Review: Litchfield National Park tour from Darwin pairs a day in the park with a crocodile cruise
Located an easy 1.5-hour drive south of Darwin, Litchfield National Park is one of the city's most popular day trip destinations. Swim beneath the park's stunning waterfalls and get up close and personal with saltwater crocodiles in the Adelaide River on this action-packed tour.
Experience the sublime natural beauty of Litchfield National Park on this epic full-day tour from Darwin. You’ll travel with a small group in air-conditioned comfort and visit Wangi Falls, Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole. A picnic-style lunch is included. The day ends with a wildlife cruise on the Adelaide River. Duration: 12 hours (approx.)
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‘Oxygen masks will soon fall from above your heads as we’re about to reach our highest altitude since leaving Darwin,’ announces ‘Nifty Neville’ — our driver and tour guide from Offroad Dreaming.
The multi-nationed group erupts in laughter, as Nifty takes our 20-seater bus up Tabletop Range in Litchfield National Park — plateauing at the dizzying height of 223 metres.
After picking us up from 7.30am onwards at our various Darwin hotels, Nifty has not only managed to remember all our names (reintroducing us at each stop), but has provided a history of Darwin in the process. His local knowledge is amazing, and I’ve no doubt anything missed during pick-up will be covered later during drop-off!
It’s the first time in the Top End for the majority of passengers on this Litchfield National Park tour from Darwin, who hail from France, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and Australia’s southern states. Everyone is eager to see and swim in some of the beautiful waterfalls that the national park is renowned for. Later in the day we’ll meet some scaly locals on a crocodile cruise on the Adelaide River.
After a brief morning tea break in the sleepy town of Batchelor, we make a stop at the famous cathedral and magnetic termite mounds located just inside the entrance to the park. ‘Grass-eating termites construct these ancient looking tombstones,’ Nifty informs us, while gently extracting an almost transparent termite from the six metre-high cathedral mound by the road. After we’ve taken photos, he places it back in the mound. On the other side of the road, standing like soldiers on parade, are the thin magnetic mounds — which are not magnetic at all, Nifty reveals. However, they do follow a line from north to south, with broad flat sides facing east and west to assist with temperature control.
Wangi is the first waterfall on our itinerary. It’s in full flow, and the currents are too strong for swimming as a consequence of the recent massive wet season. No one is disappointed; it looks absolutely spectacular, and the abundant local wildlife watches us with keen eyes as we meander along the purpose-built boardwalk. The multi-use area in front of the falls has a variety of spaces to cater for the throngs of visitors that Litchfield attracts in the dry season. It’s been well planned, and doesn’t negatively impact on the environment or wildlife. Nearby are clean amenities and a café for those who don’t wish to picnic or barbecue.
While we’ve been exploring, Nifty has prepared a smorgasbord lunch of fresh salads, cold meats, cheese, fruit and wraps. Within 30 minutes, everyone’s hunger is amply satisfied and we’re ready to make tracks for Florence Falls.
Watch our video of five great things to do in Litchfield National Park:
Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide’s YouTube channel. In this video, we take you to stunning Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory. Lo…
The viewing platform above the falls gives us our first glimpse of these horseshoe-shaped torrents cascading amidst glorious rainbows into the pool many metres below. Squeals of laughter and sounds of splashing drift up, and everyone is eager to join in the fun despite the descent of 135 stairs. For those not keen on having to do the return climb, Shady Creek Walk offers an alternative. It’s a peaceful stroll through woodlands and dense monsoon forest.
An hour later we depart for nearby Buley Rockhole. Located above Florence Falls, the Rockhole consists of a series of small waterfalls and pools, which are ideal for lounging in, and great fun for kids who use the rocks as slides. Suitably waterlogged and refreshed, we receive fresh, crisp apples from Nifty before heading east towards the Adelaide River to meet one of the world’s oldest reptile species.
Most of the group dozes during the 90-minute drive back up the Stuart Highway to the Arnhem Highway turnoff. The countryside changes dramatically, with large rural blocks, market gardens and mango orchards giving way to shallow wetlands dotted with water lilies, paperbark swamps and an abundance of bird life, which become even more prevalent as we travel through the ‘Window on the Wetlands’ to the river.
Pulling up, we’re greeted by a real-life Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee. Stocky, with a lengthy grey beard, Pat was born and raised in this region, and he clearly knows a thing or two about crocodiles. After spelling out the rules and regulations for our river cruise in no uncertain terms, he leads us through the bush to a metal ramp leading down to a flat-bottomed boat with a canopy and security mesh sides. ‘They’re to keep humans in, not crocodiles out,’ he states, but I have to admit that I’m a bit nervous! The boat sits almost level with the murky Adelaide River, which is populated with an average of eight to ten highly aggressive estuarine (saltwater) crocodiles per kilometre.
Within five minutes of pushing off, we encounter our first croc. Sliding the boat up the muddy riverbank, Pat shares his wealth of crocodile knowledge with us as he coaxes the four-metre monster alongside the boat. We’re mesmerised by the experience. Just as we’re lured into thinking he’s a gentle giant, the croc lunges at the chicken carcass Pat has attached to the end of a stick. It’s extraordinary seeing inside his mouth, the colour of his teeth and movement of his eyes.
As we drift down the river, one enormous crocodile after another weaves its way around the boat checking us out. The largest male we see is nearly six metres in length. The females average around three metres long. Pat provides fascinating running commentary throughout the journey. It’s important to note that this is not a jumping crocodile cruise. Pat provides this private experience for a small group of tour companies — including Offroad Dreaming. If you are not on one of their tours, you’re missing out on the experience of a lifetime.
As the rich orange sun sinks behind the tree-lined riverbank, Pat pulls the boat back into the landing. Everyone is beaming as we board the bus, our cameras packed with pristine waterfalls and crocodile portraits. We head back to Darwin far too excited to sleep.
Remember to be ‘croc-wise’ wherever you choose to swim in the Top End. Obey all safety signs and directions.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Nannette Holliday was obviously born to travel — Holliday is her real name. A former TV and radio presenter, Nannette’s globetrotting has earned her the nickname ‘International Woman of Mystery’ amongst friends, while also providing a rich library of experiences to draw on creatively. Many are woven into her first novel: The Sting of Fate, and Nannette is currently working on the sequel. When she’s not drafting chapters for herself, Nannette writes for a variety of magazines, and even ghostwrites books for other people. It all helps keep her in the manner she has become accustomed to — indulging in world travel, fine food and great wine!