Waterfalls and Extreme Heat

BerrySpringsInflow
Berry Spring inflow to Berry Creek

We spent our last day in the Top End on a swim tour of Litchfield National Park. Known for it’s specky waterfalls and plunge pools, the park attracts 260,000 visitors per year (quite a lot for Australia). On our way to Litchfield, we stopped at Berry Springs Nature Park. What an amazing site. The park consists of several discreet springs, many of which feed into Berry Creek.

Berry Springs is a popular recreational swimming spot in the dry season. (Wet season flooding keeps people out for a few months a year due in part to the dangers of crocs moving in.) During the dry season the area is managed to keep crocs out.

BerrySpringsCrocWarning

The springs and creeks combine to form beautiful deep and large swimming holes with riverine habitat in between.

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We moseyed on to Litchfield National Park via the back road, sans bitumen (pavement), and popped out at Cascade Falls, where we took a little hike to a recommended plunge pool at the end.

Hike to Cascade Falls
Hike to Cascade Falls with Randy and Andrew

I thought this beauty was our destination, but then we turned the bend…

Creek Below Cascade Falls
Small plunge pool along the creek
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Lower cascade plunge pool and swimming hole
Cascade falls from above
View of lower Cascade Falls from above
Upper Cascade Falls
Upper Cascade Falls
CascadeFallsPlants
Aquatic flowers along Upper Cascade Falls

 

flying foxes Litchfield
Flying fox silhouettes

We’d been hearing the occasional fruit bat squabble while sitting around the campfire at Humpty Doo, and went to great lengths climbing through the bush after dark to try and spot one. We finally managed to see one in the headlamp while it munched on some tree fruit. When we arrived at Wangi Falls and started walking up a path leading through remnant monsoon rainforest, we quickly realized that we were surrounded by noisy, restless bats, hundreds of them, maybe even thousands, or as they say around here, heaps and heaps! It was a cacophony you can listen to here.

Litchfield is home to the black flying fox (or fruit bat) and the little red flying fox. These critters made the news in 2014 when record heat in Queensland killed 45,500 flying foxes in one day. In Beaudesert temperatures hit a stunning 44.6 C (112 F). Unfortunately, the threat of extreme heat and further population decline for these mammals is growing. In addition to being ridiculously cute, they play an important role in pollination of trees and seed dispersal.

Black Flying Fox (Pteropus alecto)
Black Flying Fox (Pteropus alecto) By James Niland, via Wikimedia Commons
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2012 Special Report on Extremes,

 it is “very likely” that the number of warm days has increased since the 1950s, and it is “virtually certain” that the frequency and magnitude of extreme heat events will increase through this century.

Wangi Falls
Wangi Falls and plunge pool, where Randy was greeted by a water snake as he went for a swim

The Litchfield Park management plan highlights the importance of water-dependent ecosystems of regional significance. It turns out many of the beautiful falls we visited, including Wangi, are spring fed:

There are numerous springs located on the top of the Tabletop landform which provide a
continuous source of water for locations such as Buley Rockholes, Florence Falls,
Tolmer Falls, Wangi Falls and Tjaetaba Falls. It is important to protect these springs
from any developments that may impact the flow or lead to pollution of the waterways.
The Park has worked to ensure that developments on the Tabletop do not pollute or otherwise negatively impact the springs. Unfortunately, it does not have anything to say about climate change or considerations for the park’s water resources and species, given climate projections for the Top End. For now, accommodating tourism appears to be the highest priority.

The biodiversity of Litchfield National Park will face many challenges in the coming years due to  increased visitor use, planned development of park facilities, increased access to remote swimming holes and extreme weather events driven by climate change.

Litchfield had a hint of Disney-like surrealism to it, but what a fantastic way to bid adieu to the Top End–swimming in the cool, clear waters in the heart of some really big dreaming, a place of such cultural and ecological power and beauty that it is at risk of being loved to death.

FlorenceFalls
Florence Falls, photo Randy Serraglio

 

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