Litchfield National Park has long been playing second fiddle to its illustrious neighbour – the iconic Kakadu. But could the worm be about to turn? Are the waterfalls, (hopefully croc-free!) swimming holes, and the sheer accessibility of this long underrated natural marvel about to earn it top billing? Well, the jury’s still out on that one but the jury is not out on the rapidly growing popularity of the place …that is plain for all to see.
Litchfield National Park is just an hour-and-a-half or so down the road from Darwin. Hard as it is to believe, this 650 square-kilometre wonderland was scarcely known until it was proclaimed a national park in 1986.
Today, more than a quarter of a million locals and tourists make the journey each year to see its weathered sandstone escarpments, patches of monsoon rainforest, perennial spring-fed streams and permanent crystal-clear waterholes, spectacular waterfalls, intriguing ‘magnetic’ termite mounds and historic ruins. The area, which was originally the home of the Aboriginal Wagait people, was first visited by Europeans when the Finniss exploration discovered it in the late 19th century. In fact, the park is named after a member of that expedition, Frederick Henry Litchfield. For almost 75 years until 1955, the area was mined for tin and copper and then fell under pastoral leases until it was designated a national park.
Major attractions for visitors are the magnificent group of spring-fed waterfalls, which are at their best after plentiful rain, and include Buley Rockhole, Wangi Falls, Sandy Creek, Tolmer Falls and Florence Falls. The Lost City, with its fascinating sandstone formations, is also a big drawcard. Like Kakadu, some of Litchfield National Park is only accessible by a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The Wangi Falls are Litchfield’s most popular attraction and flow into a large, easily reached swimming hole … they’re beautiful. A three-kilometre walking trail will take you through monsoonal rainforest and to the top of the falls.
Florence Falls are also well worth a visit. Basically, it’s a spectacular double waterfall set amid the monsoon forest cascading into a swimming hole. A steep track / staircase leads down to the crystal clear pool at the base of Florence Falls.
Now, swimming here is supposed to be perfectly safe although most people like to have a good look around for any suspicious looking ‘logs’ before they jump in. Although, it is regularly trawled for the reptiles, some national park rangers are fond of saying that the only safe place to swim in this part of the world is a swimming pool!
Does it pay to be cautious? Certainly the busloads of towel-clutching young backpackers who arrive intermittently on their day tours from Darwin don’t think so. However, some of you may remember the headlines back in April 2008 when a woman had a lucky escape in what was said to be the first ever croc attack in Litchfield. A 2.5m saltie tried to drag woman underwater after grabbing her while she was dangling her legs in a creek. Incredibly, the woman’s husband managed to fight the crocodile off and she sustained relatively minor injuries.
Anyway, enough about crocs. Thousands and thousands of people swim here every year without incident. There’s a lot more fun stuff to talk about … like the collection of awesome walking tracks that meander through patches of monsoon rainforests. Common wildlife species include the antilopine wallaroo, agile wallaby, sugar glider, northern brushtail possum, black and little red flying foxes and the dingo. Taking a scenic hike is well worth the energy … and an extended stay in Litchfield is certainly well worth the effort.
MAKE SURE YOU …
Check out Wangi Falls and Florence Falls; at the very least dip a toe in one of the park’s gorgeous swimming holes; see if you can ‘find’ the Lost City … you’ll be glad you did; take a photo of yourself next to magnetic termite mounds; check out the spectacular Tolmer Falls which cascade over two high escarpments into a plunge pool.
WHERE TO CAMP
Inside the park, caravan camping is restricted to Wangi Falls and no powered sites are provided. 4WD camping areas (dry season only) at Tjaynera Falls (Sandy Creek), Surprise Creek Falls and downstream from Florence Falls. Walk-in camping sites are available along Walker Creek (dry season only). Camping fees apply.
Litchfield Safari Camp (Wangi Tourist Park) is located on the western edge of the park. Set in natural bushland, the camping areas and caravan sites are spacious. Vans are also welcome at the Litchfield Tourist Park.