Around Australia Week 23 – Katherine Gorge and Litchfield Park

The Katherine Gorge / Litchfield Park area is a beautiful area chock-a-block with things to see and do. Keen bushwalkers will be ecstatic, but the not-so-fit will find plenty here as well. With most attractions you can walk to viewing platforms that are a short stroll from the carpark, or you can elect to get some exercise along a walking trail (these are varying lengths – choose the one that suits your needs/ability). The Katherine Gorge tours give you an opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the area from the comfort of a boat, with short and easy walks between the gorges while you view the Aboriginal Rock Art sites.

As well as doing one of the popular cruises along the gorge, we put our kayaks in and paddled down the gorge. (If you don’t have your own kayak, you can hire one. And anyone using a kayak has to register; they like to know who’s in the gorge!) This was a great experience, and something Rob had been looking forward to for a long time. While you can learn a lot from a guided tour, sometimes it’s nice to simply enjoy the peace and beauty of nature without a commentary.

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When exploring Litchfield Park, we followed the path of dozens of other tourists (it’s common to keep running into the same people throughout the day) and started by viewing the termite mounds and then went on to check out the various waterfalls and swimming holes in the area.

As you travel through the top end and the Kimberley you’ll see colony after colony of termite mounds. (Is colony the right word? Maybe not… but you get the idea.) You might think that after a while they all look the same, but not so… the magnetic mounds, looking for all the world like tombstones, are a totally different shape to the cathedral mounds. It’s fascinating to read about how the structures vary to adapt to the extremes of temperature: the magnetic mounds are structured with the ‘thin’ edge facing north/south. This means that the broad face of the termite mound is exposed to the sun, and heats up to about 30 degrees – which is about the upper limit of a termite-survival temperature; much over that and they can’t survive. As the sun moves overhead, the broad side of the termite mound cools so slowly that it effectively maintains the temperature at around that 30 degrees. Result: happy termites! (And amazing tombstone-like ‘houses’.)

The cathedral mounds can vary in size, shape and colour too. The ‘cathedral’ shape is consistent, with the pointed end at the top and a wider base, but sometimes you’ll see white termite mounds – and sometimes they are a lot shorter and fatter, giving the impression that they’ve simply melted in the heat!

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We spent a day checking out the various waterfalls and swimming holes in Litchfield park. If you have time, you can spread this out over several days and pack picnics to take to various locations, or opt for a walking trail one day and an easy picnic near a car park on another.

Florence Falls is lovely, and there are plenty of options here for walking. Those who are fit can walk around the rim and down 160 steps to a calm, very pretty plunge pool at the base of the falls, or you can look down at people swimming below from the viewing platform. There’s another option, too: the Shady Creek walking trail (about a kilometre) also leads to the pool, if you’re not keen on all those steps!

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Buley Rockhole isn’t far from Florence Falls, and you can walk there along a signposted trail if you’re feeling energetic (it’s only around 1.7 km from Florence Falls). Alternatively, hop in the car and drive. This is one of the prettiest spots we’ve seen on our travels, with water spilling down from one level to another, creating shallow pools to cool off in. But… there’s not a lot of room in Buley Rockhole, and you may be jockeying for a position. (You’ll see a sign in the carpark advising that if the carpark is full, then so is the rockhole… so come back later!) Once you’re in the water, you’ll find that the rocks are pretty slippery underfoot, and you’ll need to pick your way carefully to a place where you can sink into the water. We saw more than one person come to grief!

After Buley Rockhole, we made our way to Tolmer Falls. This was a hot walk along a boardwalk to a viewing platform, and not our favourite spot of the day. We didn’t linger there for long: Wangi Falls was calling, with a big, easily accessible swimming hole, a kiosk, a big grassed area and picnic tables. There were plenty of other people around swimming out to splash around under the falls or relaxing on the grass, but the carpark and the public areas coped admirably with large numbers.

If you want to compare the various waterfalls in the area, go and see them all. If you want to view the falls and swim, then opt for either Florence Falls or Wangi Falls, with Wangi Falls pool being the most accessible.

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