While we were in Darwin we made the decision to defer visiting Kakadu National Park until next year when we will combine visiting it with a 4WD trip thought Arnhem Land.
With that decision made we then decided to focus on some of the other National Parks in the Northern Territory: Litchfield National Park; Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park; Judbarra (Gregory) National Park; and Keep River National Park.
Our first stop in Litchfield National Park was to see the Magnetic Termite mounds (these are similar to the termite mounds we saw near Kalpowar Crossing in Cape York). These Australian termites are the only ones in the world to have lined themselves up to the earth’s magnetic field and the wedge-shaped mounds are perfectly aligned north to south so one side is always in shade – an important form of climate control in a very hot climate. Nearby there were also a few Cathedral Termite mounds – these are a different shape and colour and are also much taller (up to 5 metres).
Our base for the next couple of days was Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park where we camped in the 2WD campground. It turned out to be a very popular location – even though there were only about 20 campsites we reckon there were about 50 vehicles (mostly vans) camped there on the first night (we shared our site with James and Rob, two British guys who were uncle and nephew, who had come to Australia along with many other people from overseas to take part in a month long Citroen 2CV raid/rally that was being held in the Northern Territory) and about 30 vehicles camped there on the second night (we shared our campsite with a German family who discovered just how hard the ground was when they bent all the pegs while trying to set up their tent!) with the result that every site had between two and four vehicles on it and some campers even had to park along the side of the road between the campsites.
One of the reasons for the popularity of this campground was the wonderfully refreshing plunge pool at the base of the nearby falls – a great way to cool down on a hot night! Speaking of hot nights we have been constantly surprised by: (A) the number of campers who insist on having a campfire even when it’s still 30C at night; and (B) the number of said campers who don’t actually know how to light or manage a campfire with the result that all they seem to be able to produce is a smoky stench that lasts most of the night! Anyhow …
On the second day in Litchfield National Park we visited Lost City (a collection of weathered sandstone pillars which as a group look much like a set of ancient ruins), Tolmer Falls (where we almost stepped on a baby Python that was crossing the path we were on), Wangi Falls (for another refreshing dip) and Blyth Homestead.
The remains of Blyth Homestead, which was established in 1928 to function as an outstation on Stapleton Station for Harry Sargent and his family, consist of the homestead building itself which is a single room, cypress pine and corrugated iron structure encircled by verandahs; a flagstone floor; a scatter of corrugated iron, sandstone blocks and other metal objects; and a set of stockyards constructed using bush timber poles and barbed wire.
The isolated location required the occupants to be virtually self-sufficient with a fruit and vegetable garden, milking cows and meat. A sawmilling plant was used to cut timber needed. Their income was supplemented by alluvial and reef tin mining to the east of the homestead, the products of which had to be carted by buckboard along a self-made track over the Finiss River.
As described by Max Sargent, the tenth of fourteen children of the Sargent family (whose names are engraved on the fourteen prongs of a rake hanging outside): “We were possibly the best fed people in Australia right through the depression, with butter, cream and milk, cheese, dried fruits and fresh fruits, fresh vegetables the year round, more than what we could use, but no money!”
On our way to Katherine the next day we stopped at Edith Falls in Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park for yet another refreshing dip (although I chose to actually swim over to the lower falls for a lovely natural spa). We came across an amusing little lizard near the water’s edge which had the habit of running around a bit and then stopping and waving one of its front legs in the air – I later found out that one of the names it is known by is the “Ta-Ta Lizard”!
We then continued on to Katherine where we stayed for three nights – two nights in the caravan park we stayed previously and one night with Bernie (a woman I’d met on the Postie Bike Challenge in 2013) and her partner Lee at their lovely place near Katherine Gorge.
Our first stop on our return visit to Katherine was the caravan park where the Citroen 2CV raid/rally participants were staying to have a look at some more of these wonderful little cars – some of which had already traversed the Tanami Track!
Having discovered an astronomical event was going to be visible in Katherine I got up just before sunrise the following morning to watch shooting stars from the annual Perseids meteor shower – the caravan we were staying in was well out of town and it made watching shooting stars easy! Later that day we headed for Katherine Gorge where we booked in for a dawn cruise the following morning.
The dawn cruise was lovely – with daytime temperatures in the 30s it was nice to do a cruise in the cool of the day and, as it turned out, with only about 20 other people (the boats can take more than 60 passengers and all the others we saw leaving that day looked full!). The cruise was great and the gorge is stunning! After the cruise I took a walk along the rather steep track to the Baruwei Lookout to look at the gorge from above.
Back at the visitor centre we bumped into Jenny, the lady who owns the Ultimate camper that we met at Adels Grove, and once again we saw the young German tourist we’d first met at Broken River (with leech bites) and again near Chili Beach (with mosquito bites). Although we didn’t get to chat with him this time I’m pleased to report that his legs now look fine!
After spending a lovely evening with Bernie and Lee we headed off for Keep River National Park and our last night in the Northern Territory and on the way we stopped just after the Victoria River Roadhouse and I did the Escarpment Walk to the Garrarnawun Lookout in the Judbarra (Gregory) National Park to checkout the amazing views.
From there we continued on to the Jarnem campground in the Keep River National Park. After setting up camp I set off in the late afternoon light to do a loop walk to see the rock art in Nigli Gap and the impressive striped sandstone structures which are sometimes referred to as the Mini Bungle Bungles.
The following morning we visited Cockatoo Lagoon, near the Keep River National Park ranger station, to spend some time watching the wonderful variety of birds (including Royal Spoonbills, several varieties of ducks and geese, kites and eagles, red-tailed black and sulphur crested cockatoos, corellas, several types of finches, and peewees – just to name a few!). It’s a great time of year to visit a lagoon like this as the waterways that were filled during the set season are gradually drying up resulting in greater concentrations of birds at the places like this that still have water.