Where There’s Smoke…

We planned to leave Darwin on Monday but projects materialized so we decided to stay a little longer. That gave us time to visit one of the many nearby national parks in the famed outback. We first thought about visiting Kakadu, but one of the mechanics we were working with said we did not have enough time to justify the drive. Instead we settled for Litchfield and were not disappointed.

I fired up Google Maps and we began our journey out of the city into the bush. We drove for about an hour and a half, with one stop for a restroom, one for snacks, and one information. We received a map and route advice, all for free! We thanked the woman behind the counter and continued towards the park entrance, eager to see more of what makes the Northern Territory of Australia unique.

Our first stop was Tabletop Swamp. We parked and took a left around the edge of the swamp. We didn’t know if there were crocodiles, so we gave the water a wide berth. The map mentioned that wallabies hop around the watering hole, so we kept our eyes peeled hoping to see one of these creature. Unfortunately, there was a fire recently in this section of the park, so instead of wallabies there were only smoldering trees and a big flock of geese in the small swamp. The geese took to flight as soon as we approached. We completed the small loop track and were underwhelmed, but continued to the next stop, Tolmer Falls.

If we were disappointed by the first stop, Tolmer made up for it. We decided to walk clockwise around the three kilometer loop, and enjoyed stretching our legs a bit after being cramped in a car for two hours. After two kilometers, we met a French couple and discussed the trail. They said we were in for a treat once we went a little further, while we said they didn’t miss any spectacular views the other way, but it was a lovely walk. We left them and went out onto the viewing platform to absorb the scenery. There was a deep gorge cut through the sandstone with a beautiful long cascade running down one end. The other direction looked over the vast flat bush, with pockets of smoke from all of the bush fires causing the blue sky to turn to grey, even without a cloud in the sky. Dry season in Darwin was crackling.

Tolmer Falls

One waterfall was great, but we wanted more. We doubled down and went to Wangi Falls. the large parking asphalt paved parking lot was packed with tour buses, vans and many cars. Our expectations plummeted. When I am in nature, I prefer not to be accompanied by 400 other people. We were already there, so we continued towards the falls. It was crowded, but my dad was hot, so he went for a swim in the natural pool into witch the falls fall. I saw a sign for a five km trek that went above the falls, and decided that would get us away from the crowds in into the wild. It did. My favorite sightings that we made were a Cockatoo and Golden Orb Spider. The spider was as little smaller than my hand, but still is not something I would like to run into in the dark.

Golden Orb Spider.

We had two more stops and it was getting late, so we departed Wangi to complete the hat trick, and sped towards Florence Falls. Once we arrived, the walk was short. We descended 150 stairs and could see tourists with blue and pink foam noodles as well as two spectacular waterfalls. The plunge pool under the falls was busy, but we were hot so we joined them. Instead of the normal rugged nature I am used to, Australia actually spent money to make it easily accessible to the public, with paved paths, concrete steps, and rails into the pools. Although I prefer hikes where I don’t see another person for hours like in Moorea and Fatu Hiva, it was great to see the masses getting outside and enjoying nature.

Florence Falls, not pictured, tourists with foam noodles below.

We completed the main attractions from the map, but the adventure was not finished. My dad took over the driving responsibilities, which was a harrowing adventure itself. After ten minutes I yelled for him to stop. We had been looking out for Wallabies all day, so he assumed I finally spotted one. Instead, I spotted three Emus, the flightless birds that are slightly smaller than Ostriches, but still the second largest bird in the world. We pulled over and took a few pictures before resuming our trip home, but the park wasn’t done with us yet.

One of the emus, who can run up to 30 mph.

Next, we passed a live bushfire, including a ranger spraying water to contain it. Another ranger swerved into our lane with her pickup truck and was waving to us to, but the hand signals were ambiguous and we needed to get back to the boat, so we continued. Soon, smoke billowed across the road and we could feel heat on the sides of the rental car. We looked at each other, thinking maybe we made a mistake. We survived and approached the end of the fire when the smoke cleared and blue skies returned. Finally, we stopped at one of the massive termite mounds that occupied much of the land around the park, just to inspect it closer. We took a picture for scale – it dwarfed us.

Bushfires raged throughout the park, and are a natural park of the ecosystem in Australia.

We returned to Darwin and stopped by a park that had a Wallabie crossing sign near the entrance. This was the final species I wanted to see. We ordered fish and chips from a food truck on the beach and asked a guy in line if he knew where the Wallabies congregated. He gave us directions, and after at least two wrong turns and an hour of searching…

We found a Wallabie!
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