Litchfield National Park: Bush Bashing in the NT

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

Savannah grasslands – read on to find out what these “tombstones” really are

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.

Litchfield National Park

Just in case you thought a croc might be a safe companion?

Litchfield National Park

Take heed

Tourists have been competing for the Darwin Award in Darwin

Tourists have been competing for the Darwin Award in Darwin

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.

Litchfield National Park

Were there crocodiles lurking in this pool?

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.

Litchfield National Park

Buley Rockholes

Litchfield National Park

Buley Rockholes

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.

Litchfield National Park

Tolmer Falls

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).

Litchfield National Park

All roads lead to Darwin in this part of the world

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.

Litchfield National Park

Cyclone’s outer clouds approach magnetic termite mound area

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.

Litchfield National Park

Pete is dwarfed by a Cathedral Termite Mound

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.

Comments

  1. says

    You made me laugh out loud with your “Tourists have been competing for the Darwin Award in Darwin.” 😀
    How did you enjoy the mozzies up in Litchfield? From my experience they don’t even take the time to sit down before they bite you – through blue jeans if there’s no other way…
    I guess Non-Aussies would have liked to learn what a ‘ute’ (short for utility) really is.
    Juergen | dare2go.com has an awesome blog post here: Some of the Most Vibrant Mountain Scenery in ArgentinaMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suzanne – Sorry! The other stories I researched were even more gruesome. I guess these guys don’t like being made into purses. 😀

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Elaine – Yeah, I really don’t want to test the observation, thank you very much. Yes, we were very fortunate that our friends felt like an outing so soon after returning from South America the day before. I probably wouldn’t have been so energetic!

  2. says

    Juergen enjoyed this article so much this morning that when it popped up on Boomer, I just had to read it too. As a true blue Aussie girl, I can really appreciate everything about this article – but I particularly like your use of our vernacular. Great read, Betsy.
    Yasha Langford has an awesome blog post here: Around Lago Ranco, Los Ríos in ChileMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Yasha – So glad this passed muster! I can now think in Australian, even if I can’t manage the accent. 😉

  3. says

    Very much enjoyed reading this article and its insights into the Australian outback. Now I am wondering whether the “stop taking croc selfies” was simply humorous. I see there were no such fears with the termites!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Denis – Oh no, definitely because there are idiots doing it all.the.time. Mostly with freshies, who are smaller. Didn’t see a single termite, or a croc for that matter, on this outing. :)

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Alison – I know, they’re crazy big! I’m no fan of crocs either and now that I’ve researched and read a few stories that discretion warranted not sharing, I’m steering even further clear.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Rossana – Yeah, I asked our friends have they ever been on the croc boat tour. The answer was, “Once.” LOL

  4. says

    The term ‘bush bashing’ originates from the time that there were no roads, so your vehicle literally bashed down the undergrowth in front of you, making your own track as you headed off into the bush!
    I’ve worked for exploration companies out bush where our work really did mean we had to go bush bashing as we were the first ones, in a vehicle, at least, to head that way guided solely by a compass 😉
    Litchfield is great in that you can see all the waterfalls, and the amazing termite nests all in a day from Darwin – So pleased to hear you had fun!
    Linda ~ Journey Jottings has an awesome blog post here: It’s All in the Detail – Travel Photo Roulette *97My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Linda – I love it! Thanks for the history of the phrase. You’re right, it’s a great asset to have within a day trip’s distance from Darwin. Thanks.

  5. says

    I haven’t been to Litchfield but it is on my list. First I have to convince David to buy a ‘ute’ – actually a 4WD would do fine. Did you know that the ute (utility) is an Australian invention. A farmer’s wife wrote to Ford. They had a car plant at Geelong, in Victoria. She was fed up with riding to church in the farm truck. She asked if Ford could build a vehicle which would take her to church on Sunday and then carry the pigs to market on Mondays. The letter was passed up through Ford’s chain of command and the ute was born. http://www.fastlane.com.au/Features/First_ute.htm
    Lyn (aka) The Travelling Lindfields has an awesome blog post here: Raymond Island, Victoria – the best place to see koalas in the bush.My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Lyn – Since I’ve never seen a ute anywhere else but Australia, I suspected it was uniquely Australian, but I LOVE the story. In the US, we’d call the vehicles depicted in the link an “extended cab.” What I’m more curious about is why the flatbed on today’s utes? Thanks for sharing!

  6. says

    Crocs and termites! …just what I always wanted to run into on an afternoon hike! I honestly can’t imagine someone trying to shake themselves loose from the jaws of a croc. Maybe this calls for a new product; some kind of a rope or cable that you could hook yourself to, and the rope resistance would make the crock let you go…..haha! I wonder where you’d find people to try out this dubious invention for free!! :)
    Nancie has an awesome blog post here: Do You Need Travel Health Insurance When Going Abroad?My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Nancie – It sounds like a great idea in theory, but as you say, testing could be an issue. 😉

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Sue – Overall, the odds are in we humans’ favor still, although the crocs appear to be gaining. Ironically, it was preservation efforts that caused the population explosion. They used to be viewed as nuisance.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suze – Yeah, what do you suppose people are thinking, if anything, when they do that? Sheesh!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Cathy – Me either on the selfie. I found myself wishing we were able to have a sit in the Rockholes, though. :)

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Lyn – Thank you so much – what a wonderful thing for you to do. I looked at the criteria and though we are not on Bloglovin’ at all, we exceed the follower threshold on every other social media platform. So I’m doubtful I should accept?

  7. says

    What a beautiful park, minus the crocs I’m sure, I could have easily jumped into the amazing pool with the waterfall. Glad to know that there are swimming pools that are off limits to the crocs and for human play time. Gorgeous place.
    noel has an awesome blog post here: Discovering London at night timeMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Irene – It was a wonderful visit and we highly recommend the Australian version of bush bashing. :)

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