Wednesday, 18 July 2012 10:29 AM
The soft tweet of a gecko – palely translucent – in the corner of the verandah places me firmly in the tropics. In fact I’m only around 12 degrees south of the equator here in Australia’s Top End.
Litchfield National Park is the Northern Territory’s most popular playground, close enough to be a day trip from Darwin, beautiful enough to spend a whole holiday.
Litchfield is often mentioned like an also-ran after the massive neighbouring Kakadu National Park but Litchfield is an experience in itself. The locals talk about “Kaka-don’t” and “Litchfield-do”. Kakadu is wilder, edgier; there are so many places that are off limits, especially without a 4x4.
In Litchfield you are welcomed with open arms: there are few “beware the crocodiles” signs at the waterholes but the beauty and the wildlife are still apparent.
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.
Evening and early morning are the best times to be moving about in Litchfield to spot wildlife. The sky is stained scarlet after sunset and the air is deliciously soft and balmy.
I’ve seen plenty of giant termite mounds during my time in the Northern Territory but the curious magnetic termite mounds are something else again. A vast field of standing stones? An even vaster cemetery?
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 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.
On the way back to Darwin I stopped at one of the Northern Territory’s most famous Outback pubs – the Humpty Doo Outback Hotel. Worth a stop just for the name alone, this drinking institution serves up wonderful buffalo, barramudi and crocodile burgers along with the cold beer.
Australia’s Northern Territory is a unique and beautiful place; Litchfield National Park should be on everyone’s Top End itinerary.
By Natasha von Geldern
Organise your car hire in Australia’s Top End through carrentals.co.uk, the car hire comparison search engine.
See the Northern Territory tourism website for more information on holidays in Australia’s Outback.
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