Litchfield National Park is often talked about like an also-ran after the massive neighbouring Kakadu National Park but Litchfield deserves credit for being an experience in itself. In fact it is the most popular playground of people in Australia’s Northern Territory.
This is partly because it is close enough to Darwin to be a day trip and beautiful enough to spend a whole holiday. The locals talk about “Kaka-don’t” and “Litchfield-do”. Kakadu is wild, edgy, with many places off limits to tourists, even if you have a 4×4 vehicle.
But in Litchfield you are welcomed with open arms: there are few “beware the crocodiles” signs at the waterholes but the beauty and the wildlife that make Australia’s Northern Territory so special are still apparent.
We stayed outside the park in the little township of Batchelor – at the quirky Butterfly Farm. This has budget accommodation set around a lovely house with a wide verandah restaurant and surrounded by a tropical garden. The food was good and Wandering Kiwi Jr loved the butterfly enclosure in the garden and feeding the rabbits!
We drove into Litchfield evenings and early mornings, as these are the best times to spot wildlife. I watched a mob of kangaroos standing and watching in the bush then lolloping away. Two wild dingoes also paused to have a good look at the hire car and its gesticulating humans before trotting off into the dusk.
Visiting Litchfield is a tale of three waterfalls – Florence, Buley and Wangi – and getting your hot, sweaty body into that gorgeous cool water.
The sandstone plateau around Florence Creek is rich in monsoon forest. It sheds large volumes of rain water during the wet season (November to March), storing some in underground cracks in the rock like a giant sponge.
When the dry arrives, the water slowly seeps out feeding the creeks and waterfalls so here there is water all year round, unlike in the nearby Kakadu National Park.
This allows remnant pockets of monsoon rainforest to thrive here in deep gorges created over thousands of years by waterfall such as the spectacular Florence Falls cutting into the escarpment walls.
As I dropped down the pathway into the gorge the temperature drop was a delicious relief in the middle of the afternoon. Surrounded by lush vegetation, writhing tree roots and dripping, the waterhole at Florence Falls is like another, tropical world.
A few kilometres away at Buley Rockholes, a series of shallow pools progress down the hill, creating perfect places to sit and splash. The rush of the cascade against my back and shoulders is as good as a massage.
At Wangi Falls people were flocking to the extensive and attractive picnic grounds and ubiquitous barbecue facilities. Plunging straight into the waterhole for my last swim in Litchfield National Park, I thought this must be heaven. The waterfall crashes down into a pool surrounded by rich green Water Pandanus and Carpentaria Palms.
Driving around the Northern Territory I saw plenty of giant termite mounds but the curious magnetic termite mounds of Litchfield are something else again. They look something like a vast field of standing stones? Or an even vaster cemetery?
But no, these termites have adapted to their environment, perfectly aligning all the mounds in a north-south direction to help temperature regulator in this landscape of extreme wet and dry.
The sky is stained scarlet after sunset in the Northern Territory and the air is deliciously soft and balmy. There is a soft tweet of a gecko on the verandah – we are only 12 degrees south of the equator after all. Litchfield National Park should be on everyone’s Top End itinerary.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you swum in the waterholes at Litchfield National Park in Australia?