2002 Trip - Kimberley & Kakadu. Part 6 – Gregory National Park to Litchfield NP

Sunday, Dec 01, 2002 at 16:52


Exploring Bullita we started out by looking over the stockyards, the homestead and outbuildings. The property was once owned by the Durack family, then others until it was sold to the NT government in the 1980s. The homestead is of corrugated iron with just 3 smallish rooms. It is situated beside a large pool fringed with pandanus and possibly having crocs in it. Some attempts have been made to set it up as a museum depicting life in this area. The stockyards are quite large and in reasonable condition. Some restoration work has been done, and signs explain the layout and provide some information about how they were used to work the cattle.

We had considered driving down a 4WD track to Victoria River Downs but there didn’t seem to be much to see along the way so after driving until the made road ended we turned around and headed back to the highway. On the way out we got our first flat tyre – on the back onside wheel as usual. Back on the highway we continued on through scenic dissected country with flat topped hills and sandstone cliffs.

We stopped for lunch at Joes Creek where there is a picnic area nestled below high cliffs. A walking track leads from the picnic area, up a steep scree slope to the base of the cliff, along the cliff base among fan palms and then down again. The walk was rated as moderate to rough, 1.7km in a loop. So we did the walk and it was rough and steep, but the reward was good views over the valley and a distinct feeling of vulnerability walking under massive rock overhangs. There were a few aboriginal paintings at one spot along the track. Val was very relieved to get down in one piece – it was hard, hot going. We decided not to do the nearby escarpment walk which was said to be rougher. Instead we drove down to the Victoria River in a couple of places, and up to a lookout. Even here in the mid catchment it is still a sizeable river.

There is only a petrol station the Victoria River Crossing, so we kept going, planning to stay the night at Sullivan’s campground in the NP. When we got there about 4.00pm this small camping area was pretty well full of caravans, so again we kept going. Eventually we found an old road beside the highway – no water but we were out of sight of the highway so it will do quite well. It has been used by others before us. Access is 100m inside the eastern boundary of Gregory NP, directly beside the NP sign. We are looking forward to a bush shower.

This bush camp was very satisfactory, high up so we could watch the sunset and sunrise and well back from the road. During the night we heard feral donkeys braying away in the park.

From this camp we drove towards Katherine, stopping briefly to follow a sign indicating a WW2 aerodrome. This turned out to have occupied houses attached and a barking dog so we read the signage and saw the runway, which seemed to become continuous with the access track, then made ourselves scarce.

Then on into Katherine for a major stock-up at a very large Woolworth’s. We were amazed at the high cost of fruit and vegetables, especially melons for $6. We had our flat tyre repaired, and the newer gas bottle refilled – we still have not been able to get our older bottle filled. We spent some time at the big I centre where we had to pay for NP information sheets (despite the same sheets in other languages being free). Then out to Katherine Gorge where we planned to spend the night. However when we arrived there we were very surprised by the hundreds of people and vehicles. The campground, which is very large and busy and situated some distance from the gorge did not appeal. So we took a quick walk in the extensive picnic area where a couple of fully loaded cruise boats were about to depart, and decided to move on to Edith falls. So on to Katherine to fill the back tank using the 3c/l discount petrol voucher at BP that several local businesses hand out.

Our fear that Edith Falls camping area may also have been full proved groundless. The camp area here is very well set up. There are 50 sites well spaced out, covered with green grass. There is a BBQ in many sites and wood is supplied. There is a kiosk and laundry, the only disappointment was the poor design of the showers. Our site was beside the water tanks and pressure system, so it was a bit noisy but not a problem. The waterfall and big plunge pool is only 100m from the camp so we decided to try the water. There are steps and rails to get into the water. The pool is quite deep at the edge and more than 100m across. The water was quite cool but very pleasant and invigorating after a hot busy day

The next day we spent the whole day just lazing around, reading and having another swim in the cold waters of the plunge pool. And phoning the kids. We spent the evening around the fire with Laurie and Pam from St. Theresa where they are teachers, and Lachlan an (apparently) single 35yo with an MBA who has spent the past 9 years working in New York. He is taking a year out to travel and rediscover his Aussie self and decide his future direction. This company made for an interesting evening.

Somewhat reluctantly, as we loved Edith Falls, were on the road the next morning; our first stop was at Pine Creek. Here we saw some local history in the form of railway and mining displays. A recently restored steam locomotive, built about 1887, restored in 1905 and again in 2001, plus a carriage was open for viewing and sampling of its comforts. This was accompanied by information on the many proposals and attempts to build a railway from Adelaide to Darwin. Next door was a park containing a collection of mining equipment including headworks and a nearly complete stamper battery, plus numerous pieces of other old and large machinery. All this was established with Bicentennial/Federal funding but is nevertheless slowly degrading in a harsh climate and with some attention by vandals.

Local signage suggested that a gravel side road went through gold mining areas so we decided to follow this road. It took us to the burnt out ruins of an “active” mining site (so the signs said) with a large water tank, steam engines, battery etc all slowly degrading through the effects of fire and weather. Close by was an old railway line built sometime after the 1880 gold rushes. Also traces of a town built on the line – Barrundie – all that remains is a chimney or two and some foundations. Once there was a European population of several hundred, and thousands of Chinese who provided the bulk of the gold mining labour force. Most went home when the gold rush was over, but some stayed and their descendants still live in the area.

Today we saw clouds for the first time since Port Augusta, but they were gone by sunset. They made us quite excited though. We have also started to see very large “cathedral” termite mounds, 5 or 6 metres tall and up to 2 metres in diameter, strongly fluted. The smaller more delicate minarets up to 3 or 4 feet tall are still present, but the clusters of several giants are very impressive.

Our aiming point today is Douglas Hot Springs – the bitumen and commercial signage have us worried about what we might find, but on arriving we found a fairly standard NP type campground. There is a commercial tourist park a bit further on. The hot springs are in a stream adjacent to the camping area so we joined the other soakers for an hour or more enjoying the water. The springs bubble out of the sandy creek bed, so that hot water mixes with cold in a shallow flowing stream, so that lying in one spot the temperature changes from hot to cold and back again. A unique and relaxing and clean experience.

Next morning started with a ranger visit to collect fees, and an irate neighbour complaining of the person who drove around the camp area in the middle of the night. After breakfast we explored the creek to see where the hot water was coming from – there seemed to be several points, usually marked by blue-green algae unless the water was very hot. However yesterday’s soaking spot seemed to be the best so again we spent a couple of blissful hours just soaking. The water is only shallow – 30cm – but the hot/cold variation was incredible. Plus it was a good place to exchange information on places to go. There were plenty of small fish in the water plus a goanna or two, and the usual flock of hawks overhead.

Advice gathered suggested that Butterfly Gorge might not be worthwhile so we decided to head straight for Litchfield. On the road we followed signs to a WWII airstrip and base camp (Fenton ?) and spent a couple of hours exploring a huge site. The strip was nearly 7000 ft long and still in good condition, with many bitumenised taxiways, also still in good condition. There were also many mounds enclosing semicircular areas where we surmised the bombers were kept – away from the strip and separate from each other. We could not find the aircraft graveyard – about the only metal items left were 44 gallon drums. The base camp was away from the strip and again, all that remained were concrete slabs, some broken bottles and insulators, and the bar rail from the Officer’s Mess.

The field was built and used by the Americans in 1943 and catered for bombers, mainly Lancasters, later we took over but by 1945 its use was at an end. A lonely brass plaque and flagpole base marked the place where a reunion was held in 1988.

We then continued on, pausing to photograph some very large termite mounds, reaching the southern entry to Litchfield about 4.00pm. The road in was definitely 4WD – just 2 wheel tracks and some creek crossings – but seemed to carry a fair amount of traffic. The camping area seems to have only recently been established – there is still plenty of firewood around. We didn’t need a fire, but lit one to discourage the plentiful flies. There is a creek and waterfall with a large deep pool below the falls – but we felt that we had had enough water for one day. The walk to the falls along the creek passes through galleries of palms and huge ti-trees – very tropical vegetation.

A big bump on the drive in seemed to make the frig stop. Investigation suggested that a loose fuse in the frig plug is the problem – some repairs and all was well. We even found some extra cans of cold beer in the bottom of the frig so that was a bonus at the end of another great day on the road!

The flies were busy early next morning so we got on the road early for a bit of relief. The track continued to be good, although wheel tracks only. We were looking into the sun admiring the tall termite mounds when quite suddenly an area of dense mounds appeared which we realised were “magnetic” mounds. Facing them broadside they looked like tombstones with blunt serrated tops, dark grey in contrast to the orange of the cathedral mounds. Edge-on they are only 6 to 9 inches thick. And of course they are all oriented the same way.

We spent quite a while exploring this open grassy area, and wondered what effect the termites might have on surrounding vegetation. We saw signs of cattle/buffalo and dogs/dingoes. Both types of termite seem to be fairly specific about their water or drainage requirements, seeming to be most abundant around the edges of flats that would flood in the wet. After this first sighting we then saw many more magnetic mounds. A little further on we stopped at a small wetland and were rewarded with the sight of a pair of jabirus feeding.

The Reynolds River had a bit of water in it, enough to be exciting with out there being any dramas. That was the only really wet spot on the whole track, but at wetter times of the year this track could be impassable.

By mid morning we came to Sandy Creek Falls – a walk in of a couple of km from the carpark and camping area. So we found a shady campsite to leave troopy. Taking our swimmers we walked in to the falls, a fairly easy walk passing many grey-green cycads. The falls were pretty, a narrow drop of water falling into a deep plunge pool. There were a number of tour groups of mostly young people. Some were in the water but as the young people thought the water was cold we decided against swimming. Instead we had a good cold shower back at the campground. Having lunch we met Pat and Tony who were looking for a camp site in the by now crowded campground. As we didn’t intend staying they joined us and we chatted for quite a while. As we left they suggested we might come back if we couldn’t find any where else to camp.

We intended to explore a marked 4WD track but after finding the old hut (homestead) we found that the 4WD track was closed. Another track we followed only went to the park boundary, so we collected firewood and headed back to Sandy Ck where we joined up with Pat and Tony for a pleasant evening. Tony had a spotlight and was interested in small mammals. During the evening we twice spotted a northern quoll. It’s been another day of new and rewarding experiences.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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