Litchfield

November 6, 2013

Considering that we were camped next to a tavern, we slept quite well. We packed up and were on the road out of the Lazy Lizard campground by 9 am. The bowerbirds didn’t seem to be at work yet, but we wished them well in their endeavours.

Today’s destination was Litchfield National Park, so after leaving Pine Creek we travelled north on the Stuart Highway. Our van’s fuel gauge was below half, but we decided that would get us to Adelaide River, so we carried on. The speed limit on this two-lane road with no shoulders was 130 km/h, but there were frequent overtaking lanes so that people who were going that fast could overtake those who weren’t, like us. After about an hour we arrived in Adelaide River and filled the tank. The man at the counter of the BP convenience store spoke fluent Strine and Paul could hardly understand him. However paying a bill doesn’t require much conversation. We made a brief stop there to look at the cemetery where fallen military personnel from World War II were buried. The cemetery was trimmed and clipped with military precision, and it was a very sobering site to view. To our surprise we found the grave of Victor Clement Clapham, who was killed in the war at age 22. A relative of ours? Quite possibly.

On the road again it was only a short distance to the turn-off to the park. We stopped briefly in Batchelor to stock up on some fruit and juices. The weather continued to be very hot, so were trying to stay as hydrated as possible. Usually the smaller the town, the smaller the shop and the worse the selection. But Batchelor’s shop was an exception to this rule, so we restocked for the next few days. We also stopped at the information map for the park to identify the locations of the sites we wanted to visit.

First stop was the “magnetic” termite mounds. There’s this one species of termites which make their towers oriented in the north-south direction to cut down on the heat absorbed during the day. And it’s been shown that they do it by sensing the earth’s magnetic field. There were rows and rows of these mounds in a grassland area, and the result was a sort of insect version of Stonehenge. There were other mounds there, built by “cathedral termites” which are called that because their nests were elaborate towers.

By now it was noon, so we sat there and ate our lunch. There were several stops we wanted to make in the park, so we chose a few to do today and the rest would be done tomorrow on the way to Darwin. The next stop was Tolmer Falls. Despite this being the end of the dry season, there was a reasonable amount of water flowing over the escarpment into a deep green pool. We walked down to the viewing platform; the area was home to two species of bat, the Orange-nosed Bat and the Ghost bat, but we saw neither of them hanging in the cave. We decided to skip the short trail to the creek because of the mid-afternoon heat.

Now the road plunged down the escarpment as we moved on to Wangi Falls, which plunges into a beautiful pool. We could have gone for a swim there, but instead we stopped in the café and bought ice creams. In high season the pool must be packed, because the car park is quite large, but today it was pretty empty. The information sign on the trail to the falls said “You may see flying foxes roosting here”, and we did see several of them hanging in the windmill palms.

It was now getting later in the afternoon, so we headed to the Litchfield Safari Camp, which was located just outside the park. Compared to other places we had stayed it was quite busy, with five or six camper vans and a group of teenage boys in a tented camp. (The boys were thrown into confusion because the showers in the men’s bathroom were temporarily out of order.) But finding a suitable spot was still quite simple; shade was the essential component, followed by being reasonably close to the bathrooms. We decided to splurge and do our laundry in the washing machine rather than hand-washing things. Drying was easy; because it was so hot we hung a line between a tree and the van.

While our laundry was drying we went for a meander around the campsite. There was not much to see, but we did find a small group of wallabies, one with a small one in her pouch. As soon as we approached too closely they hopped off through a barbed-wire fence into a wooded area. We could see them in the woods looking at us. We continued on our walk until we saw a sign saying “Do not enter unless supervised”, apparently referring to the possibility of crocodiles, so we stopped there. In the tree above us was a pair of Forest Kingfishers at their nest. We had a good view of them and watched for a while.

Heading back to our camper van we sat in the shade relaxing, before making dinner at about 6 pm. Today’s dinner was a stir-fry of golden potatoes, carrots, and onions, with a carrot and tomato salad. Our camper van trip was coming to an end, so we were in finish-up-the-veggies mode. Later, after it was dark, Paul was sitting outside the van and saw a tall shorebird by the toilet building. “Oh look, there’s one of those Masked Lapwings out at night. That’s unusual. Wait a minute…” Pointing the headlamp at it revealed a Bush Stone-Curlew scooting away! A hard bird to find! We watched for a while and it turned out there were three of them. From what we could see as they passed through the lighted areas of the campground they were eating bugs, but they wouldn’t let us approach them so we could only see them from the distance through binoculars.

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.

Next: Darwin

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