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Saturday, 20 May 2017

The 'Oh So Glorious' Litchfield National Park - why would you ever want to leave?

25 - 27/04/2017
Litchfield Park (Northern Territory)
Distance Travelled:
168 km

number of waterfalls:

Litchfield Park, Ho!

From our Daly-Douglas campsite, the road to Florence Falls (Litchfield Park) stretched only a mere 170km ahead of us. Around mid-morning, we arrived at the small town of Batchelor; which marked the turn-off to Litchfield National Park. Pulling into the small township of Batchelor, there was a sign, proudly displayed, announcing that it was the national winner of the ‘Australian Tidy Towns’ award in 2000. Not bad for a population of only 650.

I bet the townsfolk are glad our kids don’t live there … I don’t think it would remain tidy for long!

I’m not sure what other claims to fame this little village may boast, but it certainly was clean and tidy (perhaps aiming for a second win in 2017?!?). A lovely, well kempt tree-lined grassy area took pride of place in the centre of town. And to top it all off, the lady in the corner-store supermarket was friendly too (a rare treat along the Stuart Highway...). But, with little more than a brief pause to grab some hamburger buns for dinner, we plunged 'headlong' down the road into the simply stunning beauty of Litchfield National Park.

Litchfield National Park... really, the sign says it all.

For those unfamiliar with Litchfield, all you really need to know is that it is regarded as one of the Northern Territory’s most spectacular national parks. The central feature of this region is a huge sandstone plateau, which dominates the landscape. Rain falling on the plateau collects in pools, which turn into rivers, which cascade down from upon high; dashing against the soft rock and hollowing out smooth lined plunge pools filled with all manner of fish and wildlife. And we had every intention of dipping our hot bodies in as many of these pools and cascading waters as possible!

Tolmer Falls, Litchfield National Park.

The other great feature of this region of Australia are the massive termite mounds dotted around the landscape. Some of which have grown to be several meters high – particularly in this protected area, where their diminutive inhabitants are able to happily go about their business, largely undisturbed by man or their throngs of cattle. However, when I say 'dotted around the landscape, this may be an understatement. No, they don't simply appear sporadically - here and there. Like sandcastles on a beach during a sandcastle making contest, they have popped up in vast numbers and cover the landscape as far as the eye can see.

In the absence of large herds of grazing animals, termites in Australia took up that niche and have filled it incredibly well. In a former life – many, many years ago – I studied entomology as part of my undergrad degree. I remember one of my lecturers describing these termite mounds as ‘cows of the desert’ – because they would consume and recycle so much of the detritus and dead plant matter that falls to the ground. So, I was surprised when I saw this simple simile repeated on an information plaque in a conversation centre nearby. To my mind, these little critters truly are remarkable!

Now, these are termite mounds! (Magnetic termite mounds, Litchfield National Park).

Reading the information included on a tourist map we picked up along our travels, we found that us trailer carrying folks we were advised to head through the park to a place named Wangi falls. The map information reported that this was the best place for caravans and trailers, rather than the other free-camping sites the park had to offer. So, heeding this advice, we drove the best part of an hour to Wangi falls. When we arrived, I must admit, we were rather nonplussed by the campsite. Apart from the odd tree here and there, there was no shade and the spaces carved out from the scrub for the trailers were carpeted by rough gravel – like you might find on an unsealed road. What’s more, we knew that the falls at 'Wangi Falls' hadn’t been cleared of crocs and opened for swimming yet – so it would be a half hour hike back and forth to the next swimming spot, Florence falls. Hmmm, let’s take another look at that map, we thought.

Looking at the map, we wondered if might be best to try the Florence Falls free camp – surely it wouldn’t be too hard to find a wee spot to squeeze in our little trailer.

Now, this is one of those dilemmas that you often face when rocking up to places that you have no idea about and, more importantly, where there is no way to guarantee a spot until you park your trailer and claim it as your own. We had heard from many of our fellow travellers, that if you want to stay in Litchfield park, you need to get there early before all the sites go. Luckily, being in a quiet part of the season, there weren’t lines of cars queued up waiting to get in. But, the question was, should we risk it?

Wangi Falls, spectacular – but only for walking around on this trip...

Drawing on the knowledge handed down to me as an infant toddling around in nappies, I remembered the tales of Aesop and considered the conundrum of the grass being greening on the other side of the fence. As such, we decided to unhitch our van at Wangi Falls and head to the renowned swimming spot of Buley Rockhole to let the kids cool off. As Buley Rockhole was just up the road from the alternative campsite of Florence Falls, we decided to pop in there to check it out.

Arriving at Florence Falls, we couldn’t believe this campsite it was in the same national park as the Wangi Falls campsite. There were massive camping plots, flushing toilets (even showers with warm water!), a view over the plateau to watch the sun set, and each site had its own fire pit ready to go! No contest, we were moving here, we exclaimed to each other!

Florence Falls, just a stone’s throw from the campsite.

Scouting around, it was still early in the day and several of the prime sites were still available. It was going to be a 40 – 60-minute round trip, but we thought it was worth the risk. As there was no sense in all of us traipsing around the countryside to move our trailer, I dropped Nat and the boys off at Buley Rockhole and zipped down the road to do all the lugging and grunting myself (Oh, what a good father I am!).

Arriving back at Wangi Falls , I had a little panic when I realised that there were many more vans and trailers than there had been an hour ago. Moving as quickly as I could, the trailer was hitched up and I was trundling down the road once again. Pulling in to Florence Falls, as I feared, there were more vans pulling in – but, as luck would have it, the site that we had our hearts set on was still available. I spent the next half an hour trying in earnest to find a semi-flat piece of ground to park up (even the short planks of wood I nicked from Gareth and Rosie weren’t enough to level us out). So, gathering stones, dirt and rocks (topped with Gareth’s nice, flat pieces of lumber), I eventually got the trailer sitting merrily in a picture-perfect position.

Florence Falls Campsite– don’t bother going anywhere else!

The next few days were spent swimming, tramping and cooking over an open fire. This place was brilliant!. We were located only a 15-minute walk (albeit down a seriously steep flight of stairs) from the spectacular Florence Falls. These dual falls cascaded into a deep plunge pool filled with fish. We spent the best part of a day swimming in this pool, playing in the river, snorkelling around the rocks and chasing fish. Ben devised a new hobby of gently piling rocks underwater – making new homes for all the fish - and busied himself for hours making house after house. The fish seemed to like them too, as no sooner did Ben make a new one than a fishy-tenant took up residency.

Oh, the hours of fun that can be had at Florence Falls

For most of our time dabbling in the cool waters of the falls, we had the canyon largely to ourselves. Occasionally, a bus load of other tourists would turn up, take a bunch of photos and leave – on their way, I suppose, to their next whistle-stop destination. I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for them, as they stood there in the heat, with only the long walk back up a gruelling flight of stairs to look forward to, without as much as dipping a toe in the water. But, then again, bugger them! I want my peaceful falls and solitude back…

We spent the majority of the next day up the road at Buley Rockhole. Now, this was perhaps less picturesque than Florence Falls – but just as much fun! Buley Rockhole presented us with a series of cascades, which droped down a rocky hillside from pool to pool – until it reached a serene forest river, drifting away under the shady trees at the bottom.

Buley Rockhole: Fun for the whole family!

Some of the pools created by these cascades were really deep – well over my head – and were perfect for jumping into (feet first, of course).


Each pool ended in a new water fall, several of which you could slip and slide down on your rear-end, before bursting into the pool below. Ben and Daniel, our epic little swimmers, also swam their hearts out against the flow of rushing water and would have easily covered a 100 meters if it wasn't for the torrents of water keeping them in one spot – their bodies never even moved an inch.

Other parts of the falls were just nice to sit in, hang out, and let the water crash over you in a cool, yet relaxing explosion of water.

Crashing cascades at Buley Rockhole

Our remaining time in Litchfield National Park was spent exploring several of the other tracks and viewing platforms, which displayed grand vistas of equally stunning falls and gorges. Despite the beautiful scenery, we also had a lovely time hanging out in our very spacious campsite. The fire was fuelled by dead wood picked up along the service road down to Buley Rockhole – and there was an abundance of it. I’m not sure how you would get on later in the season – but at this time of year there was more fallen branches than you could possible burn in months. Ben also did us proud by cooking snags and baked potatoes on the open fire. Even when the skies opened up and rain began to drizzle down on him, he battled through.

 Sizzle, Sizzle

Thinking we were destined to spend our last night in Litchfield park hiding from the rain and playing cards in the camp trailer, needless to say that we were over the moon later that evening when the rain gave up its attempt to dampen our spirits and everything dried up nicely. With the ground, trees and air refreshed, it was delightful to sit outside.

So, we restoked the fire and chatted away into the dead of night until the wood ran out.


Bye ‘d bye,


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