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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Edith Falls - A perfect piece of paradise!

08 - 09/05/2017
Edith Falls (Northern Territory)
Distance Travelled:
275.2 km

hours spent swimming under waterfalls:

It was certainly good to get back on the road again and shake off the unfortunate events of the past 24 hours. So it was, that with high spirits, we bumbled down the road to our next destination: Edith Falls. We passed the time driving down the road with more audio books, moments of quiet contemplation (i.e., shouting at the kids when they started fighting with each other), listening to music and chatting. I can’t really remember much of the journey, but the sun was out and the scenery drifted by from one perfect scene to another.

Around early afternoon we pulled into the Edith Falls campsite. This was one of those places that you aren’t able to book in advance. So, you just have to just turn up and take your chances (God only know what you do in this neck of the woods if you turn up late and there are no sites left…). Luckily, we were counting on the fact that most people were still either in school or at work. As it turns out, our hunch was correct and the camp site was largely unattended – save for a few wanders like us and a handful of folks who had retired and could meander around the country to their heart’s content.

The campsite at Edith Falls was lovely - at least half of it... Hot showers and a basic amenities block. There was no power or water, but with solar panels on our roof and water tanks topped up in Darwin, we were self-sufficient and happy as Larry. Pulling up to the reception (a small kiosk, staffed by an abrupt and cantankerous middle-aged women), we were summarily allotted a campsite with little more than a spindly sapling to provide a smattering of shade. When Nat indicted to the kiosk lady that she wasn’t overly chuffed with this allotment, particularly as 90% of the park was currently vacant (indeed, there were many better sites staring at her, almost mockingly, from where she stood), the denizen of the kiosk wielded the power of her check-in register and suggested that this would be a perfect spot for us to charge up our solar batteries, with the ample unimpaired access to the sun that this space would provide. Having taken a wander around out the allotted site, we pretty quickly determined that this was (how might one say this to say this delicately) a bunch of arse.

As a whole, the camp site had been set out in a series of meandering circuits. The few caravans and camp trailers that were already in residence had been parked on the treeless, gravelly outer edge of the park, and a smattering of tents sitting like Smurf houses, appeared within the inner circle. This latter part of the park (aka, the inner circle) was sheltered from the beating sun by lush foliage, and had soft clay and abundant grasses growing underfoot.

Directly opposite our assigned plot, we spied what we believed was an ideal place to park out van – cool, shady, spacious and inviting. It backed onto a large grassy area that stretched out in all directions, with a quaint serpentine path winding its way towards the best amenities block on the site (i.e., the one tucked away from the day visitors who would come to play in the falls, but quickly leave before the sun went down).

Not content with the seemingly arbitrary site allocation, I returned to the kiosk to lock horns with the Grinch who held tight to her allocation book.

“Sorry love,” she began, after I made my opening gambit, “we reserve the inner sites for tents only… they need the shade you see”

“Sure,” I replied, “but we quite like a bit of shade too. Any chance of us shifting across the road?

“No!” she said, holding fast to her previous doctrine.

We stared at each other for a few moments, until it was clear I wasn’t going anywhere. “Oh, ok, hang on a sec.” she moaned. And with that, she thumbed through her site allocation book, furtively glancing up at me every now and then . “Look” she eventually declared, “I can probably move you to number 72. That’s got some shade. It’s the best I can do.”

“Great, I’ll go and check it out” I said.

Wandering across the camp grounds to site number 72, we meandered through the lush interior for a few minutes, until we emerged once more into another dry and barren wasteland that was dotted with caravans and other trailers. I was beginning to think this Kiosk Troll had some personal vendetta against people who had lowered themselves to sleep in anything more sturdy than a tent.

OK, I may be editorialising here…. (Just a little bit)

And so, back to the kiosk I went…

“Hi there,” I chirped, with my best smile plastered across my face. “So, look, I checked out number 72 and – to be honest – it’s no better than our first site. I’d rather just move into number 14, across the way from where you first put us”

“Sorry love,” she began “we like to keep those free for tents.”

“Fair enough,” I replied. I imagine it gets hot here in peak seasons when there are lots of people all crammed in. But, well, we’re only staying a night or two. And, there do seem to be quite a few sites left.”

“Sorry love,” our kiosk lady began. “We never know when we’re going to get a run of people turning up with tents”.

At this point I made a slow and dramatic turn (with my whole body, no less) towards the nearly empty campsite and raised an eyebrow. I could almost hear my 7th form drama teacher in the back of my head saying, “count to three and, oh so slowly, I want you to turn around and fix her with a steely gaze”. Following the little voice in my head, I followed the stage directions to a tee and we soon locked eyes and stared at each other for a moment or two.

She was the first the break….

"Oh, just take number 14”, she snapped, taking an eraser out of her desk and vigorously rubbing out our registration number from site 13 and transferring it to 14.

“Thanks,” I replied, possibly in a tone that was too good-humoured to be believable, and turned quickly and headed back to the car.

The magnificent Edith Falls… Oh my, were they ever magnificent!

As the name suggests, the major draw card for Edith Falls is visiting Edith Falls. These are a series of waterfalls, pools and rapids, stretching along a lengthy expanse of river. This vast body of water culminates in a large circular lake near the campsite. Unfortunately, the main lake wasn’t yet open for swimming (i.e., snap, snap, there goes your leg – you know the drill by now). But the river upstream (above the falls), was waiting for us to plunge right in! It seems that crocs are, by nature, particularly lazy creatures; who aren’t overly inclined to traipse across miles of steep terrain,  circumnavigating waterfalls and sheer cliff faces…

…we on the other hand, we were up for the challenge! So, at this stop, it looks like our watery fun-times would be hard earned (once again).

Lake next to our campsite – shame there was no swimming there until they'd cleared the crocs.

Over the next two days we hiked along a couple of rocky and dusty trails in search of the perfect swimming spot. Luckily, in the end, we were rewarded bountifully for our efforts!

On the first afternoon, we elected to head directly to Edith Falls. After a 45-minute walk, we crested a large hill, atop a steep trail, hemmed in tightly by tall tinder-dry grass towering over our heads. We peered down a steep incline, through massive boulders and smooth pancaked rocks, to one of the most picturesque sights we had seen so far on our trip. A crashing waterfall, easily 20 meters wide, churned into a deep and clear pool, before filling a giant basin carved from the sandstone rock. The torrent then funnelled its way passed over a series of water polished rocks adorning the river’s edge. At its narrowest point, this body of water pushed through a gap no more than a meter or two wide...

...and here, it picked up speed! Through a narrow crevice it flowed, before bursting into a large lake once more.

For the brave of heart who dared to cross the fast-flowing channel of water, the other side of river greeted the courageous rambler with a smooth plinth of rock – thrusting its way up from the depths. A handful of plants grew here on the slick surface; clinging on for dear life with roots that seemed to be made of steal.

Inhabiting the waters were fish of many sizes. There were also bizarre-looking fresh water crayfish with long spindly claws that protruded far in front of their heads. Ben and I donned our mask and snorkels, and spent a happy half and hour chasing these little critters around the bottom of the pool.

On the other side of the lake, the water split off again into a series of shallow rapids, crossed by fallen tree branches and a heavy metal bridge. Eventually, the separate tendrils gathered together into a fast-flowing river once more. All at once this newly formed torrent of water plunged suddenly over another cliff, where it crashed down into the lake beside our campsite far below.

Edith Falls – just, WOW, ok? WOW!

During our first afternoon at Edith Falls, we spent hours exploring the nooks and crannies of the natural playground. To be fair, much of the time was spent clambering over the smooth sandstone rock, picking our way back to the mouth of the fast flowing portion of the river and jumping in to get gap between the rocks to be swept downstream like an amusement park ride (think log flume, but without the log to ride on).

Riding the rapids at Edith Falls

Being surrounded by tall, steep cliffs, we knew that the sun would quickly disappear – so, we plucked ourselves from our nearly private watery-fun-land with about 20 minutes to spare. As we ambled down the mountain path, we watched the sun set on the horizon and made it back to our trailer during the brief period of twilight, which came before darkness settled on the land.

Edith Falls - sunset on the mountainside.

Up early the next day, we had a hearty breakfast of devilled ham and eggs on toast. We quickly made sandwiches for a picnic lunch, then headed off once more along the mountain trail.

This time, instead of journeying along the right-hand trail towards Edith Falls, we turned left along a less trodden path; picking our way upstream to a second perfect patch of paradise. Having hiked for an hour or so (under a sun that was so hot it baked the land to a crisp - even at this early hour), the trail eventually burst out of the dense scrub and back alongside the river. The ground underfoot turned into clean yellow sand, dotted with smooth rocks and boulders lining the riverbank. Moving a hundred meters or so further upstream, we came to a natural rock wall, with a wide waterfall flowing noisily over it.

The river was deep here, but it was also crossed with barely submerged rocky walls - parts of which jutted out of the water and segmented the river into sections like a giant centipede.

Sandy riverside beach, upstream from Edith Falls

Finding a small, shady patch by the water’s edge, we spent almost the day alone on this stretch of the river. Other than a pair of rangers who were passing through, and a small group of 20-somthings who stopped by our patch of river for 40-minutes or so, we had this sandy beach to ourselves pretty much all day.

So, with Lilo’s inflated, snorkels and masks donned, rocks climbed and jumped off, and sand played with, we had a magnificent time. The water was cool and refreshing, with small eddies near the shore warming up in the heat of the sun. Taking a break from the water, the boys worked industriously making a sand barrier on one small corner of the beach, vainly trying to trap a bath sized portion of river water to laze in.

… Speaking of lazing around; in the shade of the tree, with the white noise of the waterfall and gentle birdsong in the background, Nat and I also took it in turns to have a nap in the afternoon sun.

Our perfect patch of paradise

All too soon the afternoon came to an end. We knew we had a long hike ahead of us to get back to camp; so, we packed up our gear and began the return journey home. About an hour later we came upon the path that lead back to Edith Falls (where we had played so merrily yesterday). As the sun was still a long way from setting beneath the horizon, we decided that we just had time to cool down again after out strenuous walk.  

Unlike the day before, Edith Falls was now teeming with people (well, maybe teeming is a little bit of an exaggeration – there were probably 20 souls there at most). But, fighting our way through these throngs of bodies, we found a spot to dump our gear and went off exploring once again.

As the sun sank on our second night in Edith Falls, we traipsed back to our campsite (stopping for a quick game of ‘Pooh Sticks’ at the bridge over a river near our campground). We showered and doused ourselves in mozzie spray, before settling down to cook and eat our dinner under the stars. Tomorrow, we knew, would be an early start and a long day filled with driving. Our path would take us to Lake Argyle, which lay across the Western Australia border. So, packing up as much of the van as possible, we threw away any errant fruit and vegetables that could land us in hot water with border security, and enjoyed the last few hours in the lovely Edith Falls.

A hint of things to come.

Bye ‘d bye,


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