Litchfield National Park: a beautiful surprise

from June 28

The day started early, with me waiting outside the hotel restaurant for it to open at 6:30 a.m. so I could grab a cup of coffee before joining the tour. While I waited, I noticed the stars were still out, and I could see them despite the city lights. I speculated about how small Darwin must be and then spent a few moments marvelling at how many stars appeared in the sky and how clear they shone.

The tour bus showed up, and it was not at all what I expected. Far from being a luxury coach, it was a massive 4WD all-terrain vehicle that accommodated 16 people and all our luggage. My mouth dropped initially, but once I climbed on board, I found it quite comfy.

Florence Falls. Up first was a trip to Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park. It was still early in the morning, about 9 a.m., so I hoped the weather would warm up a bit before we got in the water. By 11 a.m., the sun was shining and the air was warm. The falls were a short walk and 135 steps downhill.

It was the first time I’ve ever swam at the bottom of a waterfall, and I absolutely loved it. The water was warmer than I expected, even in the shade, and the sound of rushing water was refreshing. The small plunge pool at the bottom of the waterfall was the highlight of my day.

Buley Rockhole. From there we went to Buley Rockhole, a river with a series of mini waterfalls and swimming pools. The water was a bit colder, so I opted to sit on the rocks and bask in the sun. I had a lovely chat with a girl from Melbourne, Elyce. Sadly, she will only be on tour for the first few days, as I quite enjoyed her company.

Termites. Termite mounds! Exciting? Not really. But our next stop was more interesting than I thought it possibly could be. Fun fact: magnetic termites create their mounds so they align with the sun patterns to avoid overheating. When the sun is directly overhead, it touches only the smallest portion of the mound, with the east and west sides getting the rising and setting sunlight respectively.

On to lunch, which was abysmal: bread, wieners, and tomato sauce. Hotdogs are bearable, but I hope the quality of the food improves.

Pudakul Cultural Experience. In the afternoon, we went to visit an Aboriginal family on their land and learn about their culture, “the Pudakul Cultural Experience.” To welcome us, the 16-year-old girl spat water on our foreheads. It was a way of welcoming strangers to their land and offering them protection from any dangers that they might come across during their stay.

We also learned of the concept of “dreamtime,” which is a series of stories the Aboriginals use to explain creation and how certain aspects of the earth came to be. The stories are far-fetched, but I suppose they could say the same for our Christian creation stories. Anyway, the hour and half we spent there was otherwise unremarkable.

Mary River Cruise. A cruise along the quiet Mary River in the wetlands during the late afternoon offered my first chance to see saltwater crocodiles up close and personal in the wild. I’d seen them in a crocodile farm on the east coast a few years ago, but this time around was much more rewarding, being able to see them in their natural habitat.

A few rough roads later and we arrived at camp. Dinner was a definite upgrade from lunch, and the tents were permanent fixtures with cots in them, so it was by no means roughing it.

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