Litchfield National Park: Magnetic Termite Mounds, Waterfalls and Mining Ruins

Friday, Aug 14, 2009 at 00:00


Like a graveyard of tombstones, a stand of “magnetic” termites mounds all lined up certainly give the impression of an old cemetery.

Soon after entering Litchfield National Park, we stopped at a viewing area for the well known “magnetic” termite mounds. They are made of light grey clay and are flat on a north south axis aligned according to the Earth’s magnetic fields, to maintain the climate at a constant temperature inside the mound. The north of Australia is the only place in the world where this phenomenon is known to occur. Not all the termites in Litchfield are the type that builds compass orientated mounds; so you will also see many are the tall cathedral or sandcastle red mounds as seen throughout Kakadu and in other areas. There are other places in the park where stands of magnetic termite mounds can be found but this viewing area has easy all seasons access and a boardwalk.

Litchfield National Park comprises 1,500 square kilometres of diverse environments including rugged sandstone landscapes, monsoon rainforest, plains where magnetic termite mounds are found, perennial streams and waterfalls, and historic ruins from mining and pastoral station days. With many features are accessible to all vehicles via bitumen roads, some part require a high clearance four wheel drive and are only accessible seasonally. The National Park was declared in 1986. There are several Parks campgrounds within the Park with only Wangi Falls designated as suitable for caravans. Generators are not permitted in the campgrounds. Pets are not permitted in the park. There are several private camping options near the park.

A mainly dirt road heads north from Wangi Falls and is an alternate entry into the park from the Cox Peninsular Road further north. We headed north from Wangi Falls on this road to the former Bamboo Creek Tin Mine ruins; the access road is around 17 kilometres north of the Wangi Falls turnoff. Mining took place here intermittently between 1906 and 1955. A one kilometre easy walk crosses the creek to the ruins of the processing works, with a short circuit walk to remnants of old mines and other relics.

Bamboo Creek Tin Mine was typical of many of the small mines in the Northern Territory which operated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly those operated by the Chinese. This small scale, labour intensive mine operated without the benefit of heavy earth machinery. Jaw crushers were used rather than a stamp battery. Working in the shafts was difficult as the miners followed the horizontal seams of ore using picks and shovels. It was even worse during the wet season as the water seeped in. The moist air was heavy with lung destroying particles of silica. The mine leaseholders and Aboriginal workers began showing signs of Silicosis, and one of the leaseholders subsequently died. Bats now inhabit the abandoned tunnels with at least five species of bats breeding in the old mines. Water from the spring fed creek was stored in concrete reservoirs on the hill and gravity fed into the mill to be used to separate the heavier tin from the crushed ore.

Nearby is the Walker Creek walk, with the access road being 15.5 kilometres north of the Wangi Falls turnoff. This 3.5 kilometre two hour walk follows up the creek line, past several walk-in tent camp sites by pools along the creek; camping fees apply. After crossing the creek and a board walk continues over wetlands then the trail follows the creek line climbing through woodlands and sandstone formations. The uphill walk was quite taxing in the hot weather and a cool down in the creek pools was very welcome. There is also a swimming hole at one of the picnic areas by the car park.

Read more detail about this trip and see all the photos in our 2009 Travelogues


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