A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
Written 11 September
There is something about waterfalls. I don’t know what it is precisely. But there is something inherent to the nature of a stream or river rushing over rocks and letting gravity take over. When I’m choosing a hike in the mountains, ‘waterfall’ is one of the selling points for any trail, usually far above ‘great flora along the trail’ and ‘scenic overlook’. The only thing that deters me from waterfall trails is the fact that everyone else seems to have the same preferences. If I see a waterfall and am disappointed it is usually because I’ve set my expectations too high. Were I to come to the same waterfall unawares that it was along the path I would be pleasantly surprised.
And such is why I’m now in Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory.
There are a couple national parks up here in the Top End. Everyone around Australia, at least on the backpacker circuit, has an intention of going to Kakadu. Pristine land, Aboriginal culture and rock art, crocodiles. It sounds like a pretty solid reason to have a national park. But there is a counterculture movement around the country as well. Those that were underwhelmed by Kakadu and have dubbed it Kakadon’t. For them, the same breath always includes a recommendation for Litchfield. The weird thing about this all is that very few people have actually articulated anything behind that thinking. There are statements that Kakadu is overrated, but no indication of how or why or about what. There are claims that Litchfield is gorgeous, but no real explanation of what there is to do or see here.
The road into the park from the north is unsealed and badly corrugated. For the 20km into the park it felt like the car was going to shake apart. If I had been drinking a soda it would have been flat by the time we hit the gates. The park itself is well maintained, with sealed roads, clear trails, well-signed directions and distances, and very consciously designed camp grounds. For something that isn’t the top billing park, I’m pretty impressed. For something 2 hours away from the smallest capital city in an area the size of Texas with a population of 200,000, I’m even more impressed that it has received both the funding and the manpower to keep it up.
Since we arrived mid-afternoon, we were only able to do one of the waterfalls so far – the Cascades*.
The hike in was a promising one. After a bit of flat dirt we arrived at a sign that indicated the need for water, a hat, and sturdy shoes. I had all three, along with a paw paw** for a snack. The two German girls I’m traveling with had a small bottle of water between them and were wearing thongs (flip-flops). As the path turned to angular rocks, sharply chipped stones, and slick water crossings I was glad for my Chocos. The girls still somehow seemed to manage.
The waterfalls were pretty; of that I have no complaints. And the pools below them were large enough and deep enough to permit swimming. After hiking in 30 degree heat for any amount of time, washing off in the cool water beneath a waterfall is a pretty good next step.*** There weren’t an abundance of people, those there were fairly quiet, and everyone seemed pretty chilled out and contented to just look at the falls or take pictures of them. There were a couple downed trees in good alignment. And the lighting was pretty bright in places and well shaded in others, giving me a good range of options for photographs. There were large spiders on huge webs and a meter-long dragon sunning himself on a log.
When someone describes a pretty locale, or why they liked a certain end-point of a hike, those are usually the reasons. Cool wildlife, pretty waterfalls, ability to relax there. Granted the photographic lighting is usually not topping the list, but the rest is pretty much the litany. But it was something beyond all of that that really made the area stand out to me more than a similar place would have. It was the rocks.
I’m in the Outback now. This is red dirt country. The iconic images of natural Australia are of red dirt, and orange rocks. And though the dirt in Litchfield seems just slightly the orange side of normal light dirt, the rocks seem imbued with red. As we stepped over well-worn surfaces, the smooth dents gave way from deep crimson to muted fire engine. Blacks and light greys seemed present mainly to highlight the reds. And as the creamy red rocks jutted out from the pristine waters around the falls, and the crystal clear waters amplified the sunlight shining down on the sunrise orange rocks under the surface, I felt excited to be here.
* For all the things the parks do well here, creativity in naming is not one of them. Cascades. Curtain Falls. A few falls named after people. Really the naming across many parts of Australia is fairly uncreative. Those spots that aren’t named after people associated with them are usually given monikers like Horseshoe Bay and Crescent Bay and Bridal Veil Falls. There are exceptions of course. Botany Bay is one of my favorites, named such because of the amazing diversity of plant life there. Bay of Fires is another, because of the vibrant colors seen from the ship that first gazed upon it (discounting the Aboriginals who already lived there). And there are a host of names that were given based on things that occurred at a certain locale. Cape Tribulation is where James Cook (not yet Captain at the time) ran aground on the reef and nearly sank. Murdering Point… well, you can figure it out.
** Think papaya that has marginally more flavor. Barely. That might be margin of error and it might just be papaya by another name. (Yep, just papaya by a different name.)
*** A couple weeks ago I got back to my car and found I had missed a call. I got to call back and give one of the best excuses I’ve ever had: I’m sorry I missed your call; I was showering in a waterfall.