Our Litchfield National Park guide gives you the lowdown on the many things to do at Litchfield, from swimming in cooling waterholes and gawking at breathtaking waterfalls to bushwalking, birdwatching and wildlife spotting, and camping under the stars. Do the direct drive from Darwin for a day trip or weekend escape or tack it onto a Kakadu road trip.
Only 100 kilometres south of Darwin in Australia’s Top End, Litchfield National Park is where Darwin’s residents retreat for a refreshing dip in a cooling waterhole when things get hot and sticky in the Northern Territory capital. The allure is Litchfield’s pristine easily-accessible swimming holes, stunning waterfalls, short but beautiful bush walks, and shady picnic grounds.
An added bonus are the enormous magnetic termite mounds, brilliant birdwatching, four-wheel drive adventures (in the dry season only), lush campsites with manicured lawns and tropical gardens, welcoming lodgings with swimming pools, and friendly locals in Batchelor, where you’ll find a few sights, a general store for supplies, and good pub grub and icy cold beer at the Rum Jungle Tavern.
Litchfield’s compact area of just 1,500 square kilometres compared to colossal Kakadu National Park’s 20,000 square-kilometres, its close proximity to the capital, and accessibility to its sights – there’s just one sealed road through Litchfield from which each waterfall or swimming hole lies a mere few kilometres – means that there is a downside. The park can often get crowded with locals on weekends, so go mid-week if you can or stay overnight so you’re the first in for a dip.
Now is a fantastic time to visit Litchfield National Park. With the first of the wet season rains falling, the waterholes are filling up, the waterfalls are more dramatic, and everything is incredibly lush and green.
Litchfield National Park Guide – When to Go, Where to Stay and Things to Do at Litchfield National Park
When to Go to Litchfield National Park
Litchfield National Park is best visited now, at the start of the wet season or during the early dry season when the waterfalls are still flowing. You would have heard the seasons talked about as ‘the wet’ and ‘the dry’, however, the indigenous Australians of the Top End use a calendar with six seasons.
At the time of publishing this guide, it’s nearing the end of Gunumeleng, the pre-monsoon season (mid-October to late December), which comes before Gudjewg (monsoon season, from January to March). April is Banggerreng, the “knock ’em down storm season”, before Yegge, the cooler but still humid season starts in May and runs until mid-June, when the cold weather season called Wurrgeng begins.
How Long to Spend at Litchfield National Park
You could visit Litchfield National Park direct from Darwin on a day trip if you had to, however, if you enjoy bushwalking, swimming, picnicking, and birdwatching, or you simply prefer a more leisurely pace of travel, you’ll get much more out of Litchfield if you stay overnight or even stay two or three days.
You could add Litchfield to a Darwin to Kakadu National Park trip to hike rocky escarpments, admire ancient Aboriginal rock art, cruise crocodile-filled rivers, and gawp at gobsmacking waterfalls. After Kakadu, drive via Pine Creek and Adelaide River to Litchfield and you’re doing what we consider to be one of the best Australian road trips.
While you could do that road trip in a rushed few days, you’re best off taking five days to a week if you want to do some cruises and tours. Alternatively, with a lot more time, you could spend a couple of days at Litchfield National Park, then on your way to Kakadu National Park, call into Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve, Windows on the Wetlands, Adelaide River Jumping Crocodile Cruises, and Mary River National Park.
After 2-3 days at Kakadu continue south to Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine, Mataranka, and Tennant Creek to Alice Springs and Uluru, an epic but easily one of Australia’s best road trips.
How to Travel to Litchfield National Park
You have two choices: self-drive or tour. If you’re short on time, you don’t drive, or you simply prefer to experience places with expert local guides, then a tour that takes in Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks is a great option. Various companies offer small-group 3-day, 4-day and 5-day 4WD camping safaris and tours from Darwin, some of which include Mary River, Kakadu and Arnhem Land, and a stop at the Adelaide River Jumping Crocodile Cruises on the way. Both Klook and Get Your Guide have a good range of Darwin to Litchfield National Park tours and safaris.
However, for us the best way to experience Litchfield National Park is by hiring a 4WD campervan or motorhome or rental car for pick-up in Darwin. Book well ahead for weekends and holidays. While you could stick to sealed bitumen roads, there are some fab sites that are only accessible on dirt 4WD-only tracks and a 4WD is a must if you’re including Kakadu National Park on your Litchfield National Park road trip.
Having said that, many of the 4WD-only tracks at Litchfield National Park close during the wettest months of the year. Before setting out on a road trip, check the Northern Territory Government website for road conditions and park access or call the Litchfield National Park Ranger Station on 08 8999 3947.
In the dry season, you’ll need a 4WD to explore the rugged 4WD-only tracks to places such as The Lost City and Reynolds River. These are closed during the wet season when the roads are impassable, which is when we definitely recommend you hire a motorhome – which also means you can self-cater and enjoy outdoor picnics overlooking waterfalls and sunset barbecues to the bush soundtrack of birdsong.
Eating options are also limited in Litchfield and while the General Store has some supplies and it’s always good to support local businesses, we recommend stocking up on picnic food, tropical fruit, gourmet snacks, barbecue ingredients, and beer and wine in Darwin, and preparing your own meals in your motorhome kitchen and outdoor barbecues.
What to Pack for Litchfield National Park
Start with a copy of Dr Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country: A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia for insights into Aboriginal Australia’s 50,000-year-old culture, history, languages, customs, religion, ceremonies, dance, and arts, as well as invaluable tips on etiquette and cultural awareness, and a directory of Aboriginal tourism experiences.
Along with the swimwear, flip flops, sunhat, and high-factor sun-block, mosquito repellent and coils are essential. Also pack some walking shoes or hiking boots, refillable water bottles, and binoculars for bird-watching. Some 169 bird species have been recorded at the park and most of them during the wet season. Print off this list of birds and check boxes before you go.
You can’t sit on the grass or bare ground due to Scrub Typhus, which can be transmitted by microscopic bush mites, so take a fold-up table, chairs and sun-bed. (See our cute fold-up palm tree stools in our online shop on Society6 with products featuring Terence’s photography).
How to Get to Litchfield National Park
Litchfield National Park is around 120 kms south of Darwin off the Stuart Highway. Follow the signs, which will take you via the township of Batchelor, 95 kilometres south on a sealed road. With a 4WD, during dry season only, you can drive via the Cox Peninsula Road, which is unsealed in parts, or via the 4WD-only Reynolds Track if you were coming from Daly River in the south.
If you’re driving from Kakadu via Pine Creek and Adelaide River to Litchfield National Park, from Gunlom or Waterfall Creek you’ll need to return to Kakadu Highway and continue southwest to the park’s southern exit at Mary River roadhouse where you can refuel. It’s 68 kms to the Stuart Highway junction at Pine Creek, where you’ll head northwest for 118 kms in the direction of Adelaide River.
Pine Creek was the location of the Northern Territory’s first Gold Rush after gold was discovered in 1871, making Pine Creek one of its oldest towns. There are a handful of atmospheric heritage buildings around town including the 1889 Old Playford Hotel and Old Bakery. Miners Park has century-old mining equipment scattered across its dry grass and there’s a tiny museum on Railway Terrace with an old locomotive parked at the old station.
Few travellers stay at Pine Creek, however, if you have reason to spend a night, Pine Creek Hotel, the local pub, has basic rooms and serves the Best Chicken Parmi as voted by 900 Territorians. Pre-pandemic, Mayse’s Café was your best bet for a meat pie.
From Pine Creek, drive 118 kms northwest to Adelaide River on the Stuart Highway. Adelaide River was first settled while the Overland Telegraph Line was being installed but didn’t boom until it became the supply centre to support the defence of Darwin during World War II, suffering bombing from 1942-43 by the Japanese as a result.
Adelaide River’s sobering war cemetery is where victims of eighteen months of air raids are buried. A picturesque place with shady picnic tables and peacocks, it makes a pleasant spot to stretch your legs or enjoy lunch.
From Adelaide River, continue 17 kms north along the Stuart Highway then turn left to Batchelor Road for the 8km-drive to Batchelor, gateway to Litchfield National Park.
Where to Buy Your Litchfield National Park Pass
Unlike Kakadu National Park, for which you need a national park pass, there is no park entry fee for Litchfield National Park, which is free. You only need to pay for accommodation and camping site fees. Before leaving Darwin, download a national park map and information on camping sites, bush walks, birdwatching, and swimming. You should also find this and other tourist information at the Batchelor General Store on the corner of Tarkarri Road and Nurdina Street.
Tips to Visiting Litchfield National Park
Make sure to heed the crocodile warning signs as crocs can be found from time to time in Litchfield’s waterholes, even after the wet season ends. See this guide to swimming in Litchfield National Park and the kinds of warning signs to look out for and what they mean.
When picnicking near the waterfalls and swimming holes, only sit on the raised wooden platforms provided or on your own fold-up furniture, not on the bare ground or grass as Scrub Typhus can be transmitted by microscopic bush mites. This Litchfield National Park information sheet has lots more information on safety, park rules, and what you can and cannot do.
Where to Eat, Drink and Stay at Litchfield National Park
The closest township to Litchfield National Park is Batchelor, a village some 8 kilometres west of the Stuart Highway. It was originally established to serve the old uranium mine at nearby Rum Jungle, which closed in the early 1970s. For most travellers, Batchelor is little more than a stopover to guarantee an early start on the park, yet its leafy streets and lush gardens make it a pleasant one.
What to Do in Batchelor
The diminutive Batchelor Museum has a permanent exhibition on the Aboriginal heritage of the area and the traditional owners, the Kungarakan and the Warrai peoples, the Batchelor Demonstration Farm that was established in 1911 to explore the economic potential of the area, and Batchelor’s role during World War II. Its aerodrome was a base for allied air operations.
Check to see if the Coomalie Cultural Centre is open. Part of the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education (BIITE), it showcases art works by students, so expect to find stunning Aboriginal art, crafts and design products, from vibrant ceramics and metalwork to hand-painted jewellery and accessories. It was also good spot to pick up delicious edible souvenirs made from native Australian ingredients.
At the Batchelor Butterfly Farm, Christopher Horne offers tours of the indoor rainforest that is home to spectacular Australian butterflies, where you can learn about their lives as you admire their incredible patterns and colours. There’s also a small animal farm where kids can pet rabbits, goats and ducks, a licensed café and budget accommodation.
Where to Eat and Drink in Batchelor
The Rum Jungle Tavern is the place to eat and drink in Batchelor, as well as a good spot to meet the locals. Now ran by the friendly McElwee family, who have renovated the place since we were last here, there’s an award-winning pub grub menu that includes locally caught wild barramundi and big steaks with salads and chips, burgers with the lot, a popular Guinness pie, Coffin Bay oysters flown in during season, and a kids’ menu.
There is no supermarket in Batchelor, however, along with fuel, an ATM and a post office, the Batchelor General Store has plenty to offer if you’re self-catering, including groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy, eggs, cold drinks, water, and ice. They also do takeaway food and you can pick up snacks, picnic gear, insect repellent, sun-block, hats, and the like. The owners here are also good source of local information.
Where to Stay in Batchelor
On the outskirts of Batchelor, Litchfield Motel has clean spacious rooms in a range of configurations set around lawns and a green swimming pool. There’s free WiFi and free private parking, along with a bar, casual eatery (seasonal), shop, and petrol station. If the restaurant is closed it’s a 10-minute walk to Rum Jungle Tavern, which offers the best food in town.
Where to Stay in Litchfield National Park
Around 8 kilometres out of Batchelor near the entrance to Litchfield National Park, Litchfield Tourist Park has a variety of thoughtfully decorated cabins and bungalows set in lush gardens. They have microwave ovens and small fridges, and verandas with barbecues, dining table and chairs. If travelling with family or friends, book the Homestead, which has a well-equipped kitchen with proper stove, a big fridge and plenty of space.
There’s also a caravan and campsite and swimming pool. Their excellent little café is only open for breakfast and lunch, so you’ll need to take your own supplies from Darwin or Batchelor or book a BBQ kit for dinner when you book your accommodation. They’ll give you a time to pick it up or arrange to leave it at your lodgings.
At the far western end of the park at Rakula, Hideaway Litchfield consists of two stunning contemporary villas with timber decks with a barbecue and outdoor dining, kitchenettes with microwave, and floor to ceiling windows with bush views. Take supplies and prepare to self-cater as the closest eatery, Litchfield Café, 3kms away, however, is currently closed. The nearest swimming spot is at Wangi Falls.
There are camping sites with facilities scattered around Litchfield National Park that vary from no-frills to good. You will need to be self-sufficient and take enough food and drinks, including drinking water, for the duration of your stay. Litchfield Safari Camp has ensuite safari cabins and budget tents. See this link for more information on camping in Litchfield National Park.
Things to Do and See in Litchfield National Park
From Batchelor, follow the dog-legged Rum Jungle Road 15kms northwest then southwest to the park entrance. See this excellent guide to all the Litchfield National Park bush walks with a map and information on the walks, including durations and distances to waterfalls and important information such as whether swimming is permitted. Below are our picks of the highlights of Litchfield National Park.
Magnetic Termite Mounds
Soon after you enter the park, you’ll notice colossal 2-metre high magnetic termite mounds on dusty plains, looking like tombstones in a cemetery. Standing in a north-south orientation, their clever configuration prevents their total surface from being exposed to the sun at any one time, thereby acting as a temperature control mechanism. The mounds change with the light, appearing golden red in the morning and late afternoon, and a dull grey in the middle of the day.
Continue driving southwest to the next turn-off for Buley Rockhole, 3 kms off the main road.
Consisting of an easily accessible series of small natural swimming holes through which mini waterfalls flow, Buley Rockhole makes a wonderful spot for a swim for children and non-swimmers especially. An easy 3 kms (1.5hr) walking trail follows Buley Creek to Florence Falls. There’s camping close by.
Continue driving along this road for another 5 kms to Florence Falls.
The twin 20m-high Florence Falls are two of the most spectacular waterfalls in the park. They can be enjoyed from the lookout above or you can take the stairs – all 160 of them – down to a natural swimming hole at the base of the falls. An alternative 1km (30-minute) walking track passes through cool monsoon forest and more open woodland.
Return to Litchfield Park Road, turn right, and continue 15 kms to Tolmer Falls.
Plunging down from two lofty rocky escarpments to pools far below, the magnificent Tolmer Falls, a mere 500m from the main road, must be the park’s most photographed cascades. The falls can be appreciated from the cliff-top lookout opposite due to the rare orange horseshoe bats and ghost bats that inhabit the area. With a professional guide, you can do the 30-minute cliff-top walk along the top of the falls to take in ancient cycads but swimming is not possible.
Continue along Litchfield Park Road for another 11 kms to the turn-off to Wangi Falls on your right.
Only 1.5 kms from the main road, beautiful Wangi Falls are the most accessible for swimming with stairs and ladders into the enormous waterhole. There’s a café, barbecues and wooden platforms for spreading out your picnic blanket (remember not to sit on the ground; see above) so naturally its gets crowded on weekends and holidays.
Note the swimming warning signs. The pool is closed during the wet season due to strong undertows and the usual crocodile threat. A 1.6 km (1.5 hour) walk winds along a boardwalk around the base before stairs climb up the escarpment above the falls. (Swimming not allowed).
Driving from Litchfield National Park and Bachelor to Darwin
From the Batchelor Road and Stuart Highway junction, drive north along the Stuart Highway for 40 kms to Cox Peninsula Road then turn left (west) in the direction of Berry Springs for 11 kms to the Territory Wildlife Park, which we highly recommend you see on your way back to Darwin.
Territory Wildlife Park
The sprawling Territory Wildlife Park is one of Australia’s best, with miles and miles of walking tracks running through a range of different habitats found in the Territory and an abundance of fauna and flora typically found in those environs. There are walk-in aviaries, aquariums, a nocturnal exhibit, and birds-of-prey display, and when you find it too hot to stroll you can hop on a free train that continually circles the park.
From the Stuart Highway and Cox Peninsula Road junction, it’s 47 kms northeast along the highway to Darwin