October 1, 2008

A quick visit to the Northern Territory: Darwin, Kakadu, and Litchfield

Ever since we got to Australia, we had been excited about seeing the "outback." Images of Crocodile Dundee, Billabongs (watering holes), and red dirt. The Aussies basically refer to the outback as anything inland from the coast/civilization. We tried to find some versions of the outback when we drove inland to Armidale, NSW, to see our friends the Greggs, and when we visited the Atherton Tablelands a couple hours from Cairns in FNQ (Far North Queensland). Here are photos from our trip to the Tablelands.

It wasn't until our flight was landing in Darwin, the northernmost city in the Northern Territory, that I saw red dirt from the window of of the plane, and I thought to myself that we are finally here!

Darwin is a nice spot to spend a day or two. My friend Eric from Holland who I met diving said he spent almost a month in Darwin just hanging out. There's no way I could do that, but the place has charm. We had less than 24 hours to see the city, but that was enough. It turned out that our one day coincided with a famous night market at Mindil beach, which rocked. We sampled food from the many stalls selling Thai, Indian, Malay, and even tasted some Crocodile and Camel.

The next morning we picked up a Wicked Camper 4x4 model, complete with bed and kitchenette (at a sweet employee discount), and headed off for Kakadu National Park (where they shot some of Crocodile Dundee).

Kakadu National Park is massive. I had heard that it is approximately the size of Switzerland, and I can tell you that we drove 1100 Kilometers in 5 days visiting both Kakadu and Litchfield. It took us a good day to drive from the North to South part of the parks. Note to any traveler, there are long boring stretches of road between the interesting sites. You need at least 2-3 days to see it all. I also think we went at the wrong time of year, since it was the end of the dry season. But there really is a small window of opportunity to see the park since it's flooded during the rainy/summer season.

We spent 3 days in Kakadu, and here is a map to follow our route. We drove in along the Arnhem Highway, visiting the ancient cave paintings at Ubirr, and spending a horrid night with mosquitoes at the Merl campground. The next day we drove to see more rock paintings at Nourlangie Rock, then visited the Warraddjan Aboriginal cultural center, saw a crocodile in the wild at Yellow River, and finished off the ridiculously hot day with a dip in the free pool at Cooinda. I should mention that the average daily temperature was about 38 degrees Celsius, and there are only a handful of places to swim in the park because of the Crocodile infested waters. The final day we drove along a 4x4 track to the swimming hole at Maguk, which was paradise. Probably the highlight of Kakadu for both of us. We didn't visit the famous Jim Jim or Twin Falls, which were dry this time of year, but they are supposed to be great at other times.

From Kakadu we drove out south along the Kakadu highway towards Litchfield National Park, which is much closer to Darwin. This is the place to come and swim. There are an abundance of waterfalls and swimming holes, that are for the most part Crocodile free!

We had two nights and almost two days to see the park, and that was plenty. You can really do it in a night and day if you need to. Here is the official fact sheet and map so you can follow along. On the way in we stopped by the huge termite mounds. These things were at least 10 feet tall and there was a field of them. I had no idea there were different kinds of termites, but Litchfield had magnetic mounds, which arranged themselves in a North-South axis to keep warm and cool, with the changing desert temperatures. There are also many fields of termite mounds in Kakadu, and this is where we first saw them.

We spent two nights at the Florence Falls campground. After two horrible nights in Kakadu, being eaten alive by mosquitoes (or mossies as they are known in Australia), we finally found peace in Litchfield. The campground is high up on the tableland, and a nice breeze seemed to keep them away. Florence Falls was my favorite of all the swimming holes. It was tiny, relaxed, and had great cliff jumping options for the fearless. I was happy jumping from a 20 foot cliff, but some crazy Aussies jumped off the main falls which are about 60 feet or more.

The main attraction is Wangi Falls. It's huge, picturesque, and a great place to swim. It's just overcrowded compared to the others. If you don't mind company of a hundred or more, then go for it. It is a good place if you have kids or don't want to walk much. Most of the other falls require at least a 1 km hike.

We didn't make it onto the off road track because of some deep river crossings, but I heard that Tjaynara and Surprise Creek Falls are supposed to be fantastic if you have a 4x4 vehicle.

Here are our photos from our visit to Darwin, Kakadu, and Litchfield National Parks. Photo captions by Julie.

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