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Waterfalls at Litchfield National Park
Photograph: Tourism NT | Jackson GrovesWangi Falls

Your ultimate guide to Litchfield National Park

We tell you the best things to do and the coolest places you can stay in this tropical Top End paradise

Maya Skidmore
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Maya Skidmore
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Litchfield National Park is a lush and verdant corner of the Northern Territory that often gets forgotten. Located just 60 minutes from Darwin, this national park is overflowing with thundering waterfalls, crystal pools and vivid greenery that has to be seen to be believed. In a part of the world where pretty much all bodies of water are to be heavily avoided at all costs (read: saltwater crocs), Litchfield is a special oasis for swimmers and weary travellers alike.

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As the traditional lands of the Marrathiel, Marranunggu, Werat, Warray and Koongurrukun people (amongst many others), Litchfield is a deeply ancient and sacred place that has been protected by its people for millennia. Its wild beauty, profound peacefulness and awe-inspiring views can be experienced year-round – but for swimming, camping and hiking, the best time to head there is the dry season (May to October). During the wet (November to April), you can still visit the park, but expect heavy monsoon rains to shut access to some swimming holes. While less swimmable, the wet season in Litchfield is the best time to see waterfalls at their thundering best, and the green landscape at its absolute lushest. 

So, if you’re headed to Darwin and want to feel like you’re living in a Tourism Australia ad, you should one hundred per cent do a day (or several days) trip to Litchfield. Whether you’re more of a luxe livin’ type, a budget camper, or just someone who wants a refreshing dip without fearing for their life, we’ve put together an ultimate guide to one of the Northern Territory’s best kept secrets. 

Want more Northern Territory action? Check out our guide to Kakadu National Park.

The Best Things to Do in Litchfield National Park

Admittedly, we’re starting off big here, but you know what they say about going home. If you’re in a particularly flush financial place – or just want to splurge on a life experience that you most certainly will not forget in a hurry, look no further than a helicopter tour with Nautilus Aviation. Departing from Darwin Airport, this day trip will take you soaring above the vivid valleys, thundering waterfalls and lush gorges of Litchfield National Park. You get to land on top of a pristine private waterfall at Sandy Falls for a private swimming sesh, far away from other people.

After you’ve dipped in crystal clear waters, sunbaked on red rocks and felt the green quiet of the bush, you will get an airborne ride to the super luxurious 5-star Finnis River Lodge for a bougie, chef-prepared lunch that will have you pinching yourself.

If you’ve ever been awestruck by the rugged beauty of the NT, it’s highly likely that you’ve been looking at a picture of Wangi Falls. The most popular swimming spot in Litchfield, you can only dip here during the dry season, as strong currents and crocs can come by in the wet. If you do come by during the wet, the falls (at their thundering, wonderous best) are still worth a look. Accessible by car on the western boundary of the national park, these falls are 150 kilometres away from Darwin. Surrounded by a lush picnic area, monsoon rainforest and gorgeous walking tracks, this very special spot is perfect for a spectacular freshwater swim that will (probably) make you feel like you’re on the front page of National Geographic. 

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In a land so vast and ancient, it's impossible to discover all of its secrets. However, if you head in with the Northern Territory Indigenous Tours, everything will look very different. In a tiny and intimate group led by Tess and her team of local Indigenous guides, you will get taken deep into sacred country in Litchfield. You’ll see waterfalls, rainforests and stone that all carry their own vast stories, get to swim in clear, croc-safe natural swimming pools, and feast on crocodile, kangaroo and fresh, wild-caught barramundi for lunch.

Expect to hear hidden stories, walk through Tess’s family’s own country, get up close to the magnetic termite mounds, and discover a whole lot more magnificence in what is already a deeply spectacular place. 

If you haven’t ridden on an airboat in the remote wetlands of the NT, you don’t know what you’re missing. Imagine flying – (yes, really, truly flying) over bright purple and magenta lotus flowers, gliding past tiny birds hopping across lily pads so big they can house a whole bird family, and soaring over the surface of glistening water bursting with verdant life. If you’re lucky, you may spot a croc. We were driven by Chase, manager of Finniss River Lodge and the only female airboat driver in the NT. A colourful outback character, Chase has spent a lot of time collecting crocodile eggs from their nests suspended from helicopter.

This very special experience was full of wild stories, we got to wear a water lily pad as a very effective hat, and feeling like we were airborne without really leaving the ground. If you rock up with the aforementioned Nautilus Helicopter tour, this will be your post-lunch activity. 

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Again, if you want a primo Instagrammable experience that simultaneously makes you feel like you’ve transcended reality, the gentle three-tiered waterhole at Buley is one for you. Imagine an opalescent series of freshwater pools set into deep orange rock, surrounded by lush green rainforest. Open pretty much year-round, this swimming hole is special no matter the time of day. 

 

National parks are all about day walks for a reason, and Litchfield is no different. You’ll need a car to access pretty much all of them (and you’ll also definitely need a Park Pass to get in at all), but most of the walks are fairly manageable. You can do a pretty 1 kilometre stroll to Shady Creek and Florence Falls through monsoon forest to a plunge pool, or step it up a notch with an easy 3.2 kilometre walk along Florence Creek, ending with a dip at the beautiful Buley Rockhole. If you like spectacular waterfall views, do the 1.6 kilometre return Tolmer Falls hike – but be warned, there’s no swimming at this one.

You can also do some more walking and/or waterfall viewing (but no swimming) with a 1.6 kilometre loop to Wangi Falls, while the more intrepid can attempt the 39 kilometre Tabletop Track. This bad boy is for experienced hikers only, and traverses savannah woodlands, waterfalls and swimming holes. You can do it solo over three to five days, or, if you’d rather a bit more of a walking safety net, you can go in with a Litchfield Tabletop Tour

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Swimming is a big deal in a state that offers so few safe options, and it’s an even bigger deal when the vibes are this good. The Florence Falls waterfall is a cascading masterpiece that plunges down into crystal waters that you can swim in all-year round.

With a viewing platform located just a three-minute walk from the carpark, this is a fabulous and accessible day trip option for explorers in the NT. If you’re keen on swimming, walk down a 1 kilometre moderate grade track through rainforest and sandstone plateaus, with the plunge pool at the end a welcome reward for all your hard efforts. Bookings here are essential, so you’ll want to make sure you do that before you go. 

Termites don’t always get a spectacular rap, but there is no denying that the Magnetic Termite Mounds that spike across Litchfield’s vast and empty plains are nothing short of magnificent. Over a century old, these massive termite-made structures strike an imposing and otherworldly figure in the most remote parts of the Territory. With some measuring more than 4 metres high, these temperature-regulated mounds have been intricately engineered to be like magnetic compasses, with their thin edges pointing north and south, and their broad backs directing east and west.

You can drive 120 kilometres from Darwin to an accessible viewing area full of boardwalks that take you super close to some epic natural wonders. These are no ordinary ants. 

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Keen on feeling like you’ve stumbled into a magical ruined city in the middle of the bush? Go no further. These glorious free-standing sandstone towers are estimated to be more than 500 million years old (so, no spring chickens), and look set to dazzle with their intricate and towering formations that look like the ruins of an ancient city. Spread over an area as large as a small town, these towers are only accessible by 4WD, and shouldn’t be attempted by anyone who isn’t experienced at handling rocky conditions. Note: Access to the Lost City is closed during the wet season.

If you’ve come to the Northern Territory for epic views, this one’s for you. Tolmer Falls is one of the most stunningly spectacular waterfalls in Litchfield, and you can gaze at its magnificence from two viewing platforms that are suspended high above. Easier to get to than the Lost City, this vista is 85 kilometres south of Darwin, and accessible down a sealed road. You can do a short loop walk to the viewing platforms, or take the path less trodden with a 1.6 kilometre loop track that winds past gorgeous swimming holes, rainforest and sandstone country. Sadly, you can’t swim at this one – but sometimes, it’s nice to look and not touch.

The Best Places to Stay in Litchfield National Park

Being a pristine national park, Litchfield is (thankfully) not built up with a plethora of accommodation facilities. There is no free camping in Litchfield, but there are multiple campgrounds scattered throughout the park – but remember that you have to book and pay online for a pass before you can arrive there in person. Popular campgrounds that have facilities and are close to swimmable water are Wangi Falls and Florence Falls.

Florence Falls is available year-round and is accessible by 2WD, however Central Valley campground is a beautiful and secluded spot that you can only get to during the dry via 4WD. To see all of the many campsites available in Litchfield, including which vehicles you can take in, use this nifty resource.

We love ourselves some bush luxury – and Hideaway is all that and more. Tucked away in the middle of the rainforest, these converted shipping containers are stunning and spacious cabins designed for nature lovers with high-brow taste. Reaching into the tree canopies, these fully air conditioned spaces are equipped with lush finishes, solar panels, gorgeous decks and incredible starry views. Budget seekers can also get in on the action with the air-conned huts on-site. Ultimately, this luxe accomm is designed to be exactly what its name suggests – a hideaway from the rest of the world. 

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If you are someone who really enjoys the ultimate high life, this remote five-star lodge is your girl. Reachable by helicopter (or a 90-minute drive from Darwin, if you’re feeling more down to Earth), Finniss is nestled on the vast Finniss River Station, right on the bright, green banks of the Finniss River. Sleeping a maximum of 12 people, this is an extremely secluded and private experience tailor-made for people desperate to escape the mania of modern life.

Brand-spanking new, this seriously luxe retreat comes with a giant turquoise pool, an all-inclusive chef-prepared food and paired wines. This is an intimate kinda stay, so expect to get very well acquainted with the fascinating people who run the joint. Alongside them, you’ll be taken to explore the vast property, eat canapes amongst the cows, go on an Indigenous-guided tour, and drink many a bush cocktail while gazing at a Top End sunset. 

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