CAPE YORK’S STUNNING LITCHFIELD N.P.

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY BY GEOFF MARTIN

Litchfield National Park is one of the Northern Territory’s most popular attractions. Hundreds of thousands of people enter the park each year. With spectacular scenery, stunning waterfalls that flow all through the wet season and pristine swimming holes Litchfield has something for everyone. However the best parts of Litchfield are only accessible by 4WD and that’s where we leave the crowds behind! There are two main access routes to Litchfield with the most popular from the east via Batchelor on sealed roads. A better route is via Berry Springs and the Cox Peninsula Road which is unsealed in sections, but allows a visit to the spectacular Berry Springs Thermal Park along the way. Also near Berry Springs is the Tumbling Waters caravan park which is a great place to spend a few as facilities are available.

Wangi Falls is worth a visit but gets very busy especially on weekends and holidays. The falls and swimming holes are spectacular particularly if you are fortunate enough to visit when it is not crowded. The 1.6km return walk to the top of the falls is excellent with great views across the falls and the surrounding stone country, usually leaving the crowds below in the pool.The second most popular falls in Litchfield is Florence Falls, which is 26km from Wangi Falls. Access to the plunge pool is via 160 steps which tends to reduce the crowds a little, and there is even a 4WD only campground close-by with basic facilities. The two Florence Falls campgrounds (2WD and 4WD access) are smaller and a better option than the large busy campground at Wangi Falls, but they do fill up quickly and it pays to get a site early if you’re planning to spend a night there.

Not far from Florence Falls is the turnoff to the Lost City, accessible via 4WD only. It is an easy 11km trek through woodland country into the crumbling sandstone formations of the Lost City which are estimated to be over 500 million years old. Now this isn’t an actual ancient city, but with a bit of imagination it really looks like one. It’s worth following the 30min walk around the formations before returning to the main Litchfield road. There are many spectacular camp sites, waterfalls, and swimming holes in Litchfield National Park, with the best ones being located on the Reynolds River 4WD track. This track is 14km to the west of the Lost City turnoff, or five kilometres south from Wangi Falls.

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”You know you’re in for a cracking drive when you pass the ‘snorkel advisable’ sign”[/blockquote]

The 44km long 4WD only Reynolds River Track is the highlight of the Litchfield National Park. It provides access to the fantastic campgrounds and falls at Sandy Creek (Tjaynera) and Surprise Creek, crosses beautiful country and meanders through grasslands where the grass is higher than a 4WD. This track also travels past hundreds of termite mounds, both the cathedral and magnetic type.

Turning off the Litchfield road it’s time to lock in the hubs and air down ready to tackle the track. The first creek crossing is only one kilometre from the main road and is one of the deepest on the track, sitting at about 500mm deep with a firm base and shouldn’t present any problems for high clearance 4WD’s. Remember not to wade this crossing as saltwater crocodiles may be about. It is also a good idea to keep this in mind for all the crossings you tackle on the Reynolds River track.

Continue south about two kilometres past the Blyth Homestead turn-off, to reach the track that will take you to Sandy Creek (Tjaynera). This rough track follows Sandy Creek for two kilometres before finishing at the picturesque camping area. The campground has individual bays recessed into the bush with their own fireplace, some with tables and an amenities block that includes flushing toilets and cold showers. This is a great spot for an overnight stop if you can grab one of the few spots available, making sure you allow enough time to visit and relax at the falls a short walk away.

Sandy Creek is one of the best locations within Litchfield, arguably the finest. The picturesque walking trail to the falls starts from the campground and stretches for 1.6km (3.2km return) through open woodlands and stands of paperbark. The falls drop over a tall red cliff into a large and deep pool surrounded by monsoonal forest. It’s a spectacular place to spend an afternoon swimming in the refreshing clean water, with the afternoon sun lighting up the surrounding red cliffs. It doesn’t get much better than this! After a fantastic afternoon and evening at Sandy Creek, head back to the Reynolds River track and continue south. You know you’re in for a cracking drive when you pass the snorkel advisable sign.

Around 6km from the Sandy Creek turn-off is the deepest and most challenging crossing of the track – the crossing of the Reynolds River East branch. Take your time as the crossing is deep with a sandy base. Expect water to come up across your bonnet as you drive through. This is what 4WDing is all about!
A little further on the woodlands open out into a large open tall-grass field of cathedral and magnetic termite mounds that create a surreal landscape. The sheer number of them resemble a graveyard and some even tower above your truck. It is a spectacular site that is quite unique to Litchfield. They are a must see and it is definitely worth tackling the Reynolds River track just to check them out.

The next challenge is Mistake Creek which is generally dry and straightforward, after which you then pass several waterways that are home to an abundance of bird life. With Prospect Hill prominent on the left the track then arrives at the turn-off to the left to Surprise Creek Falls. Surprise Creek Falls is the southernmost waterfall and campsite in Litchfield. The campground has basic facilities including pit toilets, tables and fireplaces. The walk to the pools and falls starts at the back of the camping area, and it’s only a few hundred metres along the creek until you arrive at the main pool which is a fantastic place for a swim.

Litchfield National Park is one of the most spectacular regions of the Top End, and the Reynolds River track explores the best part of this outstanding area. Experience the pristine waterfalls, camp in the fabulous campgrounds, and travel through impressive landscapes. This is one of the most beautiful locations in Australia, and should be on everyone’s travelling bucket list.

FACT FILE

WHERE:
Litchfield National Park is about 120 km southwest of Darwin, with access via sealed roads through Batchelor or via the Cox Peninsula Road (some unsealed sections) in the dry season.

CAMPING:
There are a number of camping options within the national park including campgrounds at Wangi and Florence Falls. One of the best places to camp is at Sandy Creek Falls on the Reynolds River track, arrive early and secure your spot here and spend the afternoon at the spectacular falls nearby.
In the Darwin region at Berry Springs is Tumbling Water Caravan Park which is a fantastic place to stay prior to entering Litchfield.

WHAT TO TAKE:
There are no supplies within Litchfield National Park so make sure you have sufficient supplies for the duration of your stay before entering the park.
There is limited mobile phone coverage so it is recommended to also carry a satellite phone.

SUPPLIES AND FACILITIES:
Berry Springs has a supermarket, service station, and
hardware store.
Batchelor has a general store which sells basic supplies and fuel. There are also a number of caravan parks close by.


TRIP STANDARD:
Trips are rated A though E, with A meaning only suitable to vehicles with an extreme level of off-road modifications and E meaning perfectly suited to all types of 4WD vehicles.
The main access roads into Litchfield are graded and maintained, rating E. The access track to Florence Falls 4WD camp and the lost city are 4WD only but relatively easy, rating D. The Reynolds River track includes several sandy sections and deep water crossings, suitable for high clearance 4WD’s only. Rating C.

FUEL:
(At time of trip)
Berry Springs: Diesel $138.9 Unleaded $137.9

ROAD CONDITIONS:
The road conditions were generally good at the time of the trip, with some washouts and corrugations to negotiate at several points. The river crossings were low and straightforward.

RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS:
No permits required. No caravans or trailers permitted to travel the Reynolds River Track.

BUDGET ATTRACTIONS:
Budget attractions include swimming in the pristine plunge pools, photographing the magnificent scenery, bushwalking, 4WDriving, fishing in the Reynolds & Daly Rivers, or just relaxing in the great campgrounds.

BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
Litchfield National park is generally open throughout the year but the best time to visit is during the dry season (April to October). The Reynolds River track is closed during the wet season. Check road conditions and track openings prior to travelling.