November 7, 2013
We were moving on again, so we had breakfast and then packed up. The Litchfield Safari Camp had been the worst of the places we had camped at so far; their persistent drainage problems caused the toilets to smell bad, and their pet-friendly policy resulted in mounds of dog poo all around. But today we were heading to Darwin, with stops along the way to see the sites in the park that we hadn’t stopped at yesterday. As we were leaving the campground we saw three more wallabies, one of which hopped across the road right in front of our camper van.
Our first stop of the day was the Tabletop Swamp. The first birds that we saw were Intermediate Egrets, which showed up quite clearly in the dark green reeds. Since we were at the end of the Dry, there wasn’t much water left, but in the small pond there were a dozen or so Pacific Black Ducks swimming around. As we walked through the woods around the swamp we found a variety of birds, including our first Rainbow Bee-eaters which were quite lovely. But we kept finding green ants crawling on us, so we retreated to the van to head down the road.
Next stop was Florence falls, which was said to be the best waterfall and also the best swimming hole in the park. It was a double falls plunging into a deep pool. Surprisingly the car park was quite full, something we had rarely encountered in our Top End travels. We stopped at the overlook and then headed along the trail to climb down the 135 steps to the bottom. The interpretive sign had said there were Short-eared Rock Wallabies in the area, and sure enough at the top of the steps there was one right there. He didn’t seem too perturbed by humans, so we got a good look at him as he hopped about, foraging for food. He was very nimble hopping about the steep rocks. At the bottom of the steps was a lovely shaded creek which flowed out of the pool. There were no crocodiles here so it was safe to swim, but we took a couple of photos and headed back up the stairs. At the top we found our wallaby again, so we watched him briefly and then went back to the van and the air conditioning.
Just down the road were the Buley Rock Holes, which are a series of rock pools which are good for swimming in. Once again we didn’t bother to swim despite the heat, but they sure looked tempting. Now we had seen everything there was to see in Litchfield Park. At least, everything our car rental contract allowed us to see—we were limited to driving only small distances on unsealed roads. So we drove back to the Stuart Highway and headed north towards Darwin.
It was close to lunch time, and we saw “Manton Dam Recreation Area” on our map, so we decided to have lunch there. This dam and reservoir were built in 1942 as the water supply for Darwin, but now they are used strictly for recreation. There was a large car park, but except for one other person we had the place to ourselves. Heading north again we saw “Charles Darwin National Park” on the map, so we decided to see what that was. Getting there involved high-speed city driving on the Tiger Brennan Highway, but by now Paul was used to driving the van.
We were surprised to find the park behind a fence which was locked at sunset. Then we were surprised again when the first thing we came to was a World War II bunker. During the war the area had been used as a bomb-storage site, and there were interpretive displays in the bunker about Darwin and its strategic location during the war. It was quite amazing to read about those years and about the intense battles with the Japanese. Before leaving there we stopped by the picnic area, which had a view over the mangroves towards the city. We hadn’t really seen it before, having flown in at night, and we were surprised by all the tall buildings and cranes there.
It was still early, so we made our way to the Botanic Gardens. After two attempts at finding the entrance, we picked up a map from the interpretation centre and went for a short walkabout. But the mid-afternoon heat and humidity was too much for us, so we gave up on that and went looking for a place to camp. Our maps directed us to the Shady Glen caravan park, which was quite close to where we would drop off the camper van on Saturday. It had been taken over by the Discovery Park chain, and the first thing we noticed was the lovely swimming pool, so that settled where we would spend our last two nights in the Northern Territory.
After checking in we followed the directions to our sign and got settled in. Not only is the campground for tourists, but it’s also a semi-permanent home for a variety of other campers. The first order of business was to go swimming. The pool water was actually quite warm, but it was refreshing and so we stayed in for quite a long time. For dinner we decided to finish up all the vegetables we had and then see if we could find a fish and chip shop for tomorrow night, for our last meal in Darwin.
There were very few bugs around, so both of us sat outside after it got dark. While were sitting there we were pelted with fruit from the tree above us and also with some brown lumps which we thought might be nuts or seeds. And then two furry animals climbed quietly down the trunk of the tree—they were Ring-tailed Possums.
We went to bed about 10 pm, and soon after that we could hear a discussion between the guy down the road with the loud music and somebody else. Eventual result: Loud Music Guy departs and the campground is quiet.