Hikers who “go walkabout” in Australia’s Northern Territory often find themselves tramping down the land rather than climbing hills and mountains.
To a foreigner, Australia, at first, seems uniformly flat. From an aircraft window on the five-hour flight from Sydney to Darwin, a passenger can stare down at thousands of square miles of bleak, desert-like “outback.”
It’s only when someone approaches the land that they realize it’s crisscrossed by canyons — like small versions of America’s Grand Canyon — where walkers can find shade and streams to cool off from the searing antipodean heat.
Litchfield National Park, 80 miles south of Darwin, is a popular destination among U.S. Marines looking for a bit of adventure in their free time during a six-month deployment to Australia’s Northern Territory.
Darwin tourism operator Raelene Sainbury said she helped organize a recent visit to the park — including a crocodile watch — for 40 Marines.
The gateway to the park is a small country town called Batchelor, which offers a visitor center and a general store, where guests are advised to stock up on sunscreen and water.
Most people come to the park to camp, hike, picnic and swim. There are also organized four-wheel-drive tours and aboriginal guides who can talk to visitors about the culture and history of the area, which was named for Frederick Litchfield, a 19th century Northern Territory explorer.
The 580-square-mile park encompasses monsoon rainforests, freakishly tall magnetic termite mounds and waterfalls of every size and variety cascading down from a sandstone plateau called the Tabletop Range.
There’s plenty of wildlife to see in the rainforest, including native birds, possums, lizards, wallabies (a smaller relative of the kangaroo) and dingoes (wild Australian dogs).
One member of Marine Rotational Force-Darwin who visited the park — Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Lupold, 24, of Jersey Shore, Pa. — said he spotted a kangaroo.
However, not all Australian wildlife is friendly.
The park’s website advises that the risk of encountering a crocodile in Litchfield is lower than in other parts of the Northern Territory. As a precaution, however, visitors are advised to swim only in approved areas.
If you are in a two-wheel-drive vehicle, some of the most accessible areas in the park include Buley Rockhole and Florence Falls, which can be reached via sealed roads.
Florence Falls are in a canyon below the road. They are impressively large, rising about 50 feet above a large swimming hole that can be reached by descending 160 steps.
Marine Lance Cpl. Chance Voth, 23, of McKinney, Texas — who also visited Litchfield — said the waterfalls were much bigger than ones he’s seen back in the U.S.
“In Hawaii, the waterfalls are tiny compared to that,” he said.
Up on the road the sun might melt the tar seal, but it will be relatively cool and quiet down in the canyon under a canopy of gum trees. The swimming area beneath the falls is larger than an Olympic-sized pool and deep enough for youngsters to dive from impressive heights.
Visitors can hike back to the road via an alternative route that takes them through the rainforest past a cliff that’s home to rock-wallabies — although they are notoriously hard to spot.
It’s a shorter walk, from a car park just up the road, to the Buley Rockhole, which is a series of gently cascading waterfalls and several small swimming holes. It’s a popular place for tourists to experience “Dreamtime” on the warm flat rocks. And if they get too hot, cool water beckons.