Saturday, 14 July 2007

Northern Territory - Part 3 - Nitmiluk and Litchfield National Parks

Friday morning saw me washing the clothes and trying to unsuccessfully to dry them - the clothes dryer wasn’t working properly and they were still damp even after the second run through. Darryl headed off to pick up our Maui Hitop Toyota Camper.

We drove south and our first stop was as Pine Creek.

This area has a rich mining history, and a lot of old equipment had been gathered for display at a park which was once part of the railway station master’s ground.
Also, in this yard were two huge stark boab trees. In winter they lose their leaves and the silvery bark shone against the deep blue sky. had a lovely name, but consisted of a long-closed business with no sign of prettiness.

Further south was Adelaide River and we turned off towards the east to visit the Adelaide River. Some places along the road sounded intriguing – Emerald Springs
War Cemetery.

Even the parklands along the river leading to the cemetery was stunning, and the cemetery itself had lovely gardens.

We continued southward and came to the Edith River. Another turn east led to Nitmiluk National Park, and a pretty little campground at Edith Falls. We arrived in time to see the rich red glow of the sunset on the rocks over which the lower falls tumbled. 

After dinner we headed back to the pool to try spotting for crocs. We didn’t see any of them, but the red eyes of catfish and barramundi in the water winked at us. When they came close to the bank, you could easily see the fish in the clear water. 

We got up really early to walk up to the upper Edith Falls. I took my time on the shorter track, but Darryl went on another longer track to another higher falls. It was obvious that these falls would have been better to photograph in the afternoon, with the sun on them.

Although this campground didn’t have power, I would really recommend it as a place to see.

We headed off towards Katherine, stopping briefly at the Tourist Information centre there before making our way to a southern part of Nitmiluk National Park where Katherine Gorge is located. We had a cruise up the Gorge booked as part of our package, but when I had called to confirm, the day before, was told that our cruise had been cancelled. My heart started to drop until the voice on the other end told me that we had been upgraded to the cruise which included lunch! The Nitmiluk Visitor Centre was quite lovely, and was the gateway to the gorge. The boat was set out with crisp white tablecloths on the tables, and we took our seats. The far bank had a croc trap, and Darryl had seen signs which said ‘No Swimming’, so the inviting water was definitely a no-no.

The boat glided up the river past towering rock faces, topped with fringing palm trees. Frequent sandy banks hosted ‘No Entry’ signs to protect the nests of freshwater crocodiles.

After a beautiful lunch, which included buffalo, and some really interesting vegetable dishes, we came to the top of the first gorge. At this point it is necessary to walk up to the next gorge and boat, past some high aboriginal paintings. I took some photos of the intriguing winged pinkish fruit of the freshwater mangrove. 

The second gorge cruise headed toward Lily Pond Falls, although we did not see them, but star attraction was a huge freshwater crocodile, more than 2 metres long, sunning herself on the bank. The ranger glided the boat in as closely as possible for us all to get a great photo. 

The cruise was really enjoyable and seemed to end far too soon, but of course it had to. 

We headed back to Katherine and booked into Riverview Caravan Park. This neat park sat perched high on the riverbank above Katherine Hot Springs, so of course, as soon as we were set up, we headed down to immerse ourselves in the 32oC water. It was really lovely and warm, and the cool breeze in the air encouraged a longer stay. Plenty of others had the same idea, and the pools were pretty busy. Eventually, we reluctantly had to head back to the van to have a shower and dinner. The air was really cool, and we both had to put on jumpers, really pleased, for the first time on the trip, that we had packed them. In the morning, though, we could not resist heading back for a second dip. In the cool early morning, steam was rising from the pools, and we were almost alone. Once again, it was with great reluctance that we left the clear warm water, but we wanted to get to Cutta Cutta Caves for a tour which started at 10am, so had to brace the cold air.

Cutta Cutta National Park is a small park nestled beside the huge Tindal Airforce base. The whole area is karst limestone, with sharp eroded rocks on the surface. The tour started with a short walk down a ‘learning path’ and led to the steps down into the caves. The handrail had the flood markings from the last flood when they completely filled with water. The lighting within the cave was not really conducive to taking photos, so we didn’t really get many good ones, but the caves themselves were really beautiful and interesting with many limestone features. If I ever went there again, I would take my own head-lamp and also a good torch. Bats apparently inhabit the cave system, but we didn’t see any as we were told they had moved further inside due to the cold weather. Inside the cave we walked on a raised walkway, as the floor was covered in fossilised shells.

After leaving the caves we headed north again, back over a lot of road which we had travelled in the days before. In some respects this was quite handy for me, as I had marked GPS points for items of interest, such as flowers and rock formations, which I wanted to take photos of. This works out well, as I can give Darryl plenty of warning about slowing down and pulling off the road.

After Hayes Creek we took a road to the west and headed down to Fenton Airfield. Fenton was one of the WWII airfields which are now abandoned, and this one has plane wrecks. Initially, when we took the first turn, we found remains of buildings and no airfield, but this was further along the road. There were explanatory signs, but they really didn’t give enough information. Eventually we found the actual airfield, and drove up it – quite an event, we didn’t get fast enough to take off, and the cattle looked on a little bemused. On one pamphlet I read about the wrecks and we finally found the location, and had a good look around.

We continued our journey and turned off to Douglas Hot Springs. Along this road was a creek crossing, which I walked before Darryl drove through, and we arrived at the camping ground in the late afternoon. We had time to go down to the springs for a swim. This is a place of really hot water, and signs warned of one pool which could almost be used to cook eggs! Further down a hot creek and a cool creek meet and this is where most people sit in the shallowish water, finding a comfortable spot. We headed further up the hot stream and found a small waterfall, and also a spot where it was really nice and hot, but pretty shallow as you could really only submerse half your body at once.

 It felt as if there were a lot of minerals in this water, but a water tap up at the camp was taken from the springs, so I am not sure. After filling up our water bottles, and drinking from them, we eventually headed up to the toilets where there were signs saying not to drink the water without boiling it first! Arrrggghhh – I still can’t understand why those signs weren’t on the actual taps. This was the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, and the campground was packed full with lots of people looking as though they were well settled in for a big night of partying.

As it turned out, things were pretty quiet and we slept well. In the early morning, we both needed a walk to the toilet, and I was pretty disgusted to find that someone had vomited all over the toilet seat and floor (these were pit toilets so the whole effect was ghastly). Luckily, there was another toilet further along, so we went there.
On Monday we headed back north along a back road towards Adelaide River, and eventually west towards the town of Batchelor. We skirted the edge of the town, heading towards Rum Jungle, thinking we would have a look at the old mining town, only to find that the mine is being reopened and the road was closed, as they were working on it. This road soon took us into Litchfield National Park, and we turned off to Buley Rockholes. The carpark was crammed full, and we were lucky to find a spare one.

Taking a quick look at the rockholes we decided that this would be a really nice place to stop, so we headed back to see if we could get a campsite.
As it was still early, despite the carpark being full, there were only a few campers taking up some of the 15 campsites. We parked in a nice one, and headed back for a swim. Once again, we were greeted by lovely tumbling waterfalls, magnificent rocks and deep clear pools. There were certainly a lot of people around, but as the day drew to a close, it was apparent that most were day-trippers from Darwin, there for the public holiday. Back at the campground, Darryl decided to walk from Buley Rockholes up to Florence Falls, and I stayed and chatted to the 2 female rangers who were cleaning up the barbeques and campsites.
They told me that the previous night this campsite had been fully booked, and I made a mental note to ensure that future trips do not include public holidays. I asked them about the origin of the name of the brightly orange flowering ‘woolly-but’ eucalypts, and they assured me that it was because of the woolly appearance of the fibrous bark on the bottom half of the treetrunks, but try as I might, I really can’t see this fibrous brown bark as woolly! Darryl arrived back in time to see a lovely sunset through the trees.

On Tuesday morning we drove to Florence Falls, as Darryl reported, from his walk the previous day, that it was really worth seeing. There were many wooden steps down the steep rocks, and on the way we saw, through the bushes, some rock-wallabies searching for grass. Florence Falls was a lovely site, but this early in the morning it was a bit too cold for us to go for a swim.

Our journey continued further into Litchfield. We passed a flat plain of magnetic termite mounds which looked like cemetery headstones. These were close to some other huge termite mounds – these were the biggest I have ever seen!
A feature further on was Tabletop Swamp, with plenty of water and many paperbark trees sitting in pools. This would be a great place, early in the morning or late evening, to see birds, but maybe also a great place for mosquitos at those times!

The next falls were Tolmer
Falls, and there was no swimming here as a rare bat species lived nearby. A lookout gave us a great view from the top, and Darryl took the long walk back, while I went back and walked partway down to meet him. Along the way were lots of cycads which had been heat damages from bushfires. The creek at the top had some lovely rock formations which looked like sand with watermarks in it.

Next stop was Wangi Falls. These were huge falls tumbling over the escarpment into a huge, clear pool. Until only few days before this pool had been closed to swimming, due to a 3m croc having taking up residence. We were lucky to be able to swim, even though it was fairly cold, and noted that these falls would also be most photographic in the afternoon. I noticed something on the bottom, and made Darryl dive down to retrieve a piece of broken beer bottle.

The road we were on heads back to Darwin, but being a dirt road, we were not allowed to travel on it, so headed back towards Batchelor. A lovely green shady park, which also housed a miniature castle, provided a lovely place for us to have lunch. It would have been very peaceful except for all the traffic on the road, and someone mowing in the yard next door.
 Back on the highway, we drove north, and turned off west again to check out the Darwin River Dam. This dam is huge, but apart from have a picnic and look at it, there are no activities permitted – no swimming, no boating, and no fishing – so we didn’t stay very long. We were both keen to get back to Berry Springs, where we hoped we could find somewhere to stay for the night. We realised that there was nowhere to stay very close to the Springs, so decided to go for our swim and find somewhere else to stay. The water was just as lovely as it had been when we had been here with the tour, but this time we had bought a disposable underwater camera, with the idea of being able to photograph some of the fish.

 Not a lot of these came out very well – there are none of the long-toms, but a couple of nice ones of the archer fish look quite good for a disposable camera. Eventually, it got to a point where we had soaked enough, and it was nearly time for the park to close, so reluctantly we headed back to Darwin to try and find a place to camp. One, which looked quite nice in the brochures was Coolalinga, and this seemed far enough out of town for us. The reception looked quite nice, but was closed at this time of evening and I phoned a number to find out if there was a vacancy. Apparently they could fit us in, and in due course someone arrived on a golf buggy. The middle of the park was almost desolate, although it looked as though they were replanting trees, and most of the park was far down at the back. We were put in a spot between two permanent vans whose occupants were away temporarily. The evening started off well, and I cooked dinner, but by the time it was ready, Darryl was complaining of feeling nauseous. He was unable to eat, and then unfortunately spent the whole night running back and forward to the toilet block (200m away) with vomiting and diahhorrea. The fridge in the van had not been getting cold enough and in the morning Darryl had eaten a yogurt which I did not touch. As I wasn’t sick, we thought it must have been the cause. In the morning, Darryl was tired and weak from his night of running. Despite this, he drove into Darwin.

Our first stop was Charles Darwin National Park. This park has semi-circular corrugated iron ammunition dumps in many places. One had been decked out with quite a good display of army paraphernalia.

 This park also offered a lovely view of Darwin city. We took some film and then headed for the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre. Only I went in, while Darryl tried to get some sleep. This place had a huge B52 bomber inside, along with many other aircraft and displays. I really wanted to visit as I had heard that they held part of ‘Beautiful Betsy’ the bomber which crashed at Kroombit Tops (west of Gladstone) during the war, but was not found until the early 1990’s. We had visited the crash site a couple of years ago with friends.

Unfortunately, although they had it previously, the part of the plane had been returned to the owners, Wrest Point in Victoria…I was very disappointed, although there was a little display of photos of ‘Betsy’.

Last stop was a visit to George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. Once again, Darryl tried to sleep while I checked out the greenhouses. I also shot some film of some lovely bright red finches. It was time for us to find a carwash to clean the van and return it. We were able to donate our left-over food to a couple who had arrived to pick theirs up, and we got a taxi to the airport.

It was only around 4.30pm and our flight wasn’t until 1.30am! We couldn’t even check in our bags and go upstairs to the coffee shop, so it was a really long, boring wait. I must admit that we got to talk to quite a few interesting people, but
this was much closer to our takeoff time. Eventually we boarded and headed to Brisbane, where I had breakfast while we waited for our plane home to Rockhampton. On arrival it looked as though there was going to be a really long wait for a taxi, but I had noticed Mason from Toshiba and Mitchell from Data 3 (in town for a QH IT roadshow), I went to chat and they organised to share a maxi-taxi with another guy, and there was room for us! It was great to get home, but unfortunately that night I started throwing up and spent the next few days with gastro too! At least I was at home as close to the toilet!