Overnight stays: Florence Falls Old 4WD Camp, Litchfield National Park (2 nights); Lakes Resort & Caravan Park, Berry Springs (2 nights); Discovery Parks, Darwin (6 nights); Edith Falls (Leliyn) Campground, Nitmiluk National Park (3 nights); Saddle Creek Rest Area, Baines
Before stopping in for a fuel and photo op at Corroborri, we still had a taste for biting Barra, so decided to throw a line in at lunchtime on Mary River.
We recalled all the required steps to snag a monster, taught by Dan, as I threw my first line towards the water, hopeful and confident we wouldn’t need to buy dinner for days.
Along the trip I’ve often asked people for the best fishing spots wherever we are. Many respond with the standard, “throw your line in the water and you’ve got a better chance than anyone.”
Intent on doing so, my first cast saw me snag the lure, in an overhanging tree 😳. Didn’t even wet the lure, and there it remains, the driest lure to never catch a Barramundi. I guess all those guys who’d given me that advice were right after all.
But we had miscalculated…
We were, in-fact fishing on the wrong day. You see, if we’d waited another six days it would’ve been Barramundi, not the Barratuesdi we were blindly fishing on.
As if me snagging the tree wasn’t enough to make us laugh, we completely lost it when Loz did the exact same thing on her first cast. Turns out we are probably the worst fishers in the world, and needless to say, we bought dinner that night.
Litchfield National Park
There are a handful of places I’ve been way too overly excited to visit on this trip. For whatever reason, Litchfield National Park was one of those places.
Expectation is a dangerous thing, and mine were sky high for this place, without even knowing much about it. All I knew was that is was renowned as a great place to swim in natural pools.
With Wangi Falls closed for swimming due to a recently spotted 4m saltie, we agreed that Florence Falls was our best bet for a couple of nights.
We rolled in at about 5pm, as we often do, expecting to easily slot into a campsite. Turns out this place is more popular than Communism in the fifties, and was chockablock; no room for a few wombats. Oh dear – this was the first time on the Wombatical we had been rejected a place to stay for the night. Not knowing what to do, and with no one willing to share their campsite, we were informed by a backpacker that the Old 4WD campsite was actually 2WD accessible. And so we raced down the hill, as smooth as Whippy Griggs’ mullet, to snag the second last campsite in the Old 4WD camp, with two camper vans on our tail, perfect.
This turned out to be our favourite campsite in the NT – a short flat walk to the falls, nice neighbours, big sites, and room for a campfire. All for a measly $13.20 per night 👌🏻.
The falls offer a massive plunge pool with two fast flowing waterfalls hammering 24/7. It was a beautiful place to cool off and bob around on a noodle anytime of day.
The walk across to Buley Rockpool was one of the better walks of the trip so far. It’s not the walk itself so much, but the various swimming holes along the way, offering a chance for a private dip and cool-off before continuing your journey.
The end-point, Buley Rockpool is an absolute ripper, despite the crowds. It’s a series of layered pools over a couple of hundred metres, where you can choose what type of swim you want. There’s the kids splashing about in the top pool; the Grey Nomads lazing in the next crystal spa; bigger kids rock jumping into the next plunge pool; and a swarm of families and backpackers swimming with snakes in the lower, larger pool. And then you have me crawling between them like a swinging voter, keeping everyone on their toes.
While the rest of Australia seemed to be freezing their arses off with a snappy winter, I had managed four swims before lunch – not bad.
Once we’d packed up the following day, we agreed that one final swim at Buley Rockpool was in order. Followed by a viewing of the impressive Tolmer Falls, we planned for a nice lunch and relaxing swim at the Cascades, slightly deeper into the national park.
The Lower Cascades were closed (we assumed because of crocs), but the Upper Cascades had the green light, so we were excited to see what they could provide…
Turns out our lack of research smashed our quads on this occasion… What we thought would be a nice relaxing stroll to the Cascades turned out to be a 2km hike, entirely uphill, in our thongs, carrying lunch, swimming noodles, and Liv on my shoulders.
The swim at the top was nice, but nowhere near as good as the other swimming holes in Litchfield, and not worth the surprise hike. The upside was the privacy we had; it seems others knew what we didn’t, and decided not to hike up there in the hottest part of the day.
With Wangi still closed for swimming, we had a quick Bo Peep then decided we’d seen enough of Litchfield, and returned to the Stuart Highway, headed towards Darwin.
Almost two weeks prior we had booked the WomBatmobile in for a service in Darwin, with the next VW garage several thousand kms away. Due to this very fact, we had time to kill before she was due for her checkup, so we nestled in for a couple of nights at Berry Springs.
This was another place we knew very little about, except that the mango ice-cream at the nearby Crazy Acres was unmissable.
The nature reserve is a ripper – a nice little cascade (that you can breathe underneath) spits warm water into a calm and beautiful big pool. A great spot to relax, especially on a weekday when it’s not overrun by Darwinians.
Our intro to Darwin couldn’t have been better. We had hooked back up with Dan and Abbey and they immediately picked us up from the caravan park (there are none in town) and gave us the royal tour of the city.
As dusk approached we settled at Eastpoint Reserve to watch our first sunset over the ocean since those magical European sunsets of 2012 in Betsy. Better yet they had packed a bottle of bubbles to top off an already magical moment.
Following sunset we were treated to a home-cooked dinner and a few beers at Hall Homestead.
No one loves a market more than Darwinians.
I have to say I’m not usually one to rush to the market – I’d much prefer to cut my toenails than visit most markets. But Darwin does them well, really well.
Over our short stay in Asia’s southernmost city (seriously, 2 hours to Bali and 4 to Singapore – if it wasn’t so last minute expensive for flights, we would’ve spent a week or two abroad) we snuck into three separate markets, all equally impressive.
First stop was Parap Markets, more commonly known as the Laksa and Juice Markets (and I’m not talking about Essendon’s changeroom a few years ago). While punters in their hundreds slurped delicious juices, we shared a lime thickshake, like the amateurs we were, soon to be exposed.
While everyone else’s stomachs were cleansing with juice, we were carrying half a gallon of milk, curdling with lime cordial – not a good foundation for the food that was about to come.
And come it did. The array of Asian food was as broad as a juiced up gym junkie, and as tasty as the lime thickshake that preceded it. Satēs, laksa, mystery meats, dumplings; all delicious and now swirling around a plethora of green milky goodness.
Rapid Creek Markets felt like being in the downtown market of a mid-sized south East Asian city like Sandakan or Chatswood. There was more mystery fruit and veg than crocs in Kakadu, and the mix of Butter Chicken and BBQ Vietnamese Pork Rolls we demolished for breaky was simply sensational.
Last of all, and most famously for Darwin was the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. These are made for tourists and travelers, with whips, chips, dips, and quips all on offer. It’s the sort of market where you want to not only eat everything and get food envy as soon as you order, but also where you could spend a fortune on a heap of stuff you suddenly ‘need’, only to never see those items again as they remain in ‘that’ drawer that exists in every home.
And as the sun begins to drop, everyone migrates to the perfectly tiered beach to strangely applaud the disappearance of the big ball of gas for another day.
And just as sure as the sun sets in the west everyday, fire-twirlers rise from the sand, accompanied by the always ambitious stoner bongoist, who has finally found his calling in banging an endless and over-appreciated motif spurring on the extreme danger that comes from spinning a stick of fire or decades out-dated yoho-diablo.
Fixing the WomBatmobile
Darwin was always going to be a bit of a Wombatical pit-stop, given its distance from home, and any other city big enough to service our vehicle.
First up, we whacked on a new set of front tyres. I also asked them how the hell we could pump up our rear outside bad boys. We’d traveled 15,000km and for the life of me, I hadn’t been able to get a pump to latch onto the inside facing valve. A real pain in the arse for a white-collar numpty such as myself. But to my bittersweet delight, I wasn’t the only one to have a crack at it – a few people much handier than myself (including the maintenance man at our Alice Springs caravan park) had also battled.
The tyre man suggested I buy some flexible valves to permanently attach to the valves, but they didn’t have any. No worries, he said we should be able to pick them up at Supercheap Auto. To my dismay neither Supercheap nor Autobarn stocked them, so I had to order them online to be delivered to Broome, a few thousand kms further.
We also dropped the vehicle into VW for a regular service and to suss out the annoying whistling/squeaking noise coming from somewhere around our front axle since Mount Garnet, about 5,000km prior.
After two full days of diagnosis, holding us hostage in Darwin, they finally identified the issue and knew how to fix it. The catch was that the part needed to be ordered, and wouldn’t be in town until the following week. Damn it. And so, we agreed we had had enough of Darwin by that stage, having already overstayed a couple of nights. So we decided we’d wing it with the part, and instead have them delivered a few thousand kms ahead, to be fixed at a later date in WA. So each day we continue to drive, we make our prescience known with a beautiful squeal that sings as we roll. Fingers crossed we make it to Geraldton.
And so we finally left Darwin, still with a squeak and semi-inflated tyres, just as we entered.
We really enjoyed Darwin as a city, which again was enhanced by the presence of Dan and Abbey, legends. They were also incredibly kind to loan us Abbey’s car while ours was under repair. We took full advantage, spending our time eating delicious grub, watching beautiful sunsets, and taking in all Darwin has to offer including the wave pool and museum.
As has seemed the case in many places along the way, we were lucky enough to snag the last spot at Edith Falls campground. It’s a great campsite, giving everyone an almost infinite amount of space to sprawl, with each campsite on the outside of a great big green patch, facing inwards.
Only 150m down the way lies the biggest pool I’ve ever seen, even larger than our Darwin car bill. The water was colder than our initial reception at Florence Falls, but with the weather perfectly over 30’C, we were in no place to complain – and in fact that it was winter.
Upstream without a paddle
The best Edith swimming spots are further upstream, which we discovered over the following days, having extended our stay.
It was a few km hike to get to Long Hole (including almost stepping on a whip-snake), which was a great place with sandy edges and quiet cascades to spa in.
Upper Pool was closer to camp and by far Edith’s best hole. Although everyone seemed to know that fact, so it was quite busy. It offered a much larger waterfall, jump rocks, sunbathing rocks aplenty, and delicious views. We spent the best part of a day there and rated it one of the best swimming spots in the NT.
A gentle climb to the top of the waterfall provided total solace and a private infinity pool with a view. And with my last decent rock jump in Cinque Terre (Italy) somewhat soured by popping my shoulder out on impact, I was a little fearful of a repeat on the way down. So rather than dropping it like it was in-fact hot, I took the long way around and hiked back to the bottom.
Until Edith, we had not seen another traveling family in a motorhome, assuming we were the only ones. Most families seem to opt for a caravan instead.
But we met a lovely family of four in a self-converted mini-bus from Margaret River, who were en-route to Indonesia to live for the next chapter of their lives. Liv and the two girls, Kiama and Sienna, got on like Trump and Un, and played and played to their little hearts’ content. Liv had been craving kids so the timing was terrific.
Terrific Top End
The Top End gave us so much more than we ever expected, and often in surprising places. The National Parks, swimming holes, barramundi, crocs, views, and people are deep-engrained in our minds as great memories that no-doubt will only enhance and elaborate over time.