Termite Mounds

Not only does Litchfield Park have spectacular waterfalls, it is also home to hundreds of magnetic termite mounds. Unique to northern parts of Australia, the two metre high structures are built with their thin edges pointing north-south and broad sides facing east-west.

Amitermes meridionalis, commonly known as the Magnetic Termite, have cleverly grasped the concept of thermo-regulation and this orientation creates high humidity and stable temperatures within the mound.

A large mound may house up to a million termites comprising the queen, king, reproductives, soldiers and workers. Although the exterior is hard and durable, the material inside separating the chambers and galleries is a papery texture.

Another fascinating inhabitant of this area is Nasutitermes triodiae, the Cathedral Termite. Their mounds are much bigger, reaching four to eight metres in height and the hollow columns inside create a central air-conditioning system to enable the colony to remain cool.

There is a very impressive example of a cathedral termite mound, estimated to be over 50 years old, surrounded by a boardwalk to allow for closer inspection.

These feisty little insects have a long, horn-like snout with which they can cut grass to add to saliva, sand and faeces to make the mound. They can defend the colony by shooting chemical secretions from their snout to irritate and repel invaders.

Some Aborigines believe that anyone who knocks over a mound will get diarrhoea. Coincidentally, termite mounds contain high proportions of kaolin, a compound used for the treatment of indigestion and diarrhoea.

Tolmer Falls

Feeling inspired by our Wangi Falls expedition, we ventured 10km further down the road to walk the 1.6km Tolmer Creek loop before lunch. The trail started with an easy amble along a flat path surrounded by scattered rock formations

and sporadic blooms of Sturt’s desert rose. The floral emblem of the Northern Territory, this delicate flower was named after the explorer Charles Sturt. Interestingly, the stylised version on the official flag has seven petals instead of five.

Hundreds of cycads dotted the prehistoric landscape.

The male plants grow a large, pollen producing cone on the top of the trunk but the females grow a cluster of stalks that grow upward until the seeds at the end get heavy and they droop. They are not recommended for a bush tucker menu as they contain a neurotoxin and are poisonous.

The track became steep and rocky as we neared the top of the falls, taking a moment to ponder some carefully constructed rock art.

The crystal clear water of Tolmer Creek trickled its way over golden sandstone to the edge of the escarpment.

We were rewarded with awe-inspiring views and spectacular cliffs as we made our way to the viewing platform.

Explorer Frederick Henry Litchfield named the falls after his late father’s colleague in the South Australia Police, Alexander Tolmer. The water cascades over two high escarpments into a deep plunge pool where swimming is prohibited.

The panorama from the other side of the viewing platform was quite different but equally as impressive.

Wangi Falls

It is many years since I have been to Litchfield National Park and on my recent sojourn to Darwin, a visit was included on the agenda. Named after Frederick Henry Litchfield who explored the Northern Territory in the mid 1800s, the 1,500 square kilometre park is a comfortable 90 minute drive south of Darwin. The park has several stunning waterfalls and crystal clear swimming holes, the largest being Wangi Falls.

In 1883, surveyor David Lindsay named the falls after his youngest daughter, Gwendoline. Forty years later, Max Sargent took up the pastoral lease over the area and renamed the falls after his second daughter, Kathleen, who was born in 1954. The Townsend family took over the lease in 1961, built an outstation nearby and called it Wangi, the local aboriginal name for the area. Consequently, the falls became known as Wangi Falls. There are actually two cascades at Wangi, the morning sun wasn’t conducive to photographing the narrower stream flowing to the left of the main falls.

We set off on the Wangi Loop Walk, a 1.6 kilometre circuitous trail that climbs the escarpment to the top of the falls and returns on the other side of the pool. Colonies of flying foxes roosted above us, not bothering to seek shade for their morning slumber.

Meandering streams tumbled their way through the lush forest,

the canopy opened up to reveal a breathtaking vista as we neared the summit.

There is no view of the actual falls from the top and it is surprising that these trickling water courses create such a spectacle as they plummet over the cliff.

Smaller waterfalls accompanied us as we twisted and turned our way down a series of stone steps

to return to the pool for one last look at the majestic Wangi Falls.