The Northern Territory has some amazing and diverse areas where protected areas range from rich wetlands to dry savannah and desert areas. Now while the NT may have our largest NP ( Kakadu ) within Australia, Litchfield NP is highly regarded as its sister park.
Just over an hours drive from Darwin the park is one of the most popular parks in the north attracting more than 260,000 visitors a year and is an integral part of the NT’s network of conservation areas. Covering just 1,500 sq km Litchfield contains a diverse range of plants and animals with some only found here in the area.
Local Aboriginal tribes have lived in the area for thousands of years and unlike other parks, their cultural sites are not open to the general public. It was in 1864 when explorer Fredrick Litchfield headed an expedition through this area that the park was named after him.
On this trip, they found gold in the nearby Finniss River and over the next few years, a mini gold rush boomed in the top end. It's a park that could be done in a day by 2wd, seeing the waterfalls and stunning views from the plateau lookouts, but to see the real hidden gems you’ll need a 4wd.
These days there are two sealed roads into Litchfield so most visitors can do a loop around and continue back to Darwin or on their journey south. The drive from Darwin heads off the Cox Peninsular road from the north and the road in from Batchelor comes off the Stuart Highway that heads south.
The road in from the north ( Litchfield Park Road ) traverses through huge tropical floodplains wherein the wet season this area often gets closed off and as you get closer to Litchfield large sandstone plateau’s start to appear. Paperbark and monsoon forests line the road with stunning Cycads and Pandana’s palms scattered through the bush and along creek lines.
The first port of call from here is the old Bamboo creek Tin mine just a few km off the main road. Tin was discovered in 1906 here and was worked on and off for the next 50 years. Local Aboriginals were employed and some were married to the Europeans.
Over the years of operations around 46 tons of tin was extracted manually and another 250kg of Tanalite was found. Tantalite was generally used with alloy to increase the hardness of the metal. Finally abandoned in 1954 when the tin wasn’t viable to be worked.
Today there's a short walking loop around the working shed with a stamper, past the water tanks and up to the mine itself. Info boards give you an insight into the labour intensive process that went on here.
Apparently, the Bamboo Mine was the first in the area that sustained genuine contact between the Aboriginals and Europeans that moved into the area. Before this cultural conflicts and the lack of understanding between the two led to retaliation for many wrong doings as both sides had different laws, beliefs and understandings.
Leaving the mine there Walker Creek and the Cascades to check out. Both have day areas and swimming is allowed. Wangi Falls is like the hub centre of Litchfield where parks NT have set up a pretty decent campground that is perfect to set up a base to explore the outer reaches of the park.
Wangi Falls has two falls that plunge over the rock face into a deep pool, occasionally it does get shut if conditions are too dangerous. Litchfield is known for its many walks throughout the park and for the walkers, there is nearly 100km of tracks to be explorer, ranging from short hour walks to difficult treks over many days. Some of the walks start here at Wangi.
The loop road continues around past Tjaetaba Falls where a walking track follows Greenant Creek to the base of falls where you can cool off in the lower pool. Further on the stunning Tolmer Falls is a must-do where a short walk to the lookout platforms give you a full view of the falls and across the vast savannah woodlands of Litchfield.
In the caves near the falls rare protected Orange Leaf-nosed bats are found so swimming in the gorge is not allowed. The next falls along the way are the ever pumping and very popular Florence Falls and nearby Bluey’s pools. The dramatic Falls can be accessed by a long steep walk to the base to soak in the pool or swim under the falls, the other option is to follow Shady creek to Blueys pool for a day in the freshwater. There are campgrounds here but they do get pretty packed quickly.
The last real port of call along the loop road are the series of Termite mounds that rise dramatically out of the floodplain. These grey wedge-shaped mounds are up to 15 feet tall with a north-south aspect to repel the heat away in the hot days of the north.
There are two boardwalks here where one highlights a 50-year-old Cathedral mound with castle-like points on the top, and the other boardwalk leads you out through a shelter where in-depth facts about these mysteries mounds can be read before you scope the dozens outside in the floodplain that seem to go forever all built by a 5mm long Termite.
From here the road heads out to Batchelor and over the Tabletop Range where the views across remote parts of the park can be seen.
Apart from doing the Litchfield loop which is 2wd, there are a couple of drives where a 4wd is needed to discover the outer reaches and beauty of Litchfield.
The Lost City Track is one of these where it's not a series 4wd track but it was narrow and rough for most of the 14km drive-in. The Lost City is a natural rock formation where huge freestanding piles and pillars of eroded sandstone stand up to 60 feet tall.
Part of the Tabletop Range they have been weathering for millions of years to what’s left today. The track to the Lost City is on the Batchelor end of the loop road and is well signposted.
THE REYNOLDS RIVER TRACK
The Reynolds Track is on the southern end of the park and I reckon highlights more of what Litchfield is all about, plus it gets you away from the hoards of scantily clad backpackers.
It’s a 44km 4wd track ( well really just a rough road ) where I only needed 4wd several times to cross the rivers. Opened only during the dry season and only after the rivers drop below 800mm it's a cool track with 5 different river crossings over the Reynolds River system.
Saying this - there's no hill climbs, damage wrecking mud holes or rocky outcrops to tackle. The rangers do close the track when they feel necessary whether it be weather issues, maintenance or pest control.
Highlights along the track include a detour into the old Blyth Homestead and MT Tolmer mine to explore the old homestead and see how the Sargent Family lived and survived out here in this harsh environment.
Originally owned by the Chinese this pastoral lease was sold to the Sargent family in 1924 where they continued to work the land, be self-sufficient and mine the mountain for tin.
The old homestead has a collective amount of relics from back in the day on display, plus the family has left an amazing book of their history to read and admire dating back to 1924, was hard to believe that they had nearly 14,000 head of cattle here.
There was tragedy too when Dick Sargent was repairing the cattle yards and nearly took his heal off near his ankle using an adze ( old school axe type ), they rode through the night to help him, crossing croc infested flooded rivers but he finally passed away with his father by his side in the hospital.
Further on there's camping and a day area to explore and swim at Tjaynera Falls, commonly called Sandy Creek. It's a 1.5km walk to the tiered falls and there's a low risk of crocs here too. Next along the track is a diversion into Surprise Creek and falls. Again a two-tiered drop into deep pools, there's also a small campsite here.
The track continues across huge floodplains and Savannah lands where some of the best termite mounds can be seen. Back out on the tourist route, there's a handful to see, but along here it's mind-blowing with the thousands off into the distance.
Most of these are magnetic mounds but there's also the impressive Cathedral mounds mixed in that have the north south orientation.
Reynolds starts to run parallel with the Reynolds River at the far south end of the park where I found that after the last flooding there was plenty of sandy and dust patches along the way, but seriously it didn’t cause any issues.
The several river crossings had a rocky base - the local rangers make sure they contain the rock base after every wet season to allow access through the park. They range from long water crossings through to the East crossing which has a sand island in the middle.
A couple have steep entry and exits but nothing hard. At the end of the track, depending on where your camp is or where you're heading, it's about an hour drive to Alligator River township and loop back to the park. Even tho it's only 44 km long, it takes a good 4 hours to explore, swim and enjoy the drive.
Would I do Litchfield again ?. The simple answer is yes with its rich and diverse range of flora and fauna, absolutely stunning scenery, good central camping with a little 4wding thrown in. It's a must-do when in the NT.