Shady Creek Walk | Florence Falls
Start - Florence Falls Rd
Length - 1.7km (Loop)
Grade - Green
Terrain - Pavement, Single Track
Vertical Climb - 23m
Time - 1 hour
Signed - Yes
Date Hiked - 12th July 2019
Best Time - Dry Season (May to October)
Directions - Located just over an hour south of Darwin, take Stuart Hwy south until you reach the turnoff for Batchelor Rd. Follow the Litchfield NP signs all the way through Batchelor and Rum Jungle until you reach Buley Florence Rd. The car park for the walk is at the end of this road.
The Hike - With a family trip to Darwin planned as part of Caris' grandmother's 90th birthday, there was time set away for visiting the popular Litchfield National Park, located just over an hour south of the Northern Territory's capital city. Our second last day in the NT was chosen as the date and with a convoy of two cars we all loaded up and drove out to the agreed meeting point near Batchelor, the closest town to the park. Being the dry season, the temperature would be a pleasant 31C with little to no chance of rain expected. Unfortunately that means it is peak tourist season so we would be joined by the masses at each stop as evidenced in the photos (even though I was very selective). With some morning tea refreshments under our belt at the Litchfield Tourist Park we headed off to the first of a few stops during the day, Florence Falls (via the Magnetic Termite Mounds).
The layout of Litchfield National Park creates a situation where the majority of tourists will congregate at roughly the same places at the same times. The main sealed road leading through the park does a bit of a loop and exits to the north (via a section of unsealed road) so if you're coming from the Batchelor end, it makes sense to stop at the first attraction and keep going instead of having to double back. As we followed this particular itinerary, it meant that most of our stops were with the masses and at times it got quite crowded. After checking out the Magnetic Termite Mounds (well worth a stop) we had a bit of trouble getting a park at the Florence Falls car park. After circling around for a bit we found one and met the rest of the group to discuss a plan of action.
As Grannam had just turned 90 and it was warm, she wasn't too keen on doing any hikes so while she went to the lookout, those of us that wanted to take in the short walk (Candy, Hal, Caris and myself) took the opportunity to start. There is a 1.7km loop here that takes you from the car park, along Florence Creek, up on the open savanna and then down through the monsoon forest along Shady Creek towards Florence Falls. Away from the car park it unsurprisingly got a lot quieter as the majority of people just do the there and back part of the walk to the falls for a swim. The path here was nicely constructed with a stone walkway paving the way along the creek and up through the dry grass areas. A small bridge over the creek provides a nice shaded area to stop and check the water for life before moving on to the highest part of the walk.
Open savanna woodlands dominate this part before the trail starts heading down into the monsoon forest below. Spotting a few wildflowers, the mid morning sun was nice to feel as we admired the dry landscape. With the trail heading down into the greener forest, the feel of the walk changed dramatically in a very short time. While the sun was still poking through in places, the sound of rushing water and lush forest made for a very wet feel, something I was enjoying. Unfortunately for this time of year, the chance of cloud cover is next to nil so the sun creates a not very nice combination of bright light and dark shadows, not fantastic for photography. The contrast occurs in real life but your eyes are much better than a camera for adjusting to the conditions so the photos don't really do the place justice.
Following the course of Shady Creek that runs parallel to Florence Creek (the one that feeds the falls), you cross a series of bridges over the creek. Providing plenty of interaction with the water, you get to stay in the heart of the monsoon forest and get more opportunities to explore the tiny rapids. Passing the turnoff for the two day Tabletop Track hike, I had come across this in my planning but didn't have time to add it in so it might be on the cards for a future trip. Passing a cool looking rock wall on the left hand side, this was the hiding place for a few Common Crow butterflies. I managed to get a couple in focus before they moved and it was nice seeing a butterfly that wasn't the usual Monarch variety we get in Western Australia. By this stage I was well behind the others so hurried along towards the highlight of the walk, Florence Falls.
Already I could hear the crowds and as I rounded the corner it became apparent that getting a clear shot was going to be impossible. Dozens and dozens of people had setup where they could and it was a big bun fight to make your way along the paths and to a good viewing point to see the falls. A metal staircase has been put in to make having a swim a lot easier but as we were rushed for time I decided against a swim (there are many other places in the park for a swim). Instead I climbed over some rocks to get to the other side of the creek where I would have a much clearer view of Florence Falls and the swimming hole. It's quite a picturesque spot and outside of the busy school holiday period I could see this being a really peaceful place to relax at. With a few shots in the bag I found the others and we decided that it was best to move on.
To complete the walk you follow the signs back to the car park (not the campgrounds) and ascend the metal staircase that contains 160 steps. If you're not a regular walker it might require a few breaks at the strategically located viewing points where you'll get some views over the monsoon forest canopy. Once you reach the top there is a lookout not far along where you can get some fantastic views looking down at Florence Falls and the swimming hole. With the amount of people around it was a small wait for others to finish with their selfies and pictures before I could get out onto the platform and take my own shots. We met up with the group once again, who were ready to move on to the next destination at Tolmer Falls.
Final Thoughts - Escaping to the warmer climate of northern Australia seems to be norm for me the last couple of years and as always, it's nice to get some hikes in where I can.
Keen to see how Litchfield National Park stacked up against my visit to Karijini National Park in 2018, this was a nice introductory hike in the area. While missing the ancient and impressive gorges, the waterfalls in Litchfield are much better so provide a different experience.
I like that there are walking options to each site within Litchfield if you aren't a "walk to a lookout and leave" kind of person so having the ability to explore a little further away from the main tourist draw cards was nice.
Obviously going in the peak of peak season wasn't ideal as the crowds were quite large but it wasn't too bad that it negatively affected my visit. If you avoid the July school holidays then this will be an even better experience.
Can't argue with a nice 1.7km loop that provided plenty of variety and some nice photo opportunities.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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