Sunday, 6 October 2019

Wangi Falls (Litchfield National Park)

A spectacular short walk in Litchfield National Park, the Wangi Falls Loop explores the area around the namesake waterfall. Starting at the picnic area, the trail heads along boardwalks along the edge of the large waterhole before entering dense rainforest. Rising up the escarpment, the trail provides fantastic views of the landscape before returning to the foot of the falls. A fantastic short walk, this is a great introduction to the Top End

Distance: 1.2 km (loop)
Gradient: A mix of gentle, level walking and moderately steep descents and ascents via switchbacks
Quality of Path: Generally clear and well maintained trail with constructed steps and railings in places
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow trailhead, with markers along the way. All trail junctions are clearly marked
Experience Required: Some Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: <1 Hour (depending on if you swim or not)
Steps: Many steps, particularly leading up and down the cliff
Best Time to Visit: Best when the falls is not closed for swimming. Check for closures during the wet season
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts at the Wangi Falls picnic area. From Darwin, take Stuart Hwy and turn right heading east on Cox Peninsula Rd before turning left onto Litchfield Park Rd. Continue on Litchfield Park Rd for 66 kilometres, and then turn left onto Wangi Falls Rd. Car park is located at the end of the road

After a spectacular end to September with the Yued Ponar Trail, October would prove to be a surprisingly epic month of travel. With Alissa joining me in Melbourne for the school holidays, our original plan had been to make another trip out to the Grampians, however a work trip to Darwin ended up giving Alissa and I the last minute opportunity to go explore an area of Australia we'd never been. Excited by the prospects but with October temperatures in the unbearably uncomfortable range, Alissa and I decided to stick to short walks in Litchfield National Park. On the advice of our friend Mark from the Life of Py, we decided to tackle the Wangi Loop Walk as a first priority.

Starting at the car park on a sealed track, the trail leads directly to Wangi Falls for the majority of visitors who only come here for a swim, however to the right of the main track is a boardwalk with signs indicating the way to go to complete the loop walk up to the top of the falls and back down to other side.

The boardwalk passes through stunningly lush scenery as it traverses the creek downstream from the large pool beneath the falls. As fans of lush tropical forests from our adventures in Queensland, Alissa and I were really enjoying the scenery already.

While we had opted to skip the main pool entrance and get going on the loop, it was only a few minutes into the walk when we arrived at a lookout perched at a perfect location to take in the beauty of Wangi Falls. Unfortunately the early morning visit, which was chosen to beat the forecast high of 38 degrees(!), did not line up with the best time to avoid the glare of the Sun above the falls. Some fortunate cloud cover did come through to block out the worst of the Sun's rays, and I was able to get the above photo in the brief window of opportunity.

From the falls the trail heads through a section of rainforest that looked very typical of the Gondwanan rainforest remnants that can be found in such disparate locations as subtropical South East Queensland and the temperate rainforests of Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. Gondwanan Rainforest is one of my favourite kinds of forest to walk through, so I was loving the scenery as much as the cool shade's relief from the tropical Top End heat.

We weren't the only ones enjoying the shade of the forest; above us hanging from the trees were hundreds of bats taking their morning rest with their heads tucked into their wings.

With the trail having started on sealed track and then boardwalk, the section through the rainforest eventually gave way to unsealed trail as it made its way to the transition point between the rainforest and the dry savannah grasslands beyond.

The unsealed track didn't last long; upon reaching the edge of the rainforest, the trail rises up a sealed stone path leading to a lookout point.

Along the way, Alissa and I passed a fairly barren looking clearing. An informative sign indicated that this area is actually filled with native ginger, which provides a spectacular show of pink flowers after the wet season, only for the ginger to die back to a bulb and restart the cycle for another year.

Leaving the edge of the rainforest, the trail once again traverses well constructed boardwalk as heads back into the forest.

Just off to the side of the trail is a small flowing creek. When driving into the park, the expanse of dry savannah is so dominant it seems unbelievable that there would be any permanent water flowing, however not unlike Karijini and Millstream-Chichester National Parks in Western Australia, the springs and aquifers of the desert allows these small pockets of lushness to survive in places where water is most often a case of a feast or famine with little in between.

The Wangi Falls Loop's next major feature is a lookout that provides a tree top experience in the canopy of the rainforest.

Filled with the sound of birds, bats and insects, the view of the forest was a lovely and entirely worthwhile addition to the trail, and Alissa and I took a moment to take in the stunning rainforest scenery before us. While note quite as exceptional a rainforest tree top lookout as those on the similarly named Wonga Walk in New South Wales, this was nevertheless a highlight of this trail.

Heading up from the lookout, the trail rises up to the top of the escarpment and transitions to savannah woodlands. Looking down below, Alissa and I could see the woodland extending out beyond the rainforest almost as far as the eye can see.

Levelling out as the top of the escarpment, the trail once again features surprisingly well constructed trail paved in the stone of the area.

Although Alissa and I visited the walk before the closure of the climb on Uluru, it was obvious that this wasn't the first time the Northern Territory Government had taken into account the cultural sensitivities of the traditional owners. The top section of Wangi Falls is prohibited from access, both as a safety measure and due to the area being an Aboriginal cultural site.

Reaching the top of the falls, a bridge crosses Wangi Creek. While there are no good views of the head of the falls from the location, it provides an opportunity to take in the lush environment, with decent views upstream.

Continuing along the loop, Alissa and I reached a trail junction. On a less obvious trail heading away from the falls is a section of the Tabletop Track. One of the Northern Territory's premier multi-day walk trails, the Tabletop Track has been on my to-do list for a number of years, and it was nice to get this little sample of what the trail has to offer.

After the trail junction, the Wangi Falls Loop begins its descent on the north side of the falls.

As with the rest of the trail, the construction was of a very high quality level, with steps and a railing for the main section of the descent.

Leaving the dry savannah woodlands behind, the trail reenters the lush rainforest that surrounds Wangi Falls' pool.

As the trail turns to descend parallel to the pool, a small waterfall can be seen flowing just to the left of the track, reminding me of the often surprise mini-waterfalls that can be seen along walks in South East Queensland like the Warrie and Coomera Circuits.

Just before reaching the end of the loop, the trail passes the edge of the water hole with the water visible through the dense rainforest.

Since we started the walk, more families had arrived but we had nevertheless largely beaten the crowds by the time we finished the loop. A cool visitor by the water's edge was this massive lizard just near the steps into the water.

Being fed by a spring, Wangi Falls flows all year round, however it is at its best in the wet season when the monsoonal rain turn the falls into a raging torrent. With the rain comes floods and the chance of freshwater crocodiles making the area unsafe, so while less spectacular than the falls at their best the timing of our visit did mean Alissa and I were able to go for a swim and cool off. As with Queensland, the cooling relief of the water was fantastic and made for a perfect end to an excellent short walk.

While very short at 1.6 kilometres, Wangi Falls was an enjoyable walk that provided us with a greater sense of the rainforest environment of Litchfield National Park than merely going straight for the water hole. As a fan of Gondwanan rainforests, the scenery definitely appealed and I appreciated seeing the transition to savannah landscapes near the top of the falls. Overall, it brought back fond memories of the walks Alissa and I enjoyed when we were in Queensland - just with even more severe humidity! It only added to the relief when we went for a swim, and I thoroughly recommend this as a good introduction to walking in the top end. 

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