Finniss Valley

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  • Day2

    Waterfalls & Mob Fire in Litchfield NP

    June 24, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    Litchfield National Park, covers approximately 1500 km2 and is near the township of Batchelor, just over 100km south-west of Darwin. Proclaimed a national park in 1986, it is named after Frederick Henry Litchfield, a Territory pioneer, who explored areas of the Northern Territory in 1864.

    Aboriginal people have lived throughout the area for thousands of years. It’s important to the Kungarakan and Marranunggu peoples for whom their ancestral spirits are still considered actively present in the landscape.

    Our first stop in Litchfield National Park is Wangi Falls. As we drive in on the sealed road, there’s smoke everywhere coming from the thick surrounding bush, assuming from dry season burn offs. Some of the smoke and fire though have creating large plumes further in the distance and a couple of walking tracks have been closed due to natural fires.

    Wangi Falls spills over the tall sandstone cliffs of the tableland plateau into a large plunge pool with a beautiful backdrop. Smoke haze fills the cliff tops and black Kite birds are circling looking for prey. It’s early for a dip but within minutes, lots of travellers are turning up and plunging in so we join them. The water is not too cold and a comfortable temperature for a morning bathe.

    Wangi Falls and all the other waterfalls in Litchfield flow all year round. The sandstone of the tableland plateau acts like a giant sponge, absorbing the wet season rain and then slowly releasing the water creating natural springs over the dry season. These natural springs feed the waterfalls constantly which shows just how much rain the wet season brings. It’s quite a contrast to the Kimberley waterfalls which eventually stop flowing further into the dry season.

    I spot an interesting sign about crocodiles that may be resident in the plunge pool beneath Wangi Falls from time to time.

    “When the creek floods, salt water crocodiles move in” That’s not very reassuring.

    The Wangi Falls loop walk is closed due to fires above the tableland plateau with some smoke and fire reaching around the vertical slopes of Wangi Falls. Word has it that two Aboriginal Mobs have been clashing in the area and each mob has sabotaged the other’s land by setting fire to it...! So that’s why there’s random fires everywhere.

    It’s not uncommon for different tribes or mobs to clash and it’s been going on for thousands of years.

    Although us white folk often depict the indigenous culture as being the same Aboriginal group, they actually belong to many a different tribe with differing cultural identities, rituals and sense of belonging. Territory or sacred land is always an issue and the mobs often fight between each other. Lesson taken. If you fall out with thy neighbour, just set fire to his garden and lawn... oh and run!

    Tolmer Falls is next, a few kilometres up the road. Tolmer Falls cascades from the tabletop range, eroding the landscape and creating a rich and vibrant sanctuary for wildlife below. It’s height is impressive from the viewing platform and there’s a 1.5km loop walking track with passes the top of the falls.

    There’s what seems a small insignificant but pretty creek at the top of the falls, gently following its course, then plunging into a chasm above the main falls creating a small reservoir of water. From here the water gathers pace and drops over Tolmer Falls in volumes. No swimming here as there’s no safe way down to the pool below the falls.

    Having seen so many waterfalls on this trip, one could be forgiven for becoming a little underwhelmed when seeing another. Not today, Florence Falls is the most picture perfect and beautiful falls I have encountered so far. Jen still thinks the rugged Bell Gorge was her favourite and Mitchell Falls was epic. For me, Florence Falls is by far the most vibrant and picturesque due to its its stunning setting, it’s twin falls working in harmony and it’s clear inviting plunge pool.

    I swim out to the larger fall and hold onto the rock underneath for a while, then push out floating on my back to view the cascading water above contrasting with the vivid blue sky. My ears are submerged and all I can hear is... silence.

    Again, Florence Falls is fed by natural springs above the tableland plateau just upstream of Buley Rockhole and it flows into The Finnish River. It’s a busy little place and no one minds the 330 steps to get down to this well hidden oasis.

    On our way back, we visit the magnetic termite mounds. These incredible elongated mounds all align on a north - south axis and the magnetic termites that make them are found nowhere else on earth. Although the majority of termite species build their homes underground, termite mounds are created in places where there is significant rainfall and a wet season, therefore providing a dry safe haven for the termites inside their elevated homes.

    The north-south aspects of these structures ensures that the termites create a climate controlled environment inside the mounds. In the heat of the day, they regulate the temperature to keep things cool and at night the mounds keep them protected from the cold. What’s more, the mounds are tall like a skyscraper so they take up minimal footprint. What an ingenious solution to urban living. Maybe we should all live in termite mounds. With the growth in high rise inner city apartments, come to think of it, we probably already do...

    The giant of all termite mounds is made by the Cathedral Termite often making their mega structures 5 metres in height. They are epic considering an average termite is about 5mm long and an army of them build these Cathedral Mounds with some of the mounds 40+ years old.

    Wait a minute, like nature, humans can take credit too. Didn’t the Egyptians use an army of tens of thousand of termites, whoops I mean men to build the Pyramids, man’s ultimate Cathedral to the gods. Oh the similarities.

    Litchfield NP has such a varied and interesting natural landscape. There are places off road we could visit like “The Lost City” but we are content in staying dirt free for today and exploring the waterfalls.
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Finniss Valley