We’re trying to make the most of living in Darwin and the dry season by getting out and about to some of nature’s playgrounds that typically close during the wet season, which runs from about October to April. The wet season brings high humidity, rain and crocodiles – all of which aren’t that much fun if you want to get outdoors to explore!
So last weekend we headed south to the Douglas River region about two hours drive south of Darwin. Our first stop was Butterfly Gorge Nature Park. It was an incredibly bumpy 4WD route into the gorge and there are no amenities or much shade for parking. Thankfully though the five kilometre return walk to the main pool has plenty of shade to escape the heat – yes, the dry season is still hot – but minimal humidity makes the weather so pleasant! We negotiated a rocky and at times steep path into the gorge and main pool.
After taking is slowly down the final descent, we were ready to hit the water. But we were planning to swim across the main pool, shimmy up some rocks and rock hop and swim our way to the upper pools in the gorge. And, considering we have two children who can’t swim – well one that can but doesn’t trust his abilities, and the buoyancy of a the life jacket we insist he wears. While the other child thinks he can swim, but really can’t. We knew making it to the upper pools was going to be a tall order. I should add here that the swim across the main pool should certainly only be done by children with strong swimming abilities, unless you are using life jackets or other floatation devices. The water is deep and the swim across is probably about 60 metres.
Red happily took up his position in a floatation device that The Husband swam across the main pool, while I had D-Man. With his life vest secured we started the swim across. Holding hands to swim only makes it all the more challenging for both of us, and half way across in the deep waters, D-Man decides he wants to turn back.
His screams to stop and return to the safety of the shore echoed throughout the gorge, probably to the great surprise to travellers all the way back in the carpark! After a quick pep talk, he overcame his fear and chanted “we are a team” until he reached the relatively safety of the rocks on the other side. They were very slippery and didn’t provide any shallow footholds for him.
The Husband had already managed to shimmy himself and Red out of the water – I have no idea how he managed this solo – and leant down to pull D-Man from the water, while I boosted him up.
The shimmy through the gorge reminded us of our spider walk at Hancock Gorge in Karijini National Park. Once on the other side there was another deep but short swim pool to get through before we could continue rock hopping up and up.
Past shallow pools with little waterfalls, and deep turquoise pools we travelled, very thankful for our reef shoes. They helped to grip on smooth wet rocks, and protected our skin from burning on the sun-drenched dry rocks.
But despite our exploring of the upper pools, we opted to return to a small shallow pool with its very own waterfall. The sandy bottom was perfect for the kids to splash around and The Husband and I enjoyed the water massage on our head and shoulders under the cascades.
We spied a few butterflies, we assume they were Common Crow Butterflies for which the gorge is famed. But the pesky Marsh flies were all that greeted us elsewhere.
Thankfully our return swim was uneventful, except when Red leant forward telling us he saw some fish swim by. It nearly ended in drink!
We discovered, thanks to some lovely fellow travellers, a shortcut back to the carpark via the river. It involved two waist deep water crossings then a very short flat walk to the start – much better than that steep rock-hopping we would have had to endure!
Back in the car, we headed to the Douglas Hot Springs – also known as Tjuwaliyn. This thermal hot springs is mother nature’s most luxurious day spa – and it doesn’t cost a thing! The water can reach very high temperatures; so do test the water before stepping in. Also, make sure you stay on any marked tracks and within the public areas. Much of the local area is home to the local Wagiman people and contains many sacred women’s sites.
We found our own peace of paradise and pulled up stumps for more than an hour! The boys loved relaxing just as much as we did! The shallow water and sandy bottom again a great draw card for littlies.
The hot springs are quite extensive, and the further downstream you go the cooler the water. You can also camp right beside the hot springs if an overnight trip is more your style. Fees do apply and you can pay in the honesty box.
It was late afternoon by the time we tore ourselves away from our soaking pools to make the trek home. We took the scenic route back and if time had permitted we would have done the walk into Robin Falls on the way.
Instead we stopped for dinner at the Adelaide River Inn. It’s home to the famous 303 bar and has a resident five-metre crocodile named Jock that was caught terrorising boaties at a nearby boat ramp. It’s also where you can see ‘Charlie the Buffalo’ made famous in Crocodile Dundee 1 and 2. Thankfully both are more subdued in their stuffed state!
It was a great day trip from Darwin and might even try to get back again before the end of the dry season!