We weren’t sure how long we would spend in Litchfield National Park on May 19, looking at the termite mounds that are so “famous”, but the park turned out to be our favorite day so far. I want to move there (during the dry season only, that is….).
We started our tour staring at the “magnetic” termite mounds. They build their fire-proof homes on a N/S axis for temperature control. As the sun rises in the morning it warms the east side of the mound (and the swarms of termites waiting around for it). As the day progresses to superhot the sun hits only a thin line of mound to prevent overheating, then after it is set the termites hide inside for the heat that the mound has stored up over the day. Nature is a marvelous architect. They build these mounds on recently burnt areas. In other areas there are cathedral termites, who build, well, cathedrals…
There was also a very cute little nectar-drinking bird putting on a show. I am in love with all of these birds.
We moved on from the mounds to the Burley Rockhole, a supposed swim area. Sure, but we thought that there’d be no way it could beat thermal springs or giant gorges. Oh, it could. We spent the rest of the day frolicking in a continuous stream of waterfalls (in the freshest, cleanest water I have ever seen that was running out of a HUGE sandstone plateau covering hundreds of kilometers) with a series of deep pools below each section of falls that were perfect for jumping and diving into. The water was so clear that you could see the round rocks on the bottom, but was so deep that the rangers (who themselves were in the act of jumping off of the rock ledges) told us that no one they’d met had yet been able to reach the bottom.
We swam there for most of the day in the various pools before heading to the falls that were only 2km downstream. Florence falls also had a pluge pool, which we good advantage of, too (even though there was a GIANT group of *children* there it still felt practically empty).
I am to the right of the falls in this pic, but it is hard to see. I am waving at you- look closer.
We left there and drove through the smoke of the management fires. The Aborigines were using fires to control the land and prevent huge blazes long before anyone else thought of it. They have been doing it for so long, in fact, that the whole area- ecosystems, birds, plants and everything- now depends on their continued burning to produce acceptable habitats, provide the necessary foodstuffs, and control extensive damage that would happen otherwise during lightning fires if debris was allowed to build up unchecked. In fact, there is very little true pristine wilderness in Australia. The Aborigines have been practicing land management for thousands of years and the structure of the bush, the species of animals and plants present is often due to their influence. It took Westerners a very long time to figure this out, but now they burn patches of land in a imitation of what the aborigines would carry out throughout a lot of the outback.
It is a bit unnerving to drive past a wildfire, but they really don’t seem to go on too long. The smoke from this one was by far the worst we had seen.
We spent the night at an abandoned WWII airstrip, then this morning (the 20th) headed into Darwin. Hopefully we will catch a magical, tropical Darwin sunset before heading into Kakadu, Australia’s largest national park to the east.