After four days in Darwin it was time to start up the car and hit the road south again. The first stop was only 15km out of town at Charles Darwin National Park. The park has national significance for its ecological diversity and Aboriginal and war history. It also protects part of the nationally significant Port Darwin wetland and contains 36 of the Territory’s 51 mangrove species. The Second World War era bunkers were fenced off and locked up as a storage area for military explosives while the shell middens in the area date back for thousands of years.
This view of the city from Charles Darwin National Park shows why the park was so significant to the Larrakia people. It was only a short canoe ride away and a good spot to keep an eye on who was coming on to country.
Another few kilometers further south is the turn-off to Humpty Doo and the Kakadu National Park. I did not have the time to detour to the Kakadu but I did check out Fogg Dam on the traditional lands of the Limilngan-Wulna people. This spectacular wetlands is just 70km south of Darwin with great birdwatching and is also a haven for water pythons, freshwater turtles and other wildlife including saltwater crocodiles. Fogg Dam has one of the world’s highest biomass of predator (water pythons) to prey (dusky rats) ratio. The pythons make their homes in the cracked mud during the hot dry season from August to October while waiting for the rains.
The next detour was via Batchelor to Litchfield National Park. Home to the Kungarakan and Marinunggo peoples the park is named after Frederick Henry Litchfield of the Finniss Expedition that travelled from South Australia in 1864. This was the first European expedition to visit the Top End by land with orders to explore and survey a site for the new settlement in the Northern Territory. A highlight of the National Park are the hundreds of termite mounds mostly up to two metres high, some a century old.
The termite mounds are enormous magnetic compasses, with their thin edges pointing north-south and broad backs pointing east-west. This minimises exposure to the sun, keeping the mounds cool for the magnetic termites inside. The four metre high cathedral termite mound is the outstanding feature of this part of the park. To create the mounds, the termites cut up grass stalks and store them around the outer chambers foraging from underground and displacing the sediment on the ground. As the mound grows, the termites fill the outer chambers with soil and start again on the next level.
Another 15m further on in the Park is the turnoff for Florence Falls. There is a short walk from the carpark to the Falls but I take the longer option via Shady Creek walk which loops along a stream through the rainforest-filled gorge and woodlands back to Florence Creek. The falls are ideal for a cool dip on a hot day and plenty of others have the same idea. It helps the waterhole is croc free.
This is the view of the Falls on the short walk back to the carpark.
Refreshed it’s back to the Stuart Hwy and the town of Adelaide River. An hour south of Darwin, Adelaide River played an important role in the Second World War and many fled here after the bombing of the city and the port. Its war cemetery is home to 434 military graves and the adjoining Civil Cemetery honours 63 civilians including the nine Darwin post office workers killed in the February 19, 1942 bombing. The cemetery also has a Memorial to the Missing, where 292 service personnel who were killed in Timor and New Guinea campaigns are remembered.
Next stop is Pine Creek, another hour down the road. In the early 1870s, workers on the Overland Telegraph Line discovered gold in the area starting a rush that lasted two decades. The telegraph station opened in 1874 and a large influx of Chinese workers came in to work in the goldfields. By the mid-1880s, the Chinese outnumbered Europeans 15 to one in Pine Creek and many went into business. But they were devastated by a 1892 fire that destroyed the town. When the gold ran out, the population of Pine Creek dwindled and most of the Chinese returned home in the 1890s.
A steep road from the centre of Pine Creek leads to a lookout with panoramic view of Enterprise Pit. The Pit was an open cut mine, now full of water 135 metres deep. It began as the Enterprise Shaft in 1906 and was worked until 1985 when Pine Creek Goldfields developed the open cut mine extracting 764,000 ounces of gold in its 10-year life span.
My detours had turned what is normally a two and a half hour trip from Darwin to Katherine into a five hour haul. I was happy to get into Katherine and relax before a big day following to check out the Nitmiluk National Park, with its world-famous Katherine Gorge.