From lush forests, rocky savannah, idyllic waterfalls and sandstone formations to a plethora of hiking, camping and four wheel driving opportunities, all within an hour and a half of Darwin – what more could you ask for?
With most of the waterways of the Northern Territory’s Top End off limits due to the ever-present threat of deadly jellyfish or estuarine crocodiles, Litchfield is the place to head for some of the Top End’s best croc-free swimming. There’s no shortage of great swimming spots hidden throughout the park, and although its close proximity to Darwin also ensures there’ll be no shortage of visitors, there’s always a chance you’ll end up with one of them all to yourself. I did, at least – even if it was during an unseasonally cold week in early June.
The landscape of Litchfield is a vibrant mix of scenery and habitats, with examples of most of what you can find across the Top End in the one place. The heart of the park is a rugged sandstone plateau, the Tabletop Range, carved over the millennia by the insatiable passage of flowing water. The surrounding country is a mix of savannah woodland and shady monsoon forest that clash along the creeks and rivers that intersect the rugged landscape.
Cascading waterfalls with deep, clear plunge pools are the star attractions, with most of them up there with the very best of this country’s swimming holes. And, as a bonus, unlike a lot of the waterways up here, most of these flow year round.
My visits to Litchfield have all been a little rushed, which is a shame, but I’ve now been enough times now that I’ve managed to experience most of what the area has to offer. Simply put, there’s a lot to see even with only a little time on your hands, and for the most part, it’s all pretty accessible. While a 2WD will get you around most of the park, with a good 4WD you can get a little more out of a visit, and you’re more likely to find a little peace and quiet.
Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole
Florence Falls, along with Wangi, are arguably Litchfield’s most popular attraction. Having said that, get in early on a weekday and the crowds should be pretty subdued.
There’s a viewing area for the bizarre magnetic termite mounds on the way in, but otherwise Florence Falls is most people’s first stop. It’s only a short walk through a vibrant patch of monsoon forest to the base, where twin falls highlight the low cliffs that encircle the plunge pool. It’s also only a short walk from two nice campgrounds.
Nearby, Buley Rockhole is a more peaceful series of deep, rocky pools along a cascading stream. They’re popular with families and children, but if you follow the walking trail along the creek there’s a few more pools that don’t tend to get quite so busy.
The Central Section
On the drive through the park I checked out Tabletop Swamp, but aside from a noisy mob of Black Cockatoos there wasn’t much to see. If you’ve got a 4WD, take the 10km track out to the Lost City. The track itself is nothing to worry about, and the Lost City at the end is a cluster of weathered sandstone pillars and formations. They’re not quite as remarkable as some of the other ‘lost cities’ hidden around Australia, but they’re worth checking out.
As is Tolmer Falls. There’s no access to the falls themselves or the huge pool at the bottom, but there’s a short walk and a couple of nice lookouts. Further along, there’s a beautiful little picnic area along the picturesque Greenant Creek, and the walk from here to Tjabata Falls are highly worthwhile. It’s a fairly easy track, through some beautiful monsoon forest along a gurgling creek, before climbing to the top of the low escarpment. There’s a great, deep pool at the top of the falls to swim in, and the walk keeps away a lot of the crowds that frequent Florence and Wangi.
Wangi Falls and the North
The twin streams of Wangi Falls cascading over the rocky escarpment is an image synonymous with Litchfield. It’s not hard to see why, they’re an impressive sight and make for some great photography. They are also the most accessible of Litchfield’s waterfalls, and therefore, generally the busiest, although the pool is enormous so you shouldn’t have to fight for swimming space.
There’s grassy picnic areas, a kiosk, campground, and a short walk that heads through a dense patch of lush monsoon rainforest to a platform amidst the canopy, before climbing across the top of the falls and descending the other side.
From Wangi, you can follow the road to exit the park via the northern route, an unsealed road that passes a few interesting stops. The Cascades are pretty much what you’d expect, a series of cascading pools, although the water level was pretty low and I’m not sure the walk in was worth it, especially if you’re hoping for a swim. I checked out Bamboo Creek Tin Mine too, which has some interesting colonial-era relics, with information panels on the local Aborignal and European history.
Although it’s not well advertised, the Tabletop Track, a 40km circuit walk that crosses the central plateau via a rough wilderness trail, is a great way to explore the park for experienced hikers. There’s access points at Wangi Falls, as well as at Florence Falls, Greenant and Walker Creek.
The Southern Section
This is where a good 4WD comes in handy. The Reynolds River Track runs from near Greenant Creek all the way down to the Daly River, although unfortunately a good portion was still closed when I visited. When it is open, a few deep river crossings can make a snorkel all but essential. Luckily, the road was open as far as Tjaynera (Sandy Creek) Falls. There’s a river crossing at the beginning of the track that stops most traffic, although it’s nothing to worry about in any decent 4WD.
I sidetracked to the Blyth Homestead Ruins on the way, crossing another deep creek on the way. The Homestead was built in 1929 and served as a base for the Sargent family who mined tin from the small adit out back.
At Sandy Creek, the campground has showers, flushing toilets and firepits, and isn’t bad for $3.30 an adult. We almost had it to ourselves too, and the walk to Sandy Creek Falls is another beautiful one. The falls themselves are easily on par with Florence and Wangi, except you could well have these to yourself.
For those heading back out towards Batchelor, there’s a good selection of caravan parks around the quiet town, and there’s a surprisingly nice tavern to grab a beer in after a days hiking and swimming.
Get out there
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