Crocs in the Swimming Hole

Published: October 9th 2021
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Today we'll be heading a hundred kilometres or so south down the highway to Litchfield National Park.

We stop for a break in the centre of the small town of Batchelor. "Town" is probably stretching it a bit. I'm not sure we've been to too many other settlements where you need a "Town Centre" sign to confirm that that's what you've arrived at.

First stop inside the park is a viewing area for hundreds of termite mounds. We saw lots of these along the road on the way here as well, and they seem to be a very distinctive feature of the Top End landscape. We read that there are two main types of termites here. The cathedral termites build the larger and more chaotically shaped mounds, some of which are nearly five metres high and can be up to 100 years old. The other main type, the magnetic termites, build smaller thin mounds. They seem to have worked out that if they align them precisely north-south they'll always have somewhere to go to maintain the high humidity and stable temperatures that they need to survive. Now that we know this I guess we can use the mounds as compasses if we manage to get lost out here today.… not that that's probably going to help us too much - the bush looks pretty rugged and if signs are anything to go by most of the waterways are infested with crocodiles.

As we look at the termite mounds we overhear a young lad quizzing his dad about the wonders of nature in the Territory. Questions include whether crocodiles are the same as sharks, and if not are they the same as dinosaurs. Dad doesn't seem to be paying too much attention, so I think junior might be in for a slightly confused childhood.

Next stop is Buley Rockhole, which is a series of pools between some small waterfalls. It's clearly a popular swimming hole, and we both climb in for a pleasantly cooling dip. We think it's good that they've kept it entirely natural without steps and hand handrails; well we do until we try to get out and find that it's almost impossible to scramble up onto dry land over the steep and very slippery rocks.

We continue on to the spectacular Florence Falls where we scramble down 135 steep steps (not that anyone’s counting) to the large pool at its base. Swimming’s the activity of choice here too, and Issy jumps in for a dip with the masses while I try to take some happy snaps.

Next stop is Wangi Falls which has the park's only cafe. We get chatting to the proprietor. He says that it’s a bit quiet here today because the pool at the base of the falls is closed to swimmers. We ask why. He says the water level's up a bit, which means the currents are too dangerous. He then casually adds in that there are also a couple of crocodiles in there at the moment. Hmm. I think we might have been able to cope with the currents, but I'm not sure that that would have done us much good if we'd then been dragged off to our deaths by a marauding croc. He says that they're only freshwater crocs; it seems that the saltwater ones, the "salties", are the ones we’ve really got to watch out for; the "freshies" might only chew an arm off. That's good to know.

Issy falls asleep on the grass while I head off for a peek at the stunning falls and their croc-infested swimming hole. As usual I can't seem to resist a little adventure, this time a steep hike up to the top of the falls. The views out over the escarpment are spectacular. On the way back I can't seem to resist heading off the track and bashing my way through the bush to a spot at the edge of the swimming hole which doesn’t seem to be accessible from anywhere else. As I’m lining up another happy snap I can’t help but notice what looks suspiciously like a couple of eyes and a snout sticking up just above the surface a couple of metres from the bank. Well it might be that, or it could just be some rocks. I wonder if I should throw something at it to see if it attacks me. On reflection that's probably not a great idea. Maybe I should just move away and see if it’s still there when I come back. It’s not. Uh oh. Oh wait on, I think I might be looking in the wrong place. I wonder if croc paranoia starts to wear off after you’ve been up here for a while….

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