Nitmiluk and Litchfield National Park
Here we are in the Top End. Green has taken a beautiful role in the landscape’s palette. We smell that the leaves are fresh and that water is present. But our great continental crossing does not stop here. The journey always follows to the north…
Even though the daytime temperature is warming up the nights are quite cool. One morning on the road with the sun still not up we slip on bathing costumes, shivering. But for a good reason, dipping into the hot springs at Bitter Springs, Matarranka. We were doubtful up to the moment of putting a toe in, it lived up to expectations, it felt like being in a good bath !
The current rocks us as we slide silently in the crystalline water. The fauna gently wakes. The birds dance. The light pierces a shaft across the palms. A Wallaby comes to drink at the edge of the stream. We treasure this magical moment.
The peace is ephemeral, This site is highly prized and too soon tourist busses arrive. We flee quickly to get a nice brekkie in peace a bit further away, before taking up our long journey.
It’s towards Nitmiluk national park near Katherine. A great destination for bushwalking and flora and fauna that we have never seen before.
A series of gorges follow the length of the Katherine river. We take the “Butterfly Gorge Walk”: the path starts off in arid bush before entering a shadowed forest where dozens of brown and white butterflies are gently flying: the crow-butterfly. We follow along a stream squeezed by the walls of the gorge which in places is completely covered in vegetation.
Far away through the foliage one glimpsed the very wide Katherine river. We have a quick swim to freshen up. A fly-catcher bird with triangular orange wings slips through the air like a delta plane, catching insects in flight. A turtle is spotted in the blue-green water. We stop a moment to admire the spectacle that nature has concocted us for today.
An unexpected host invited himself on the return journey. We would discover later at the information centre that it is a non-venomous ‘tree-snake’. It’s true that now that we look at the photos again, this little tree-serpent has a delicate air. But at that moment on the road we do not try to be clever! We took the time to photograph it, we waited a bit, we tried moving a step forward, but this fellow seems to have no intention of moving. We ask ourselves how we are going to be able to get past. We retreat a few steps, and he finally goes into the forest, sliding along the branches and plunging into the foliage.
The next day, the heat begins to weigh heavily on the edge of Edith Falls at the other end of the national park. At 10am it’s already 35 Deg C. From time to time, to get a perspective we remind ourselves this is winter! As soon a we come to water we soak our hats to cool our brains, but in a few minutes they are dry again, the hats AND the brains. But that does not detract from the beauty of the place. Once, arriving at the top we savoured a dip in the icy water of a natural pool.
We spend the night in a little bit of bush at the park exit under a eucalyptus tree. We hear chirping. A family of birds has taken up residence in a hole that must have formed after a branch fell off.
There remains a last beautiful stop before returning to Darwin: the Leitchfield National Park. Entry is free and the park has a amazing little places to swim in total security (unlike the rest of the region, infested with crocodiles). A number of falls, rivers and pools are accessed from very short tracks…. and as a result are quickly invaded by everyone. But we only had to walk a kilometre to escape the crowd. A short steep walk rewarded us with fresh limpid water and only nature for company.
At Leitchfield we learn more about the termite mounds that we are seeing more frequently and bigger and bigger by the roadside. The little thing responsible ? The cathedral termite. How can such a tiny beast build such a big structure ?!
Some mounds really do look like cathedrals, others like 5 star chateaux. Anyway, we never got to see the inhabitants.
Coming up to some ‘Magnetic termite mounds’ standing erect in a big stretch of grass we thought we were looking at part of a cemetry or even a field of menhirs. Slim, flat and all oriented in the same direction : North-South. Which gives an odd almost supernatural feel. The magnetic termites hate heat and this orientation avoids their homes becoming solar ovens.
To spend a night in the park but avoid the teeming camp site we find a great solution : Walk Creek Camp Ground. Eight tent sites, isolated, placed along a track, accessible only on foot. The first is at 600 metres and the last at 2.7 Km. You write your name on a blackboard at the entrance to the track. One has so much choice, only two sites reserved. We put our coins in an envelope and slip it into the letterbox for the Ranger ($3.30 per person) and off we go, tent in the bag, bag on back for the last site.
We arrive just in time to put on costumes and plunge into the river before the sun set. During the night we could see the stars through the transparent tent, we have not put up the fly-sheet. We savoured the quiet of this little corner of paradise…
Our great crossing from south to north ends in Darwin, some 200 Km from here. We are lucky, a nice family welcomes us for a week or more. A well deserved rest for our yellow companion that has held the route for these thousands of Kilometres.
Thanks again to Graham for the translation.