17 June 2017
Whilst today Litchfield is a National Park, one hundred years ago it was The Frontier. And a tough one at that. Pastoralists, miners, teamsters (who transported goods mostly by bullock or horse-drawn wagons), hunters, all roamed these lands in conditions that today we can scarcely imagine let alone experience. Imagine a hot sweaty steamy dry flooded desiccated lush barren flat mountainous gorge and canyon world with few if any roads six- to seven-metre crocodiles is huge rivers in tiny billabongs spiders the size of a man’s face deadly snakes no antibiotics no doctors or hospitals to prescribe them anyway rudimentary trappings of ‘society’ tens or hundreds of kilometres away all by horse or foot.
Little wonder a legacy of legends remain from those times, like the Rum Jungle story. A bunch of teamsters worn weary tired and just a little bit fed up stop a hundred kilometres south of Darwin and a hundred and fifty north of the mines at Pine Creek, their destination, and start to consume the product they were painstakingly transporting along unpaved roads made all but impassable in the wet: rum. In the jungle. A place where “rum was drunk to excess” (http://www.theage.com.au/news/Northern-Territory/Batchelor/2005/02/17/1108500201589.html).
Bamboo Creek was a tin mine. Found waaay back in the early 1900s, worked intermittently until the 1950s. Small, very isolated. Or at least it was. Drive The Beast to the carpark, walk a couple of hundred meters, cross the creek, check out the remains of the milling house, take the three hundred meter walk past the mine and back to the milling house. Easy.
Now, take away the road, the car, electricity, internet and mobile telecommunications, telecommunications of any other sort, and try to imagine it. All materials brought in by horse &/or bullock teams. Hand built, hand dug, hand processed. Quite a different impression.
Aboriginal women assisted in the sluicing tin in the creek, diverted over sluices so the heavy tin would settle out. I wonder what they thought about all of this, considering Aboriginal culture did not mine, nor valued metallic resources and did not have a cash-based economy. And there they are sluicing crushed rock to extract a small amount of shiny metal which is then laboriously transported to some unknown and unfathomable place far, far away, all in the name of ‘money’. The scant information leaves it up to the visitor to wonder whether the Aboriginal women actually got paid in cash for their services. Not sure cash would have been much use considering the nearest shop is a lifetime away and the stuff in the shop as alien to them as the Dreamtime is to the miners. There’s no way to visit the site and come away thinking “that’d been fun!”.
Walker Creek may only be five crow-flying kilometres from Florence Falls, but since we are not crows it’s a forty-five kilometres drive to get here. It’s a simple place in comparison to Wangi and Florence. Because the visitor actually has to walk 1.8 kilometres to reach the furthest pool and obviously another 1.8 back it doesn’t pack the drive-in-dive-in crowds. Camping’s available but only by carrying all the gear up the path to their designated campsite of which there are eight, each with it’s own stunning pool. Day visitors, like Ram and I, can wander along and enjoy a paddle at any or all of them.
Ram is seriously wary of taking a dip in any of the pools. Creepy crawlies as much as the pools themselves. In the lower pools near the carpark last year I had the somewhat alien experience of fish and small shrimps nibbling away at me as a lay in the water, away from the large webs full of St. Andrew’s Cross Orb-web spiders. Some of the fish were large enough to give a good nip. People pay a fortune for such experience in high-end spas and salons. Here, it’s a matter of staying still. Ram does have a point, but I can’t convince her it’s not as bad as she seems to think.
The view coming back down the track over the floodplains is also pretty impressive.
Enough of the day has passed for us to forgo visiting the other sites which lie on our route home. Except for a quick visit to tabletop swamp. Which, as the name suggests, is a large swamp on the Tabletop plateau. A thick belt of paperbark trees guard an inner sanctum of open water where waterbirds are in abundance among the lily-pads and water plants. We had one of those meaningless ‘discussions’ couples have. Ram’s selfies reflect her mood. Fortunately we talk it out and return to good humour.
For me Tabletop is a reflective place. The cathedral atmosphere of the paperbarks combined with the lack of visual or aural splendour, the few visitors and sounds of the birds makes it a nice place to chillout.
Back to Florence Falls 4WD campsite and another night in ‘wild’ suburbia.
18 June 2017
Back up the road towards Berry Springs to visit the sites we missed yesterday. Not sure what the day-trippers actually do here. Two or three sites per day is about all we can manage. Otherwise it’d be a race in a race around and a race out to the next one.
The Cascades is one of my favourite spots. Seven hundred meters to the Lower Cascades or a twelve-hundred meter hike over a small hill to the Upper Cascades. The iconic curtain falls is at the Lower Cascades. However, it’s closed today. The Rangers haven’t had time to deal with any saltwater crocodiles who may be lounging in wait for the hapless hiker and swimmer. Thus we take on the twelve-hundred meters.
It’s a nice walk, hot in the middle of the day, offering great views of the floodplains. The Upper Cascades are a series of shallow pools interspersed by the creek running over rock outcrops until it becomes the Lower Cascades. The intrepid can also head upstream through countless narrow pools shaded by trees. I did this last year and really enjoyed it. Ram isn’t so thrilled with the idea of wading through hundreds of meters of pools full of creepy crawlies, so we stick to the more open pools where the path terminates. There’s a few other people around, all enjoying a dip.
We follow the creek over the exposed outcrops until we come to the last major pool before the Lower Cascades begin. It is entirely possible to continue to the Lower Cascades and back to the carpark. Only that does mean taking on that crocodile risk and any other obstacles a good wet season has created along the way.
We stick to the pool. It’s a delightful infinity pool, shallow enough to be safe and deep enough to enjoy a dip. It quickly becomes our favourite pool and we spend a good couple of hours enjoying it, as other visitors come and go.
Back down the path and back on the road.
I guess The Icon of Litchfield has to be Wangi Falls. A huge plunge pool into which a thunderous waterfall, well, thunders. The shear scale of it intimidates Ram. No way she’s going in that water no matter my efforts to reassure her, no matter that kids and old-folk abound. I struggle sometimes with her reluctance to challenge the boundaries of her comfort zone.
I recognize I need to master tolerance, understanding and acceptance more than I have to avoid making her feel bad about her fears, whilst frustrating me because we are not doing something I think we should. There are other ways to motivate someone rather than a clinical assumption that pointing out the literal pros and cons of an action will lead to enlightenment.
This isn’t about whether it’s ‘safe’ or not. It’s about her perceptions about herself about the location and about the activity. To me it’s a no-brainer. To her it’s intimidating.
Eventually I go for a swim and an explore leaving her in the shade of the trees around the edge of the water.
After I return we enjoy an expensive light lunch at the kiosk. Hundreds of people mill around, an endless variety of vehicles cruise through the car park. Wangi really is The Spot in Litchfield.
On our way back to camp we pull into Tolmer Falls. Last time I visited in 2016, the lookout was under construction. So I spent a lot of time in the canyon and pools above the water fall. Very impressive, albeit against the stern advice of The Authorities. Couldn’t see the point of a walk to see falls if the lookout is closed. Unless one can take advantage of the pools and spectacular canyons above the falls. No idea why the authorities are so against people experiencing them. Anyway, this time, with Ram, we don’t ‘do’ the pools and instead enjoy the lookout.
The lookout provides great viewing from Tabletop Range, which forms most of Litchfield, out over the Daly River Floodplain, to the south, and the Finniss River Floodplain to the north. It all looks very lush but the canyons add an element of inhospitability to it.
Access down into the canyon and the plunge pool at the base of the falls isn’t allowed to protect two species of bat which roost there. Even if not for the bats, the walk down would have been intimidating in its own right. A grotto is visible undercutting the cliff behind the falls.
Quite possibly where the bats roost. If people were allowed down there the grotto would form a focal point, driving out the bats. Above the falls a sky-bridge joins the two sides of the canyon. To those game enough to dare it. It shouldn’t be a surprise that crossing the sky bridge is seriously frowned upon by The Authorities.
Back to camp. One more night.
Kim and Lynne tell us about Daly Waters, among many other places. There’s a great caravan park, Lee and Jenny’s. It’s a barramundi wonderland. There are crocodiles in abundance. And since There Are No Crocodiles In Kakadu, it makes us think. What point is there in visiting The Top End and not seeing The Icon of The Top End: the estuarine crocodile? Affectionately known as a ‘salty’ up here. We put Daly Waters in the To Be Considered box.
19 June 2017
Day of Departure today. Not quite sure where we are heading, but we’re heading South.
First though, Tjaetaba Falls. Another small attraction, largely off the radar for most visitors. It’s not well signposted, which does complicate finding it. There’s the 1500 meter walk too. And it’s small. It is however delightful.
The plunge pool is a Sacred Site and visitors are ‘requested’ to not swim in it. This is assisted by there being no path to the plunge pool. Last year I bush-bashed until I go there, took a bunch of really nice photos but did not swim. At the top of the pools there is a small jacuzzi size infinity pool that’s nearly two metres deep.
A couple we meet on the path returning from the falls told us there are several Mertens Monitors lounging around. Sure enough, a small one enjoying the view out over the infinity pool. A large bruiser enjoying prime warming-in-the-sun on the rocks, and another more secluded near reeds. The Mertens took a heavy toll when the dreaded cane-toad invaded. Seems they are making a bit of a comeback. Mertens are also a good indicator that there are no large crocodiles around, since they are a favoured snack.
With the Lost City and Reynold’s Track both still closed we have ‘done’ Litchfield National Park. Time to head-off.
Max (& Ram)
Litchfield, 19 June 2017