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NTTERT: Day 3 – Darwin To Litchfield National Park

Day 3

Day 3 into the 14-Day Northern Territory Top End (Wet Season) Road Trip saw the coastal micro-city of Darwin getting ever smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror while heading towards the spectacular revered plateau that makes up Litchfield National Park. But before departing the beautifully modernized city for waterfall heaven, I check off some items on the to-do list around Darwin that I hadn’t had time to fit in yesterday.

Darwin

Argus Hotel Darwin

First off, a sleep in. As today would be the last day spent in Darwin until it was time to jet set back home, I decided to turn off the alarm clock, catch up on some sleep and enjoy the hotel rather than head out to watch the night turn into day.


City Views From 303

When I finally woke from my slumber, I headed for the window to drink in the scenery. As much of Darwin’s skyline is low-mid-level highrises that are not densely packed together, it meant that even on level 3, the views were quite lovely.

While the foreground was a bit on the dingy side, the views at eye-level of Darwin’s modern skyscrapers more than made up for it. You could even see the ocean between them, which was a lovely added touch.

Popping on the kettle and slowly waking up the day, I went outside with freshly made tea and stood on the super tiny balcony and gazed at the landscape while my hot drink cooled enough to be drunk.

Argus Hotel Darwin - Room 303 View
Lovely views from the Argus

Underestimating the horrible humidity, I didn’t linger too long in the already sweat-inducing heat. Instead, I packed my bags early to make a swift getaway, I went to take advantage of the pool downstairs that was whispering my name.


Pool

The Argus’ pool was small but in a lovely setting. It was modern, clean and lying in the shade of the building. Still, walking outside from the airconditioned hotel, the hot air and humidity hit straightaway.

Even with the mercury already at a crazy high despite the pool area being in the shade, the water was refreshingly cool. Not so much so that it was uninviting, but a lovely temperature that perfectly offset the prevailing heat.

After swimming, dipping, swirling, hand standing and resting under the water feature for about 45 minutes all by my lonesome like a weirdo, it was time to say adios to the delightful hotel that has hosted me the last two days.

Argus Hotel Darwin Pool
The small but modern pool

Darwin CBD

I didn’t get to look around the centre of Darwin much yesterday, so before heading off into yonder, I took a drive through the incredibly modern streets. Everywhere I looked, it was so crisp and refined. Everything looked newly built, renovated or cleaned. It was almost like Dubai or a brand spanking new suburb in the sense that everything seemed redone within the same era and matched well with everything else.

For a city with a history of white settlement and development going back 150 years and was bombed in WW2 and obliterated by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, it was surprising that there was very little that remained for any of those periods. Wait, that’s probably why there much isn’t left.

Still, nothing looked older than a couple of decades. Pretty much everything got a modern makeover. It was beautiful but also sad to not be able to see much of the older stuff too.*

(*While I didn’t hit up many historical places on this trip, I am saving those places for when I head back in the dry season with a history buff, so please don’t Attack Dog me. When that visit will be, though, no one knows.)

Darwin Waterfront*

Wild Swimming In Darwin

In a place like Darwin, where crocodiles patrol* the beaches looking to chomp silly humans who get too close to the shoreline and make their blood and guts go flying, you can’t go wild swimming***. Not if you value your life.

Even though the authorities set traps to keep the hungry, hungry hippos away from the beaches, they’re not foolproof. Every now and again, some modern dinosaur Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment’s their way past the traps and ends up tanning on the beach. Then, well, how do you like your oceans? Red? The bottom line is, the beaches are bad for bathing. That’s not even talking about the jellyfish that frequent the shorelines either.

To combat that and allow you to experience the joy of ocean bathing without the potential bloodbath, the powers that be in Darwin created Darwin Waterfront, a recreational precinct with an enclosed ocean-fed swimming pool protected by a sea wall. All the eye-stinging joy of the ocean with only the slight potential danger of teeny tiny jellyfish slipping through. Yay!

So, after having a little look-see around the Darwin’s impressively modern facade and briefly revisiting Stokes Hill Wharf to see what it looked like in the daylight, I headed for those protected ocean shores to do a little swimming.

Swimming? I just went swimming. You can never get enough swimming! Not in Darwin, where the humidity makes you shrivel up like a prune with all that sweat coming out your armpits so fast! Got to keep hydrated.


The Beach

Snapping up a 2-hour free parking spot at the Kitchener Drive multi-level car park and taking the lift to the top, I found myself impressed by the spectacular swimming precinct. Shops, restaurants, glorious swimming areas were all there and looking as modern, crisp, clean and gorgeous as the rest of the city.

Then, after getting changed into the appropriate attire, it was time to test how crocodile free this puppy was. Well, strolling into the briny shallows didn’t end up with me dismembered or disembowelled, so I give it a solid thumbs up. 

While getting deeper and deeper into the drink, I noticed I wasn’t alone, and they weren’t of the human variety. There weren’t many humans around at all, and none in the pool with me at the start. No, there were fish in here. Little yellow fish with black spots on their tail measuring about 10cm. Squee! Well, that was unexpected, the good kind of unexpected.

Darwin Waterfront
Darwin Waterfront is so nice. Also croc free!

Snorkelling

After frolicking around in the water for a little while, I decided I needed to turn this relaxing swimming venture into a snorkelling exploration and beelined to the car to grab the snorkel and powerwalked back.

Damn, it was murky underneath and reminiscent of a horror movie. In some areas, it was pretty deep, and because the line of sight was so limited, there would be dark shapes of unknown masses that would appear only when I got close. Really close.

Thoughts of “Man, if a crocodile that did manage to shimmy over the sea wall and were lying on the sea bed, I would not be able to see it until I was on top of it,” prevailed my mind. That would, of course, be assuming that the deadly stealth creature wasn’t interested in a free snack knocking on their doorstep because we all know if it had deemed me as a worthy meal, I wouldn’t even know what hit me.

Thankfully the “paranoia, paranoia, every croc’s coming to get me” mentality only lasted a few minutes, the amount of time I assumed a croc would take to a handy helping of human and went about fish finding.

There wasn’t a whole heap patrolling the pool. Whatever fish there were mostly hung around the dark shapes, which, as it turned out, were seaweed in the shallow areas near the shore at the furthermost end. I assumed they were making sushi, but they seemed to stop whenever I got near.


The Rest Of Darwin Waterfront

After getting my fill of fish and remembering that I had to haul ass out of Texas before I had to start paying for parking, I finished off my lovely croc-free ocean swimming and snorkelling experience with a soothing massage under the fountain before having a brief look around the rest of the precinct.

The modernity of the area was such an inviting place to be. I was sad I didn’t have more time to explore. Researching the internet doesn’t paint a full picture of what a lovely little place this is. It reminded me very much of South Bank in Brisbane, only more beautiful. The lack of people at the particular time I visited made it even more so. I did gasp at the entry prices to the wave pool, though. Man, that burnt a hole in the wallet that I wasn’t getting out to pay for it.

I wished I could have stayed for lunch, but with the free parking timer getting scarily close to ending, I bid the lovely beach and its cute sushi-making fish a fond farewell and sped out of there, narrowly avoiding coughing up any coins.

(*I’ve only been to Darwin this one trip. I don’t know know how it really is. there. This is just what knowledge I amassed from my research but it may not be accurate.)

(*Very loosely using the term “patrol”. The are no crocodile or fish police, gangs or human-hate groups that I’m aware of, but hey, that’s no to say there aren’t either. I don’t speak the langnuage of the underworld.)

(**I read you can swim life guard patrolled beaches during the dry season though. )

Litchfield Municipality

Goodbye, Adios, Sayonara, dear Darwin. After dropping into some shops to pick up some supplies (and get the rego on the rental car updated. Seriously, these fuckers not only gave me a filthy car but also gave me one with a rego that expired during my rental. Giving them the benefit of the doubt is so fucking stupid of me. You fucking time scammy, money-grubbing, time-wasting, lying sacks of shit.) to hopefully last the next ten days, it was time to put Darwin in the rearview mirror and head out into Litchfield Municipality.

Heading out onto the Stuart Highway, (looking for adventure and whatever comes my way!) and going through numerous traffic lights along the way (this is a peculiar set-up), it wasn’t long before the city turned into suburbs, then into country. The clouds were looking noticeably heavy like it was about to unleash all hell at any moment. Luckily they held off anything torrential and only light rain pitter-pattered on the rooftop of the car. 

Wishart Siding

The first stop on the way through Litchfield Municipality was the Wishart Siding. What’s the Wishart Siding, you say? “Hell, if I know?” As it was something I spotted along the way, I didn’t know what to expect. And I didn’t get an answer either.

There were a couple of buildings, and that was about it. I couldn’t see any information signs. I suspected it was a train thing. Any efforts to find out about it was thwarted by a giant black dog who stealthily came from nowhere and raced toward me. EEK! Seeing it only right at the last moment, I turned away from it in a heroic self-defence manoeuvre waiting for it to sink its teeth into my fleshy legs. Brace, brace, brace for impact.

But the dog did not bite. No, instead, it booped the back of my leg with its nose. I was very relieved that it wasn’t a savage hellhound. But it was so weird and rattling I didn’t stay any longer. Like I said, heroic. Sorry if you just wanted a pat big, giant puppy.

Wishart Siding, Litchfield Municipality
Was this the Wishart Siding?
Wishart Siding, Litchfield Municipality
Or was this the wishart siding?

  • Turns out, the one on the left is the Wishart Siding. Click here for what the internet has to say about it.

Heading Out Into The Country

Back on the road again, the Stuart Highway stopped heading south-east, and everything started going south, literally. The road had well and truly opened up, and the city and the suburbia had turned into a much more natural setting. With the traffic noticeably thinning out and there being no more traffic lights on the highway, I noticed the landscape much more.

There weren’t spectacular mountains protruding above the horizon or any such thing as the landscape was overwhelmingly flat. What stood out was the greenery. As a place that gets a lot of rain, the greenery was green!

The saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side”, does not apply here. The Top End is not saying that about anywhere else. The saturation, literally and figuratively, was legit out here.

The contrasting colours with the equally soaked reddish-brown dirt made it feel like I was in the Outback after a Noah’s Ark flood came through. (I haven’t been to the Outback yet, so this is all imagination at this point.)

Strauss Airstrip Historic Site

A few minutes at oohing and ahhing at the intense greenness and redness of the landscape, I’d reached the Strauss Airstrip Historic Site. It was created as one of the numerous airstrips along the Stuart Highway during World War II as part of Darwin’s defence should it be attacked by the Japanese (it was).

Initially known as the Humpty Doo or 28-mile strip, it went informally by the name, Strauss Airstrip, in honour of their former commander, Captain Allison W. Strauss, who looks strikingly like a young Harrison Ford, who died in battle protecting Darwin.

It was neat to see the airstrip still intact, but I was expecting there to be an old building of some sort for some reason. Sitting just down from the information sign were four artistic (possibly life-sized) renderings of some of the combat aircraft that used this airstrip to take to the skies.

Ummm, it’s not that they weren’t done well because they were. But I felt like it cheapened the memory of what they were trying to preserve. I can’t imagine these guys flying in the air, shooting down enemy aircraft. Real aircraft would have created a more genuine picture of what went down here. Even if they couldn’t, because of expense or potential vandalism, then real pictures of them, I think, would have serviced the memory better…

Strass Airstrip Historic Site, Litchfield Municipality
Strass Airstrip Historic Site, Litchfield Municipality

High Speeds

Soon after leaving the historic Strauss airstrip, it wasn’t long before the speed limit opened up and the fabled 130km/h speed limit came into action. Who knew you could drive the fastest

speeds in Australia so close out of Darwin.

Figuring it started much further away from the capitals and closer to the desert, it was thrilling to crank up the speed and drive the fastest legal limit in Australia on this trip. You couldn’t have stopped me doing 130km/h if you tried. I was, to quote Jeremy Clarkson, the fastest car, “… in the world.” Well, in Australia… who was doing the legal limit. Whatever.

Well, except for being behind the car doing less than 100km/h. It was a dry, single-lane highway with double lines, and there was not place to legally overtake. “Why, why must you be such a buzz kill?” Cue crying face.

Eventually, the slowpoke turned off and soon, the roads were free to fulfil the need, the need for speed. The car was, hilariously, unable to register the 130km/h speed limit on its speed sign indicator. (I learnt throughout the trip, it caps out at 110km/h, so when it goes past a 130km/h speed sign, it either shows 100km/h or 30km/h). From here, it was a nice, quiet, liberating drive to the southern turnoff to the first national park of this trip, Litchfield National Park: waterfall heaven.

Litchfield National Park

At the turnoff to the renowned plateau, there was an enormous sign on the corner saying: Litchfield National Park with lots of pictures showcasing its breathtaking beauty.

After many photos were taken and emotions happened, boom, the final stretch to waterfall heaven was happening here and now. Finally.

Sunset At The Magnetic Termite Mounds

Making it from the glory sign at the corner and through the tiny gateway town of Batchelor, I arrived at the Magnetic Termite Fields just before the explosively colourful sunset lost its ephemeral vibrancy and died into another day.

Magnetic Termite Mounds, Litchfield National Park
An epic sunset befell the Magnetic Termite Mounds

Florence Falls 2WD Camp Ground

Then it was off the Florence Falls 2WD Campground, where I pitched the tent and had a lovely snooze to the sound of dingos howling in the distance.

Except that was not what happened. No siree, Bob. The campground was quiet. Very quiet. There was only one other occupant in the campground that night. Over the one and a half weeks spent in Litchfield and Kakadu National Park, that was all there was.

Was it because it was the off-peak season? Because it was an El-Nina year, and the rain had caused people to not want to drown in God’s tears flooding the earth at night? Or was it just because CO-VID halted the monsoon traffic to a standstill? A combination of all three, perhaps.


Not to alarm you

The most notable thing about camping here was the toilet block. When was the last time someone cleaned this place? YIKES! The facilities here resembled something out of a horror movie. There were swarms of insects on the doors and flying around the lights and numerous frogs and spiders everywhere! I almost walked into one’s web getting there.

It was as if the entire world’s insects had congregated around the toilet block. Well half. The other half seemed to be at Wangi Falls, where I stayed the next night. Gulp.

You’d think that’d be it, and then it was a lovely, warm, peaceful night in a beautiful national park. NOPE!!!

A few hours into the midnight snooze, alarms were going off, and they weren’t in my head. I had no idea what the fudge was going on, but they were loud. Very loud. I tried to sleep through it, but it kept going on, and on, and on. The endless, short intervals of beep, beep, beep drove me bonkers. I finally had enough, got out of the tent, realised it was those FUCKING toilets going off, and slept the rest of the night in the car.

And with the vehicle effectively drowning out the noise, it was finally a lovely, peaceful night in a beautiful national park.

Day 3 travelling through the Northern Territory’s Top End involved a lot of water, a lot of insects and a lot of noise. The late sleep in was offset by the late-night made so because of the toilets frustratingly loud alarm going off at an absurd time. (The campground in this condition was not worth the $6.60 it cost for it.)

But time doesn’t wait up for the lost sleep caused by infested poop holes needing servicing at the midnight hour. Day 4 would be another early start to catch the sunrise at Florence Falls, followed by a couple of walks exploring exactly what makes Litchfield National Park such a revered gem.

  • Travelled February 2021

More Northern Territory Top End (Wet Season) Road Trip:


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