishes at Florence Falls.
Doning our swimming gear and walking boots we headed off along the crystal clear creek following a well marked track through monsoon rain forest and across dry, barren, rocky landscape. The vegetation was beautiful and varied considerably from pandanus-lined pools, cycads and orange flowering Banksia.
Wallabies grazed in the surrounding country side and curious birds called from the trees and aside from a few campers at the designated camp sites we were the only walkers on the track. It really was quite tranquill and beautiful!
There are a total of eight secluded sites along this five-kilometre track and even if you’re only out for a day walk it’s a lovely path that follows the creek before twisting and turning and climbing to each numbered camp site.
There are plenty of refreshing rock pools and you can stop at any point along the track and jump in the creek to cool off… that is, providing it is not already taken!
Each campsite is set in a lovely clearing near the creek with its own private set of rapids and crystal-clear pool. Each has a big table, a wood fire and enough flat ground to put up a couple of tents… and there’s bush toilets near site 6!
2-hours later, after an invigorating walk, we arrived back at the day use area where we paused for a long dip and a bite to eat before heading on again.
Passing Kangaroo Flat Military Training Grounds, we crossed a narrow one lane bridge over the Finiss River.
Berry Springs was next on our map.
Berry Springs is a great place for a day out and we had visited here numerous times previously but unfortunately this swimming hole was also closed… only this time it was a saltie terrorising visitors!
This is another very popular haunt for the locals being quite close to Darwin.
There are three areas with plenty of room to take a dip – the natural springs themselves where water runs over a rock ledge into a pool below, the main pool for swimming and a lower area. There is also a large grassed area where you can spread yourself out with a good book.
Just a bit down the road we passed the Territory Wildlife Park. We had visited this lovely park a few years back. Home to a large variety of animals and birdlife including the Top Ends most talked about creature, the saltwater croc, it also offers three great habitat walks (you can take the bus if you prefer), a nocturnal house and in addition ‘Birds of Prey’ shows and various animal and fish feeding sessions.
Moving on past the outlying suburbs we finally arrived in Darwin and after a ring around, finally booked into the Discovery Caravan Park for a few nights… unfortunately our old favourite ‘The Free Spirit’ was booked out this time of the year!
Litchfield National Park is a beautiful park that we continue to come back to. With its evergreen plateaus, deep gorges, rocky outcrops, rugged escarpments, streams, stunning waterholes and waterfalls, interesting history, amazing termite mounds and off-road adventures dotted throughout the park, it represents the tropical north of Australia we all hear about!
It may not be as commercialised and popular as it’s cousin Kakadu, but we definitely rate Litchfield on the top of our list as the jewel in the crown of the Darwin region.
Just a word of warning though… this is a very busy National Park even at weekends and we have found from experience it is best to avoid all ‘Top End’ National Parks in school holidays and over long weekends.
These popular destinations are the Darwinites adventure playgrounds and the campgrounds become so packed with locals they are really hard to get into.
Next on our map we visit the traditional lands of the Larrakia People. A land that gazes out across the Timor Sea and is actually closer to Bali than it is to Bondi!
Come join us as our Aussie adventure continues… and let’s soak up the tropical vibes of the beautiful city of Darwin with its balmy tropical weather, World War II history, Indigenous culture, Ghan Railway, beautiful parks, amazing sunsets, Mindil Beach Sunset Market, museums… and a crocodile or two!