Just an hour drive from Northern Territory’s capital Darwin you’ll find Litchfield National Park, the little sister of the impressive Kakadu National Park. Litchfield is well known for its cooling plunge pools and therefore it might be the perfect place to escape the heat of Darwin’s tropical climate.
Litchfield National Park is named after Frederick Henry Litchfield, member of the first European Expedition to the Northern Teritory. Litchfield is commemorated in the naming of the park, because he was the first one to discover gold in the area. The park is part of the Tabletop Range, a sandstone plateau in the Top End. The Top End is Australia’s most northern part of the Northern Teritory. The Tabletop Range is characterised by its many little rivers, pools, waterfalls and surrounding wetlands. They bring life to many unique plants and animals that inhabit the area.
Litchfield is commemorated in the naming of the park, because he was the first one to discover gold in the area
Early in the morning, we arrive in Batchelor. The little town functions as the gateway to Litchfield. We stop shortly for some extra fuel. While the sun rises, birds fill the morning air with their tweeting and chirping sounds. The loudest of all is the flying fox. A colony of flying foxes appears to have settled in a tree right next to the gas station. When we walk closer to the tree we see a lot of foxes hanging upside down on the branches. What looks like fighting, turns out to be mating. Understandably, they are very excited and make a screaming sound as they mate.
Birds fill the morning air with their tweeting and chirping sounds
Flying foxes are widely known as fruit bats. Like other bats, they are nocturnal animals, but they don’t eat insects and therefore don’t use sonar-signals. As their nickname reveals, fruit bats prefer a meal full of fruits, pollen, and nectar. Flying foxes help drive biodiversity like bees. Through pollination and seed dispersal they keep the ecosystem healthy. Did you know that quite a few species of eucalypt are dependent on flying foxes? Some of them only produce nectar at night to make sure the flying foxes will digest it and spread their seeds.
Flying foxes help drive biodiversity like bees
We get back in the car and drive to our first stop in Litchfield National Park, the termite mounds located in the lower floodplains of the park. Many people told us that this is a must-see in Litchfield. Around Darwin, we have seen a lot of termite mounds already, but the ones in Litchfield should beat them both in size and quantity. When we drive up the parking, we immediately see the biggest termite mound that we have ever seen. The meters high structure is truly gigantic.
There are not many species that can survive in the harsh conditions of the floodplains in Litchfield. They are not only challenged by flooding during the wet season, but they also need to survive during the heat in the dry. Most of Australia’s termites live in trees or underground. But there are two types of termites that invented a sophisticated way of building their homes to survive under the extreme conditions of the floodplains in the Northern Territory. The magnetic termite and the cathedral termite. You can recognise both species by the way they build.
There are not many species that can survive in the harsh conditions of the floodplains in Litchfield
The image above shows a structure built by the cathedral termite. However their impressive castle-like look, they are also a bit knobbly and clunky. The mounds keep the termites high and dry when the land floods during the Wet. Most of the termites never leave the mound. Due to their thin cuticles and colorless bodies, they are subject to quick dehydration in the heat and on the sun. Therefore, the temperature inside needs to stay cool. This is why you’ll often find the mounds close to trees or in bushes. The stable climate inside also contributes to their food stash lasting longer.
The mounds keep the termites high and dry when the land floods during the Wet
A magnetic termite’s home is slim, with a top that looks like a sharp serrated knife. Besides, their homes are always aligned north-south, like a compass. That’s why we call them magnetic termites. They build their homes this way to survive on flat and dry grasslands without trees to protect them from the sun. The north-south orientation of the structure makes sure that one side will always be in the shade.
In the distance, a field full of magnetic termite mounds stand like tombstones in a graveyard surrounded by dead grass. It’s a frightening sight.
A Magnetic termite’s home is slim, with a top that looks like a serrated sharp knife
Our next stop is the Florence Falls waterfall. A short hike through a deep canyon and a tropical monsoon forest bring us to the waterfall. There is a plunge pool where one might go for a swim. It’s a romantic spot in the middle of nature, only interrupted by the thundering sound of the waterfall in the background. Unfortunately, it is a busy day in the pool and around. Luckily, there are more swimming spots further down the track at Buley Rockhole, so we decide to walk further before we show ourselves in swimming pants.
It’s a romantic spot in the middle of nature, only interrupted by the thundering sound of the waterfall in the background
The first part of the route to Buley Rockhole leads along a small river that flows through the canyon. We encounter many birds and insects. Golden silk orb-weavers in huge webs await their prey above the water. These big spiders mostly hunt for other insects, but sometimes they catch bigger prey if they get the opportunity. They are able to kill and consume snakes up to 0.5 meters long. Although the golden silk orb-weavers can bite strong and are poisonous, they do little harm to humans. Their poison is not strong enough to affect us much, but a bite can be quite painful.
Golden silk orb-weavers in huge webs await their prey above the water
The second part of the route follows the river uphill. We leave the tropical monsoon forest in the canyon behind us. Uphill there is a dryer savannah climate. We see a rainbow lorikeet feasting on the flower of a tropical banksia. The banksia’s flowers contain lots of nectar, seeds, and pollen, which form the main diet for these parrots.
We see a rainbow lorikeet feasting on the flower of a tropical banksia
It becomes hot around midday, but fortunately, we finally reach the little waterfalls and plunge pools at Buley Rockhole. We dive into the water as fast as we can. Young and old enjoy the cool getaway from Darwin’s warm climate.
On the rocks, a mertens’ water monitor, also known as Varanus mertensi, oversees the crowd peacefully. The curious reptile seems to enjoy watching people plunge in the pool. He’s quite big. It looks like he is about half a meter long, but these lizards can grow even bigger to a total length of 1 meter! They favorite snacks are frogs, fish, and insects.
On the rocks, a mertens’ water monitor, also known as Varanus mertensi, oversees the crowd peacefully
After we cooled down in the water of the pool, we travel further to our last destination in Litchfield, the Wangi Falls. It’s about half an hour drive through forested hills. The Wangi Falls is the most impressive waterfall in Litchfield National Park. A big lake stretches in front of us. Like at the Florance Falls, you can swim here as well. At least in the dry season. During the Wet, crocodiles may inhabit the area.
The Wangi Falls are the most impressive waterfalls in Litchfield National Park
It is around 5 o’clock when we arrive at the Wangi Falls. We are surprised to see that the lake is almost empty. The last people are packing their stuff to leave. We jump in the water for a last swim.
After a short swim, we start our last hike to the upper lakes of the waterfall. It is another beautiful walk through dense tropical forests. We spot some sulfur-crested cockatoos flirting in a tree. Sometimes there is a penetrating smell of wallabies, but they never show. We arrive just on time on top of the falls to catch the sunset. It’s a beautiful goodbye of a wonderful day in Litchfield National Park!
We arrive just on time on top of the falls to catch the sunset