Our Australian friends offered to take us bush bashing in Litchfield National Park. How could we resist (even if we didn’t really know what that meant)?
Ask an American what “Bush Bashing” is and you’ll get a very different definition than you would from an Aussie. We didn’t have the heart to broach a discussion of the difference, weary as we are of the practice as it’s defined back home. Bush bashing Down Under means a visit to the outback. So, “no worries, mate!” Off we went “straight away” in the “ute” (a somewhat strange-looking vehicle to those who are used to SUVs) on a day trip to Litchfield National Park from Darwin.
Litchfield National Park is a fairly young park as far as they go. Established in 1986, it is located about 100km southwest of Darwin on a sandstone plateau called the Tabletop Range. The park’s ecosystems also include monsoon rainforests in the deep gorges cut by waterfalls and runoff during the rainy season. And since we were smack dab at the end of the rainy season, Litchfield promised to provide us with a very different experience than we might have had during more popular times of the year.
Litchfield National Park gets over a quarter million visitors annually. Most of them come during the “Dry Season” in the Northern Territory’s winter months, beginning around the first of May. The car parks are full and people occupy the campsites on top of each other. Not so on the late March day we visited. It seemed as though we had the park pretty much to ourselves.
Our host knows the country like the back of his hand, having serviced slot machines in a previous career all over this part of the NT. This experience, along with his trusty “ute,” would prove to our advantage. We headed into Litchfield on the route which was partially unpaved. Way more exciting with a couple of water crossings!
Litchfield National Park has several popular natural attractions. First up was Wangi Falls. This is a double waterfall plunging in segmented fashion to a natural swimming hole. During the Wet Season, swimming is best avoided at this location. See if you can guess why from the photos.
We got a detailed lesson in crocodile behavior from our host, too, after we mentioned we’d seen admonitions in the newspaper against taking “selfies with crocs.”
Ironically, crocodile preservation efforts combined with human population growth have increased the risk of attacks. “Salties” (salt-water crocodiles) are the more aggressive species. They’ll jump out of the water into the air – croc leaps at tour guide video here – to grab bait (or yourself right out of your boat). If their prey is alive, they clamp down on it, twisting and thrashing in a death roll. Then they carry it (you) off to a stash where they let it (you) marinate for a few days to taste. You can foil this process if your mate has a good grip on you. The muscles in the croc’s jaw aren’t that strong, surprisingly, and if someone hangs onto you, the croc may tire and release you instead.
Needless to say we watched our step on the elevated walkway to the falls viewing platforms.
Next we visited Florence Falls, another segmented set of falls that drops into a plunge pool. Most of these natural attractions are sacred places to the aboriginal people who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. They believe their Ancestral Spirits still walk the area.
The Buley Rockholes are a cascading series of refreshing pools (with no crocs) where it’s possible to while away a warm day.
Dramatic Tolmer Falls can be seen from a viewing platform across a high gorge. The ecosystem in this area supports a rare cave-dweller bat called the Orange Horseshoe.
We also saw a lone wallaby and a single kangaroo while we were on the road, unusual for middle of the day. All roads from Litchfield National Park lead back to Darwin (good to know in case you fear getting lost).
Our last stop had to do with termites. There are two different types of termite species in the park and both are big builders. The Magnetic Termite builds gravestone-like structures that can stand two or three meters high, built on a north-south axis in order to maintain stable temperatures within the slab. If these were oriented east-west, the heat of the sun would be deadly to the inhabitants. Within the structure are differently-purposed chambers including nurseries, arches, chimneys and tunnels.
Just across the road from the magnetic termite viewing area is an amazing Cathedral Termite structure. This termite species builds tower-like structures all across Northern Australia. The one Pete is standing next to is a single colony estimated to be approximately 50 years old. It is thought that one queen termite lives throughout each colony’s life, and its social structure includes defenders and workers.
Our day of bush bashing in Litchfield National Park included a bit of background discussion on the rich natural resources which were discovered and harvested in the area over the last two centuries: tin, copper, paperbark, cypress pine and uranium. Prior to being designated a national park, the Litchfield area was also home to cattle stations and farming leaseholds. The Blyth Homestead is where the older children of the Sargent family manned a cattle outstation and tin mine. There is a very deep water crossing on the road to get there, which is best traversed in the Dry Season.
Even though Litchfield National Park is a recreational area nowadays, it isn’t hard to imagine what it might have been like to explore and settle the area in the 19th century. We were lost in thought on the way back to Darwin, full of appreciation for the harsh difficulties involved in taming the land sufficiently to eke a living. Our day of bush bashing ended on a note of gratitude for those whose efforts have now conserved it for visitors. And deep thanks to our friends, Greg and Joan, for a great bush bashing experience!
Tips and Information:
Litchfield National Park is located approximately 100km southwest of Darwin. Take National Highway 1 south toward Adelaide, turn right on Batchelor Road onto Rum Jungle Road to Litchfield Park Road. Accessibility and camping are limited in the Wet Season. Litchfield Tours include pickup in Darwin, an Adelaide River boat cruise including jumping crocodiles, stops at the Falls and Rockholes, snake handling, picnic lunch and snacks, and knowledgeable guides. Depart 7am, return 6pm.