You’ve probably heard people say skip Kakadu, and do Litchfield instead. Before we arrived at Litchfield, I really, really wanted to be able to leave the national park saying that it was terrible and you shouldn’t waste your time. I wanted to prove the naysayers wrong, and say Kakadu is so much better. You know what though?
I can’t. In fact, Litchfield blew my mind, and as a family was one of our favourite destinations in 3 months through the Kimberley and Northern Territory.
I was expecting some nice water holes and a cruisey couple of days, but its so much more than that. Litchfield is spectacular, and completely worth the effort you’d make to get there. Everything is so close, so easy to get to and stunning. It is busy, but that’s the price you pay when everything is so easy to get to, and so beautiful.
We visited Kakadu first, and were really impressed with it. The sheer beauty and size is truly unparalleled, and part of the reason it has dual world heritage listings. However, arriving at Litchfield, I couldn’t help but think of how many people had recommended it over Kakadu, and whether they’d be right.
We like to make our own mind up, and often take others comments with a grain of salt. From our first look around at Florence Falls and Buley Rock Pools I was hooked, and it didn’t end there.
The drive in was not what I was expecting, and nor was I expecting so much beauty at each attraction. Each destination we checked out within Litchfield National Park was fantastic (with some better than others, of course!) , and the only thing that would make it better would be less people and 4WD access only!
Litchfield is an absolute must if you are going to the Northern Territory.
Getting to Litchfield
You’ll find Litchfield National Park 116km south of Darwin, or around an hour 20 minutes drive. It’s 100% bitumen to Litchfield, and through almost all of the park. You can enter after going through Bachelor, or Tumbling waters.
These are the only two entries and exits, unless you have a well setup 4WD, are game and the Reynolds 4WD Track is open. If you do this track (and make it out!) you pop out not far from the Daly River on the southern end of the park.
What are the attractions?
Litchfield National Park has amazing waterfalls, fantastic swimming holes, great picnic and camping areas, plenty of amazing flora and fauna and amazing temperatures to have an adventure in the outdoors.
Litchfield Maps and other information
If you are chasing a Litchfield National Park Map, you can get it here along with some further information. This also tells you what is open and closed, and how you can contact the park.
If you want to camp within the National Park, you can stay at the NT camp grounds; Florence Falls, Florence Falls Old 4WD camp site, Wangi falls, Tjaynera Falls (Sandy Creek – 4WD only) and Surprise Creek Falls (also 4WD only). The only caravan park inside the National Park itself is Litchfield Safari Camp.
If you are able to carry your camping gear to a camp, then you can stay at Walkers Creek. This only suits people who are able to walk in a decent distance with their tents and gear. The rest of the options are caravan parks further out of the park itself.
The caravan parks outside of the park are Litchfield Tourist Park, Banyan Tree Caravan and Tourist Park, Pandanus on Litchfield, Bachelor Holiday Park, Coormalie Creek RV Park, Mt Bundy and Adelaide River Inn and Resort.
If you can’t get to Litchfield by yourself, there a number of tours that you can jump on, Some pick you up from Darwin and take you out for the day, and others include overnight stays.
When is the best time to visit?
The most popular time to visit Litchfield is in the dry season, which is usually late May to November (although the dates vary from year to year!). The earlier you go the more water is around, and the better everything looks. Litchfield is open year round, and during the wet season is spectacular with a deluge of water running everywhere. Swimming is closed through much of the park then but it makes for some amazing shots.
Get to a camp site early
We were reading a lot of comments on Wikicamps from people suggesting the sites were full by 10AM to lunch time every day in the dry season prior to arriving. We were very lucky in getting one of 3 sites left at 2PM on a Saturday afternoon at the Florence Falls Old 4WD camp site, but they fill up super fast every day.
We spent 4 days at the one camp site, and I lost count of the number of vehicles that came in looking for a site, only to see it was full and drive back out 5 minutes later. You are really starting to push your luck beyond about 12 – 2PM, and given the sites are relatively far apart you can risk and drive 42km between the two park sites, or go to a Caravan Park.
Beyond that, if you can’t find a camp site at one and have to drive across the park to the other, and then back out you can spend a lot of time and fuel. Our backup plan was to stay out of the National Park, but you lose a lot of the experience.
There aren’t many camp sites
Florence Falls camp site might have about 20 sites, if that. The old 4WD camp site below has about the same, and Wangi has 33. That’s not very many camp sites available compared to the number of visitors to the park! There are some works underway to improve this as it is such a popular location, but in the mean time come prepared!
If you have a 4WD, the option of camping at Sandy Creek or Surprise Creek is there too, but they are further away from the main attractions and quite small.
What does it cost to enter?
Litchfield is free to enter (for now). There is no park passes, nada, zip. You pay the camping fees if you stay a night, or you just drive out at the end of the day and come back again for another whirl. How good is that?! Camp fees are around $6 a night, so an absolute steal.
Phone reception at Litchfield
Phone reception at Litchfield is average, at best. On top of some of the hills you get spots where Telstra has some coverage, and that’s about it. In a way this is great; you get to have a break from the technology that keeps us so busy!
Crocodiles at Litchfield National Park
We found the crocodile policy at Litchfield far more relaxed than at Kakadu. Perhaps its due to the terrain and access the crocodiles have, but Litchfield was very straight forward in terms of signage, crocodile risk and where you can swim. Kakadu (perhaps being privately run?!) likes to put the risk back on you, and never makes it really clear about where you should, and shouldn’t be swimming.
Salt water crocodiles are super dangerous, and will badly hurt or kill you. Read the signs, don’t swim where you aren’t supposed to and you’ll be just fine. Litchfield has a management plan that ensures the swimming holes are safe, and the various areas are closed if something is detected. In the wet, a lot of the attractions are closed due to salt water crocodiles having the freedom to move where they want to very easily. For more information, check out the post we wrote on Crocodile Safety.
What do you need to take?
You don’t need a huge amount of gear to enjoy Litchfield. In the dry the weather is perfect, so a good hat, sunscreen, bathers, camera, towel, camping gear and a map is about all you need. Bring cash to pay for the camping fees (you put this in envelopes, so bring coins and a variety of money!) and an adventurous attitude. You will need drinking water, especially on some of the longer walks.
If you are doing the 4WD tracks you want all of the usual 4WD recovery gear, including a compressor, deflator and traction aids.
You can get diesel and unleaded at Bachelor, Adelaid River, Tumbling Waters, Berry Springs, Acacia Hills, Bynoe, Daly River and of course lots around Darwin. Being relatively close to a lot of locations, fuel isn’t usually an issue.
What are the attractions?
Magnetic Termite Mounds
If you are coming from the east, the first attraction you’ll reach is the Magnetic Termite Mounds. There’s a big car park with a giant Termite mound and lookout on one side, and a Termite walk on the other side. These are actually quite fascinating, and there’s a lot more to a termite mound than just a big lump of dirt.
There’s some good information that can be read, and the walk only takes a few minutes.
Florence Falls is one of the major attractions at Litchfield, and for good reason. It was incredibly busy when we arrived (it was actually a little off putting to be honest!), and we struggled to find a car park. You can see the top of the falls from the lookout, and then walk down to the bottom via many, many stairs!
It is pure magic at the bottom; a beautiful swimming hole, great waterfall and lots of little streams meandering their way down into the creek. It’s often very busy, but there are plenty of rocks to sit on and relax, along with good stairs to enter and exit the water. If you want this place to yourself, come down very early in the morning!
Buley Rock Hole
Buley Rock Hole is not far from Florence Falls (you drive past it on the way in). There’s a short walk that takes you along the length of the creek, and back out again. This place is fantastic to relax at for several hours at a time. There are stacks of small water holes in series, begging for you to jump in. Some are shallow, and others are deep. Kids love this place, and its no wonder why!
A short drive off Litchfield Park Road lies Tabletop swamp; a nice place to call in at for lunch. There’s no swimming, but quite a lot of wildlife to enjoy. It’s not the most picturesque location, but worth a quick look.
If you want to see one of the more impressive waterfalls at Litchfield, Tolmer is it. A lot of walk has gone into the boardwalk, facilities and lookouts here, and its worth a stop. There is a 1.6km return walk, but swimming above the falls is not permitted.
Wangi Falls is the other major attraction at Litchfield National Park, and you know this when there is free WIFI and a cafe perched only a few hundred metres away from the water. Wangi has a great grassed area for picnics, BBQ’s and relaxing. The falls are an easy walk, with several entrances to get in and out and a beautiful 1.5km walk from the plunge pool up to the top of the escarpment, through some beautiful trees.
The cascades are a set of small water falls which require a bit more effort to get to than the rest of Litchfield, making it quieter for those who do take the time. There are two walks that can be done – the Lower Cascades and the Upper Cascades. The first is 2.6km and the latter is 3.3km.
For a bit of a unique experience, Walker Creek in Litchfield is worth a stop. You can do a small walk to the actual creek, which is beautiful to relax next to on the picnic tables. Alternatively, if you are set up for camping away from your vehicle you can pay your fee and walk into some truly amazing camp sites as close to nature as you’ll get!
Bamboo Creek Tin Mine
The tin mine ran from 1906 to 1955 with plenty of breaks in between, and is now an interesting attraction and hike if you are keen. It’s north of Wangi Falls and has some very interesting history to check out.
Tjaetaba Falls, or Greenant Creek is a small, beautiful water system with a great opportunity for a swim in the plunge pool.
The Lost City
Another surprising attraction in Litchfield is the Lost City. To get there, you drive down a narrow 4WD track (with lots of places to pull over for on coming traffic). It’s around a 10km drive, and you pull up in a dirt car park that fits around 15 4WD’s. The track itself is rocky and a little rough, but not difficult at all. Let your tyres down appropriately and take it slowly; you’ll be just fine.
There are a few walks you can do through the rocky outcrop (which really is incredible!), and a number of picnic tables to relax around. There is limited shade here, so visiting in the middle of the day (like we did!) is probably not the best option.
Blyth Homestead Ruins
One of the more fascinating places we went to was Blyth Homestead; a truly incredible look back in time to how difficult life was many years ago. To get there, you need a 4WD, and you head down towards Sandy Creek, and then turn off to your left. There is one deep crossing (you should have a snorkel!) that has a bit of length to it, then a few smaller ones on the way to the homestead.
It’s a fun 4WD track, and at the end of it you arrive at this tiny homestead, built back in 1929. The work that went into building this home, along with how the family lived for many years is truly astounding, and makes you feel extremely lucky today. Don’t let the photos deceive either; this homestead is tiny; the veranda roof is about my chest height!
Tjaynera Falls (Sandy Creek)
Further along the 4WD track lies Tjanera Falls, or Sandy Creek. This is a designated camp grounds, and has a caretaker on site for the dry season. It’s a nice, bush camp ground with a walk that takes you to the falls.
The walk is longer than most within Litchfield, with a few up and downs and some little creek crossings (you just balance across the rocks!). We did the 3.4km without too much difficulty, and I had Oliver in the backpack.
Surprise Creek Falls
Further along the 4WD track again lies Surprise Creek Falls. This was closed when we visited due to the 4WD track being in bad condition, but it is often rated as one of the best attractions in the park.
4WD Tracks at Litchfield National Park
Reynolds River 4WD Track
The Reynolds River 4WD Track starts just off Litchfield Park Road, and heads 44km south, popping out near Daly River. Whilst a lot of 4WD tracks in national parks have a reputation for being tame, this is one you want to be very wary of. We only did the section down to Tjaynera Falls as the rest was closed. This part was quite simple and easy, but you want a snorkel and to know about the right tyre pressures, how to self recover and drive through water.
There are no hill climbs, or extreme rock climbing on this track. Instead, there are a number of deep water crossings, some of which have very steep exits/entries and soft bottoms when lots of water is around. The southern section of the track remains closed for some time, and is given a grade 5 rating. If you are competent and going with another vehicle this can be done early on in the dry season, otherwise wait for some water to subside.
Walking through the water crossings is not recommended as salt water crocodiles can be there, and are always looking for an easy meal!
For many, Darwin will be a place you stay at for at least a few days. There’s quite a bit to do, and its an interesting city. We loved Crocodylus, Mindil markets, the Royal Flying Doctors display and the waterfront precinct.
Territory Wildlife Park
Roughly half way between Litchfield and Darwin lies the Territory Wildlife Park. We visited, without any huge expectations and really enjoyed it. The wildlife park is very different to your average zoo, with naturally occurring landscapes and a whole heap of amazing animals to see.
One of the most popular swimming destinations around Darwin is Berry Springs. This is a spectacular location with warm water that calls you in! There’s a big car park (to cater for lots of visitors!), a huge grassy area, a number of places to see and swim at and plenty of BBQ’s and shade.
How do we rate Litchfield?
What’s not to like? Seriously, there isn’t much. The walks are easy, the swimming is amazing, the natural beauty is unreal. Camping is cheap, there’s no entry fee and the facilities are pretty good.
Driving between attractions is easy and quick, and you can have an amazing and varied day. After 4 nights at Litchfield, we were both saying it was the best, or very close to the best place we visited in 12 weeks of travelling.
I really wanted to say that the best spots on our trip were 4WD access only, but in this case perhaps not. I also wanted to say that Kakadu is the better National Park to prove the naysayers wrong, but again, I can’t. Of course, don’t miss Kakadu, and some of the special places like Koolpin Gorge, but Litchfield is truly unbelievable, and must be on your bucket list!
Sure, some more camp sites, and a few larger sites wouldn’t go astray, but for what it is, Litchfield is truly unreal.
Have you been to Litchfield National Park? What did you think of it?