When I returned from my ultimate bucket list trip (to Scandinavia), I made a promise to myself to make an effort to explore more of my own backyard. We have so many spectacular places to see, here in Australia, yet us Aussies are always so eager to escape to ANY country other than our own. So, to scope out a new found appreciation for this vast landscape – we made a spur of the moment decision to pack our bags, escape the Brisbane Winter, and head to the Northern Territory to explore some of this magnificent country.
The decision was actually wrapped up as a birthday present from Mitch. Being a gal that prefers “experiences” over “things”, I guess the idea to take me away was a no-brainer!
So we took a red-eye flight from Brisbane to Darwin to steal my cousins ’76 Series Land Cruiser and camp gear, switch off the phone for a week, and set off to explore the Top End.
DAY 1: Airport > Djukbinj > Point Stuart > Jim Jim Falls (via Jabiru)
DAY 2: Jim Jim Falls > Maguk > Gunlom Falls (Waterfall Creek Falls)
DAY 3: Gunlom > Katherine > Edith Falls
DAY 4: Edith Falls > Douglas Daly Hot Springs > Butterfly Gorge > Litchfield
DAY 5: Buley Rockhole > Florence Falls (Litchfield National Park)
DAY 6: Darwin
We set off first thing in the morning! Our destination was to head to Jim Jim Falls and set up camp to spend the day exploring the area – but we got a bit side tracked on the way.
I could see the sun rising over the horizon and desperately wanted to find a nice billabong to get some sunrise shots, so we took a detour through Djukbinj National Park (we only went maybe 10kms from the turnoff, the heart of the National Park is much further) and pulled in to “Little Sister Billabong”. Being the dry season, of course, the billabong was completely dried up (not what I was after) but the sun was rising fast, so I made do with the scenery that I had. I truly love the colours of the world at this time of day. The muted greens in the trees. The blue hues of forest edge. The pastel orange and pinks that dart across the sky. Such a shame that the world can only be painted in these colours for as little as a few minutes each day.
I took my shots, and sat on the back of the ute to enjoy the rest of the sunrise without my camera. There was more light now, and I thought I could notice a buffalo off in the distance. It was low on the ground, by itself, in dry season; so I assumed that it was the remains of a buffalo. Wanting to catch a closer glance, I grabbed my camera to zoom in as far as I could (the first time in my life I have wanted to kick myself for not having a strong tele lens!) I took the picture, and had to zoom in further to see. Yes, it was the lone carcass of a buffalo long gone. I looked a bit harder and couldn’t believe my eyes! There was a mama dingo and 6 of her pups feeding on the buffalo – magnificent!
We continued our drive, noticing how alive the wildlife is at this time of morning – we saw dingos, buffalo, kookaburras, wallabies and kangaroos galore! We even saw crocs! We made our way up to Shady Camp past Point Stuart to use the BBQ facilities to make some breakfast burgers, and took a gulp as we saw the locals casting a line in the croc infested waters!
Next up, we made our way to Jim Jim Falls. Unfortunately we missed the turnoff to Old Jim Jim Road (which would have had us cut right through the middle of Kakadu and spit us out at the falls), so we had to go the long way via Jabiru. The corrugated dirt road that leads to Jim Jim Falls is around 70kms long and is suitable for 4WDs only – however we did notice plenty of tiny small 4 cylinder cars attempting the trek and moving at a snails pace.
We set up camp at the Jim Jim Falls camp site (BBQ Fires, Hot shower facilities, drinking water) and then took the track the rest of the way to the falls. This road is DEFINITELY only suitable to 4WDs, and is another 20-30minute drive through the bush to the carpark.
The hike to the falls is pretty rocky terrain, so make sure to wear some grippy shoes! It would definitely require you to be moderately fit in order to hike there comfortably – although it is only 2km(ish) round trip.
When you finally get to the water, you will notice croc signs, and a big croc trap in the water – do not swim here (obviously) and continue on to the “sandy beach”.
This place is beautiful, but being the dry season the water was a little bit stagnant, so we kept going to get to the wonderful Jim Jim Falls. The fall wasn’t running (dry season), and the water hole was completely covered by shade. Apparently it gets no sun in the dry season, making the water FREEZING cold. Out of the 20 or so tourists at this spot, I was the only one to get in the water. Which I can confirm was, in fact, freezing cold. But after swimming around for a bit, your body adjusts to the temperature and it becomes quite comfortable.
When we got back to camp, we threw our Campurritos (Camp Burritos – thanks Buzzfeed) on the fire, had a hot shower, and an early night (apart from waking up to take a snap of the milky way)! All ready for an early start in the morning!
We woke up early, to pack the tent and head to the next destination: Maguk (Barramundi Gorge). A short 10km dirt track from the main road, this one is definitely accessible by car. The bush on either side of the road had been victim to bushfire (most likely controlled burning), which made for a stunning, barren scene. The huge termite mounds appear to have held up quite well in these fires. It still completely blows my mind that these tiny termites can create these massive mounds, which are as hard as any cement, and they can withstand the crazy weather of the NT – so fascinating!
We finally get to the carpark of Maguk, and have a quick look at the sign on how to get to the gorge. It’s listed as an easy 1km hike – but you have to scramble over rocks and cross a creek for at least a third of that! The beginning of the hike takes you through lush tropical forest, and over a running creek – it can make you feel a little uneasy about how close the track is to the water, considering its croc territory! I imagine that this location would be quite difficult or impossible to get to in the wet season.
Whilst sitting down at the gorge and enjoying the scenery, I was about to jump in to this crystal clear water – until I noticed that there were people on top of the fall! These are (as I later found out) known as the Crystal Pools. Not sure on how to get up there, we retraced our steps back to the creek crossing to position ourselves on the opposite side of the gorge. We looked for a track leading up the mountain, which was made easier as a bus full of tourists had just made their way down! We followed the path which was a pretty steep climb in some places, and 90% rock scrambling to the top of the rock face – but it only took around 15 minutes for us to get to the top. And my! What a sight! We got there just as another group of tourists were leaving, so there was a couple that hung around for a few minutes, and after that we had the whole place to ourselves! I remember turning to Mitch and saying “How incredible! Out of the billions of people on this planet, we are the only two here to witness this spectacular part of the world”. Sitting on the rocks and listening to the water gush from each pool. Coo-ing out to hear our voices echo through the gorge. Having our own private swimming hole/sun baking lounge. Without want of sounding like a BCF ad “THIS IS LIVING!”.
After an hours worth of swimming and baking, we decided to leave this magical place and make our way back down to the car. Which is just as well, as one of the hikers we passed along the way advised us that we’d left our headlights on! eep!!
With a quick stop off at the Mary River Roadhouse for lunch (Mitch recommends to try the Buffalo burger), we continued to Gunlom Falls where we set up camp for the night, ready to explore the area the next day.
There’s not much that can beat waking up to a beautiful sunrise from the inside of your hammock swag, that kept you up watching the stars all night!
After breakfast we made our way up to the Gunlom falls – which is not a long hike, but it is very steep! Basically climbing vertically up a rock face for around 300metres, but the view is well worth the effort!
Today we left the beautiful Kakadu region, which we were sad to do. I’m glad we got to spend a few days exploring this beautiful region of our homeland, but you could certainly spend plenty more time exploring all the ins-and-outs that this place has to offer!!
Last night we spent the evening cooking snags and burgers, and drinking beers with the lovely English senior who had bought his two teenage grandsons to explore top end of Australia, at our campsite in Edith Falls. This place is accessible via a sealed road, so it was one of the most popular campsites that we stayed in – and for good reason. The camp itself backed on to a massive water hole (Edith Falls), and it had landscaped camp areas, laundry and shower facilities as well as a kiosk/cafe. It’s no wonder this place was popular with the travelling families! Having forgotten to take fire wood to any of our previous campsites, we made sure we stocked up on firewood (which you just gather on the side of the road) before we got to the camp. We had a good haul, too!! That was until the kind lady at the kiosk advised that there were no campfires at this particular site. Just our luck!
Just behind the kiosk and the Day carpark, you will notice a bunch of hiking tracks. One goes up to the Sweetwater pools, which I have been told by several people that it is well worth the 8.6km round trip. Unfortunately my back problems wouldn’t have been up to that hike, but if you ever decide to do it, I would recommend you set off first thing in the morning to save yourself the heat stroke. We decided to proceed to the 2km round trip hike to the Upper Pools. A steady, reasonably easy hike, that is definitely worth the effort! All walking tracks in the National Parks, we noticed, are clearly marked (the yellow triangle below) which should help you from getting lost!
Back in the car and on our way to the Douglas Daly hot springs, which I had heard all about the lovely hot springs of the Northern Territory. It was a bit of a drive, so we made sure to stop in at the Pine River “Lazy Lizard” pub to wet the whistle and enjoy a delicious outback pizza!! Up we continued to the Douglas Daly Tourist area. We arrived at the hot springs, where there is a campsite – a fairly barren campsite, which was sweltering hot. We made our way down to the accessible springs (note that part of this area is blocked off as a sacred Aboriginal site, which is strictly prohibited from venturing through). I took off my gear and began to wade in the hot springs. Thinking that the water would just be warm, like a spa, I screamed as my feet felt the third degree burns (may or may not be exaggerating). Determined to stick it out, and wade in these pools because we had travelled so far, I sucked it up and sat in the water waist deep. Realising that I actually wasn’t enjoying this experience, I lasted about 3 minutes before we packed up and were on our way. But the views were pretty!!! We later found out that if we had have walked down the creek further, the water actually cools. So basically I was sitting in a volcano.
On we go, to Litchfield National Park to set up camp for the night. We sure pushed daylight on this day, and finished setting up right on sunset!
Our last night camping, much to Mitchs’ relief, as we heard something quite large scratching around the campsite last night. Luckily I was sleeping in a hammock off the ground and Mitch was sleeping on the back of the ute! I got up early to go take some pictures of the Buley Rockholes before they get crowded with people. I made my way down to the water, and just sat for a bit. Having these sacred falls all to myself was a wonderful feeling and definitely puts you in a meditative state!
After wandering around the area for an hour or so, there was no sign of tourists in the area, so I took the liberty (good choice of words!) to have a cheeky bath in one of the pools. The tourists were probably still rugged up in their sleeping bags (it was about 630am).
On the road again!! Just down the road from Buley Rockholes, still in the Litchfield National Park, is the Florence Falls. This is one of my favourite places that we visited!!! and it was already busy at early hours of the morning
More images of Buley Rockholes with my cousin Jeremy
For our FINAL adventure in the top end, we took a detour back through Adelaide River region, and took one of those jumping croc tours. Which is a must-do if you visit Darwin. They have been feeding the crocs in this area for over 25 years, and if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the terrifying 90yr old terror called “Aggro”, you will go home a happy camper. He is a massive 4 metres long and as fat as a cow – actually, probably fatter than a cow. He is known for lurking in one particular creek as it flows past a cattle station, and every now and then he will score himself a beef dinner. We did our tour with the original croc jumping company Adelaide River Queen who were fabulous. Knew all the crocs in the river, their history, and where they hang out. Which packs a lot in to the 1 hour cruise!
We had a wonderful time exploring this part of the world, and hope to come back to do a run down to the Red Centre! Have you been to these parts before? What was your favourite place?