Litchfield National Park
We have both visited Litchfield National Park before but this visit included an unexpected jewel in this busy national park. The main entries to the park are along the sealed road through Bachelor in the east or via a partly unsealed road from Berry Springs in the north. This time however we are entering from the south via the 4WD track from the Douglas Springs road in the Daly River region. This section of the park is new to both of us and we’re not sure what to expect. There are a couple of campgrounds along this track and we’re planning on checking them both out for a night or two.
There are a couple of easy dry creek crossings in the 17 km to the first campground at Surprise Creek although the sign advising vehicles be fitted with a snorkel as at the Roper River suggests it could be a very ‘interesting’ crossing at times. As there is only one camp site occupied we pick a nice shady site and head for the falls for a swim hoping the surprise at Surprise Creek falls isn’t the lack of water. We meet a few people are on their way out and they have been swimming so that’s a good sign, even better when we are told we’ll have the place to ourselves.
We come to a large pool only a ten minute walk from the camp that looks inviting and soon we are cooling off in the clear water. Water trickles over the rocks to one side although marks on the rocks show the waterfall is much larger in the wet season and early dry season. Other marks show where numerous feet have climbed the rocky slope and after our dip we follow suit. Another very beautiful pool is a pleasant surprise and soon we are having a dip in this as well. The rocks leading up from this pool are a bit steeper but still fairly easy to negotiate and after we climb up higher we are even more pleasantly surprised by the sight of yet another good sized plunge pool with a view of the valley below so we just have to have another swim. With no one else around this is sure close to paradise in the bush! Further up a chain of small rock pools eventually lead to a creek emerging from the bush.
We happily head back to camp deciding we’ll have two nights here so Paul can capture different views at sunrise and sunset. We pass a couple of other groups of people on their way in and we agree that we were lucky to have had the place to ourselves for a while. By late Friday afternoon the campground starts to fill up. It’s a long weekend in the Northern Territory and by dark all camp sites are occupied, some campers are set up along the road and more have driven in and then out again to try elsewhere. We decide we won’t move until the long weekend crowd are packing up again so that means three nights here, certainly no hardship.
Over the weekend our return visits to the pools bring a very different atmosphere with happy families and groups of friends sharing the cool waters. Kids climb the rocks above the middle pool and jump into the deep pool below. One of the dads says he once tested the depth with a rock and a rope and the pool is over six metres deep. Some of the kids are nervous and stand on the edge plucking up their courage before taking the big step out to drop five metres into the water. When they bob up to the surface they beam with happiness at their achievement. One group of four brothers add a ball to their jumps and line up aiming to flick the ball between themselves as they are in mid-air. They often make the first couple of passes successfully but I didn’t see them make it through the whole routine. No doubt they’ll be back trying on future visits.
After a relaxing weekend at Surprise Creek Falls we pack early to see a little more of the national park. There are several more creek crossings as we head north on the 4wd track and one of them in particular is about 50 metres long with a sandy bottom that winds between the Pandanus Palms. Very pretty. The water is only about half a metre deep and we have no problem here.
We only have a couple of nights before we need to get to Darwin so we decide to skip Sandy Creek, the other camp on the 4WD section and spend our nights at Wangi Falls. We’ll have to miss Florence Falls and Buley Rockholes. Although they are both lovely to camp and swim at we have both been there before and they don’t offer the same photographic opportunities.
Wangi Falls is the most visited part of the park and the campground is large and always busy. We’ve arrived reasonably early and quite a few sites were vacated this morning so we have no problem getting a good spot but the whole camp fills up every afternoon. There is very easy access to the large pool at the base of the falls and we are soon enjoying a refreshing swim. Good light hits the rock face in the late afternoon so no prizes for guessing where Paul spends sunset time.
The morning sees us leaving camp early to drive to the Lost City which is about 10km down a dirt track off the main road south east of Wangi Falls. The towering slabs of rocks are impressive and the early morning light brings out all the details. We wander around the short walking track for almost an hour before enjoying our breakfast and coffee.
Our first short detour on our drive back to camp takes us to Tabletop Swamp where a large billabong is surrounded by paperbark trees and the ducks are busily foraging amongst the reeds and water lilies. Next we take the short walk to Tolmer Falls, a very impressive drop but not much water flow at present and no access to the green pool at the bottom.
We are back at Wangi by lunchtime so we have plenty of time for more swims and photography and in the morning we take the northern road out of the park and up to Darwin via Berry Springs. As we’ve said before, Litchfield is a great place to visit but try to avoid the weekends (or head for Surprise Creek as early as you can).