Kakadu National Park may get all the glory but Litchfield National Park, 90 minutes from Darwin in the Northern Territory, certainly deserves its share of the international spotlight. Discover its incredible walking trails, majestic waterfalls and the best accommodation option nearby.
I have a photograph taken in Litchfield National Park. I’m half-reclined against a rock in the glass-clear Buley Rockhole, my eyes and mouth firmly shut as water cascades over smooth sandstone onto my head and face before wildly punching my shoulders. It’s 35°C but blissfully cool here in the pool, a natural speed bump where Florence Creek begins its journey down to feed dramatic Florence Falls. I want to shout my joy across the Jurassic landscape but the water keeps coming. Twenty-four hours a day. Wet season and dry. Year in, year out. For millennia.
Nature has carved Litchfield, about 120 kilometres south of Darwin on a sealed road, into a 1500-square-kilometre biodiversity theme park – waterfalls here, savanna there; rainforest, woodland, floodplains, swimming holes, frogs, wallabies, bats, termites and, yes, human beings who file out of the Northern Territory capital each weekend to decompress in a pocket of the world that technology largely forgot.
We start our adventure with a dip at the base of Wangi Falls, easily the most accessible of Litchfield’s swimming holes. We’re not alone but that’s okay. Where Territory swimming is concerned, my mind is a rolling Steve Irwin documentary so two things with the potential to wreck a languid dip in monsoonal rainforest – squealing children and lurid polystyrene noodles – are, right now, oddly reassuring. (Saltwater crocs are a rare sight in Litchfield – especially in the dry season from May to October – but it’s vital to always heed warning signs.)
After lunch in the adjoining picnic area, we climb to the first viewing platform on the 1.6-kilometre Wangi Falls Walk, captivated as we go by the sunlit webs of orb spiders and brightly coloured bugs that take off, hover and land on the lush plants. Looking down on the site of our morning swim we see rainbow fish and black bream, so clear is the water.
While several waterfalls (including Wangi, Florence, Tolmer and the Buley Rockhole) are reachable by sealed road and serviced with car parks, toilets and picnic areas, the deeper you go into the park – especially if you have a 4WD – the closer you get to noodle-free nature (the sublime Tjaynera and Surprise Creek waterfalls). Also only accessible by 4WD is The Lost City, a haunting formation of sandstone pillars that at first glance look like the remains of an ancient civilisation.
But for an example of nature’s sheer ingenuity, it’s hard to go past the park’s magnetic termite mounds – certainly not without a nod to the busy inhabitants and their ancestors. Growing to an average height of about two metres and lasting up to 100 years, the mounds (painstakingly formed by a well-organised army of workers and soldiers, overseen by their queen) rise from the earth like tombstones in a forgotten war cemetery. Much like aspirational suburban homeowners, the termites align their socially distanced habitats north-south to make the most of the sun. After a lazy day bobbing in plunge pools, I can report they’re the most productive living things here.
While Darwin is just a bit over an hour north, we’re going to stay the night and do it all again tomorrow. There are more paths to walk, birds to identify, a pioneer homestead to explore and waterfalls to chase. Taste paradise or stay and savour it? A no-brainer, really.
Where to stay
Hideaway Litchfield (48 Marindja Road, Rakula; 0402 033 853) is on the northwestern edge of the park and less than 10 minutes from Wangi Falls. It has two airconditioned one-bedroom cabins stylishly fashioned out of shipping containers. The cabins are connected by a 70-metre solar-lit path. Cabin One, a converted 12-metre container is set at ground level, while Cabin Two is twostorey. Both have decks, barbecues, kitchens, spectacular sunset views and, if you’re lucky, cameo appearances by local wildlife.
How to get there
Litchfield National Park is about 100 kilometres south-west of Darwin. The drive takes about 90 minutes.
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