Magnetic Mounds and Fabulous Falls

Published: September 13th 2014
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Florence Falls, Litchfield National ParkFlorence Falls, Litchfield National ParkFlorence Falls, Litchfield National Park

This was the most spectacular of all the falls in the park. Can you imagine what it would look like in the wet season? The falls in Litchfield are still flowing well during the dry (unlike those in Kakadu nearby) because the sandstone plateau soaks up the wet season rains in underground cracks, like a giant sponge. The water seeps out during the dry.
Today we got started a little earlier to try and see things before the heat of the day got too bad but when I began fixing stuff for a picnic I found all the bread had gone off again. It doesn’t last long in this humid heat! We went into Batchelor and got the bread and a few other groceries and then noticed a Post Office tucked away in a room at the back of the store. I needed more stamps for postcards to Mum in England and wanted to mail a small gift to Stacey for her birthday, so we temporarily abandoned the shopping basket and went in. Barry wanted to post a letter and asked where the post box was. He was directed to a metal waste bin sitting atop the desk with a large marker pen sign saying “Mail Here”. He looked a little worried and double checked it was for posting, “yes”. Hope it makes it out of the office!

After finalising the shopping we went back to put it all away, with a short stop as we left Batchelor to look at the little castle I’d seen on the corner. It was a replica of
A Replica of Karlstein Castle, PragueA Replica of Karlstein Castle, PragueA Replica of Karlstein Castle, Prague

This castle was standing proudly at the edge of town in Batchelor. It was built by Bernie Havlik in the 1974 - 78, a Czeck who had lived and worked in the area for more than 20 years as a uranium miner and then as a town gardener. He hated this outcrop of rock as it was hard to keep tidy so he decorated it, instead.
the 14th century Karlstein Castle, near Prague and was made by Czeck, Bernie Havlik, as a gift to the town and to cover a particular outcrop of rock that he hated. It took him 4 years, from 1974-78, to complete, despite ill health towards the end, and he died with a waterwheel he was trying to finish under his bed. He had done a number of jobs since coming to Australia but spent most of the time as a uranium miner at the Rum Jungle Mine, until it closed in 1954, when he became one of the crew of town gardeners. The town erected plaques to recognise his work and his contributions to the community over the years, which was good.

At the van, I finished making the picnic and we set off for Litchfield National Park, Our first point of interest was the Magnetic Termite Mounds. These are wide, flat mounds that are very thin edgeways and are all built in a North-South orientation. It looked amazing seeing hundreds of them lined up so precisely. Scientists had wanted to know how they did it as the worker termites are blind, so they made a little damage to the
Magnetic Termite MoundsMagnetic Termite MoundsMagnetic Termite Mounds

These are called Magnetic Mounds because the species of termite that builds them uses the Earth's magnetism to determine North and positions every mound facing North/South. They are also very thin, almost like a blade at times. This means that one face of the mound is always in the shade and helps them maintain a constant temperature inside.
mound and then put some strong magnets nearby to counter the Earth’s magnetism. Sure enough, the termites began to repair it but following the “new” magnetic line. We learned from the information board that these termites prefer to build with rich black soil that is found on flood plains, unlike the Cathedral Termites that prefer dry land. You could see both types but not together. The Cathedrals built in amongst the trees and the Magnetics built on the open plain next door.

Just across the car park we noticed a very large Cathedral Mound and went to get a closer look. It was the largest we’d ever seen, standing about 7 metres tall and dwarfing Barry when he stood next to it. Behind it was another, not so tall but very wide. These mounds really are impressive, and built by tiny, blind insects!
Next we went to Buley Rockholes, which are a set of waterholes leading up to Florence Waterfalls that are deep enough to swim or soak in. Lots of people were doing just that and it looked really cool, which was confirmed by some ladies we’d met at our caravan park. I really wanted to join them
A Massive Cathedral Termite MoundA Massive Cathedral Termite MoundA Massive Cathedral Termite Mound

This impressive mound was just across the car park from the Magnetic ones. We calculated it must be 6 - 7 metres tall. The deep grooves in the mound are what helps provide air circulation and shade to help keep the temperature constant inside regardless of the outside temperature. They are also fire and flood proof.
but Barry was insistent that we keep going and have a swim later, so I reluctantly came away.

Just up the road was the lookout over Florence Falls, which was spectacular. The water was falling in two wide, fast streams down a very long drop into a deep plunge pool at the bottom, where more people were swimming. Unfortunately, it was 135 steps to get down to to the bottom of the gorge, and again back up, so we just admired it from the top. Then, as we were leaving we encountered a couple we’d spoken to at both the Termite Mounds and Buley Rockholes. They’d just walked the 1.7 kms with no water to drink and wearing strappy sandals or thongs. They hadn’t realised it was so long – and they still had the same distance to return. We offered to take them back to their car, which they accepted, after demurring politely a couple of times. I could see the lady’s feet were already giving her trouble so there was no way she would manage the return. We also gave them some water. They had some at the car but that doesn’t stop you getting heat exhaustion!
Buley Rockholes, Litchfield NPBuley Rockholes, Litchfield NPBuley Rockholes, Litchfield NP

These lovely natural rockholes lead up to Florence Falls. They are a favourite spot to swim or just cool off.
Even with lots of water I was still feeling it.

We got them safely back to their car and continued on to see Tolmer Falls, and they did the same. We read the information board when we arrived and decided to do just the 800m walk to the lookout and back, rather than the 1.5 circular track, as the heat was making us flag a bit. We set off and found the going less easy than we had expected, involving lots of scrambling up rocky outcrops and steep stone steps. After about ½ hour of this we came across another board and Barry realised that we’d been doing the long walk and were about 2/3 of the way through it so we may as well keep going. It was a pretty walk, if you could take your eyes off the path for a second to look around. There were lots of flowering shrubs and a few birds. One tiny bird, about 10cm, we hadn’t seen before was the Mistletoe Bird, with his lovely crimson chest and underpants was busily feeding on some berries in a tree. He was lovely.

We also saw Rock Wallaby scats but no sign
Tolmer Falls, Litchfield NPTolmer Falls, Litchfield NPTolmer Falls, Litchfield NP

The gorge is very beautiful from the lookout, although the falls are not bug at this time of year. Unfortunately, you can't go into the gorge as it is closed to protect some rare bats' breeding caves (good reason!).
of the animals, they hide away in the day time. The lookout showed us down into a deep gorge looking at another waterfall and the monsoon forest hidden in the valley. We weren’t allowed to go down into the gorge or to the river as there are some rare bats, the Orange Leaf-Nosed Bat and the Ghost Bat, which live in caves along there so there is a preservation order on the area.

I was really feeling the heat by then and had a headache and was getting a bit dizzy, despite drinking almost 2 litres of water. I made it to the ute, though, and felt a bit better in the air conditioning as we headed for our last port of call, Wangi Falls. We had been hoping to find a nice cool, sheltered spot to eat our picnic but no joy so far. On arrival at Wangi, we found there was a café which was cool and decided to get some cold drinks, and on seeing the menu, had some burgers, too, steak for Barry and chicken fillet for me. We sat with our new friends to eat it and then went to change into our swimming
Wangi Falls, Litchfield NPWangi Falls, Litchfield NPWangi Falls, Litchfield NP

This was our last stop for the day so we took advantage of the Plunge Pool at the foot of the falls to cool off. Barry was finding it a little too cool to walk into!
togs. It was just a short walk to the plunge pool at the base of the fall and there were benches where you could leave your clothes and concrete steps leading into the water (with very spiky stones in the concrete – like walking on a stony beach!).

We dropped our stuff and got straight into the water, which was cool but not too cold, even for Barry. I immediately felt my temperature come down, which was bliss, so we stayed up to our necks in the water for about an hour. We had a good view of the two falls, one with more water coming over than the other, as they fell past some caves high in the colourful rock face. We could see some Sulphur-crested Cockatoos right at the top sitting on the rocks, too, and the inevitable Black Kites soaring around.

There was a sand bar across the middle of the pool, which kept that area shallow enough to stand in, but signs warned that beyond it the water was very deep on both sides. A couple of people swam over to the foot of the falls but we decided we were safer staying in the shallows. Having been so hot and tired, we didn’t want to risk getting tired halfway across the deep parts, and the swim was quite long. We kept coming across warm eddies flowing through the cool water as we walked or swam over the sand bar and there were some fish, 6 to 8 inches long, swimming around us. They seemed to be looking for food being stirred up as we walked in the sand. Barry deliberately wiggled his toes to create more dust and the big one got up really close. We talked to a few couples who were also enjoying the cool water so the time passed quickly. We were beginning to look like prunes and I’d started getting cramp in my foot so we figured it was time to leave, reluctantly.
We dried off and dressed and then jumped back in the ute, air-con on of course, and went back to Banyan Tree Caravan Park, feeling greatly refreshed. While I was hanging our towels and costumes on the line in the stiff breeze that had sprung up, I saw some more Australasian Figbirds and a pair of the large, white Pied Imperial Pigeons.

We had a light meal for dinner and Barry sat watching a couple of movies with the headphones on while I did my blog. We haven’t been able to get a good enough signal to get the TV. When I got too stiff, I went for a walk in the cool of the night under the full moon so I could see my way easily. Barry went to bed and I tried to finish the blog, but kept falling asleep. The last time I awoke I could hear shuffling outside the door and when I got up to see what it was, a bounding away. It’s the little wallabies, I’m sure, but I didn’t see them.

This is such a lovely area to stay, I wish we could have a few more days. Unfortunately, we’re getting worried about the heat. We’ve talked to a few of the locals in the last two days about the weather and have been told that we are now in the build-up to the wet season, which will continue to get hotter, more humid and more oppressive until the wet, which may not arrive until near Christmas. They say the build-up has started early this year but once it has started it doesn’t stop until the relief of the wet. We are going to feel like this across the top of Western Australia, too, so we have to decide whether we’re going to continue round to the West or head back down the middle and do the other half next year. We’ll see how we go in Edith Falls and Katherine over the next few days.


15th September 2014

Falls'd make a good painting
Love the picture of the waterfalls. I could imagine Dad painting that, it would have appealed to him.
16th September 2014

Dad's Falls
Yes he would have. They were all beautiful. I think I've sent Mum a postcard of one so I hope she likes it too.
16th September 2014

Not going West after all
Thanks Branka. We are having a lovely time, although we've had a breakdown at the moment and are waiting for some parts to come to repair the van suspension. It has got too hot suddenly so we are heading for Alice Springs as soon as we're back on the road. We'll do the West next year.
29th March 2015
Magnetic Termite Mounds

Magnetic Termite in aboriginal language
Hi Kathy, I had a look to your very interesting blog. I found those magnetic termites quite fascinating, so small but being able to build a perfect building from a bio-climatic point of view. I was wondering if by any chance you know the name of those termites in aboriginal language - I know there are many different ones grouped in families, but not that many where those termites lives and build those cathedrals. Many thanks in advance from Belgium. Regards, Olivier
29th March 2015
Magnetic Termite Mounds

Magnetic Termites
Hi Olivier, Glad you enjoyed the blog. The Magnetic Termites, Amitermes Meridionalis in Latin, are fascinating. The tall Cathedral mounds are built by the Spinifex Termites, (Nasutitermes triodiae). Unfortunately, I don't know the Aboriginal names for them. The Queensland Museum has a very interesting fact sheet on Magnetic Termites if you'd like more information but it doesn't include the indigenous name either. There was also an experiment done to find out how the termites can align the mounds so accurately. The study put magnets near mounds that were just getting started. They were not able to build the mounds normally. It appears they really do use the Earth's magnetic field to make their alignment.

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