Check out Part 1 to get the full story first…
Day 3 – Crystal Falls to Seventeen Mile Falls
Those same beautiful cascades that we relaxed in yesterday, were our first task to cross the next day with compulsory wet feet. Not long afterwards you can enjoy the views looking back over Crystal Falls as you pass on your way. A great way to start the day. This is the first real ‘high’ viewpoint that the trip gave us and I enjoyed the variation, to what for an experienced, off-track walker, could be perceived as a bit samey-samey terrain. However, I was promised a breakaway from the level plodding pace later today, when we were due to take the side trip to a place called the Amphitheatre.
This is an option only and clearly signposted on the track, but one I highly recommend. I could see the change in vegetation from about 500m away, with thick, dark, verdant green canopy hanging over the trees ahead of us. This was in stark contrast to the sparsely growing and light penetrating trees of the eucalypts and other shrubs along the rest of the route.
As soon as we took the first step down the steel staircase towards this natural amphitheatre in front of us, we knew we were in for something special. Lush, shadey and cool, the temperature must have dropped by at least 10 degrees. Down, down we went, dropping the 80m or so to the first of the vivid Aboriginal art sites that nested within. Again, there was good time for interpretation by Jakob and a bit of time for those of us with good fitness and experience to explore further in. If you’ve got some rock climbing skills there’s a few special treats here for further exploration. However, climbing isn’t the only skill you need… DOWN-climbing, along with someone to spot you, is the key to these ;-).
This was to be a day of multi-highlights as we approached our campsite for the night and had plenty of time in the afternoon for exploring. About 200m upstream was one of my favourite swimming holes – it was an isolated 100m long double Olympic Pool. The pool wasn’t the only thing this site had going for it though. The campsites were perched above a series of gentle cascades that then plunged over a 100m high cliff to the valley floor (and home of saltwater crocodiles) below. Views – tick, swimming – tick.
Now, speaking of crocs… the first thing that came to my mind when I heard about hiking in the Northern Territory, was avoiding these (not so) little blighters. I mean seriously, I don’t think that there is another creature on this planet that looks more evil in it’s steely gaze and ‘trust me, I move slow’ – yeah right! – kind of way.
But here’s the good news… actually, the great news. Apart from that moment when you step off the 90 second boat trip at the start, all the areas of the Jatbula Trail are saltwater crocodile free. This is because the whole trail is up on top of an escarpment that you (very gently) ascend on the first day and guess what? Crocs can’t climb – whoop whoop!
This means that all the amazing waterholes and swimming spots along the way are yours (and only 14 other peoples) to enjoy. It’s these, along with the well placed campsites conveniently right alongside some of the best of these billabongs, that truly are THE highlight of the entire trail.
Day 4 – Seventeen Mile Falls to Sandy Camp
Now, back to that samey-samey terrain thing. For people who haven’t done a lot of multi-day hiking trips, you may not even notice it. In fact, it’s one of the things that makes the Jatbula the ideal first multi-day trip for someone, as you’re not going to be having moments of lugging a heavy pack up a mountain – it just isn’t that type of walk.
However, what does change on day 5 is the vegetation. This is because it’s the day that we leave the 17 Mile Creek system and cross over into the Edith Falls catchment. You’ll be hard pressed to notice the gentle up… then down… as you do so, but the trees and grasses seem a brighter green and there’s more of them, as opposed to the first few days.
Now, a few mates who’ve done this track before had said things like, ‘the campsites just keep getting better and better.’ Well, after the cracker of last night at Seventeen Mile Falls, I wondered how it could be improved upon… but OMG. Sandy Camp. I think I love you. No, I KNOW I love you.
Walking into Sandy Camp around 2pm (the longest day of 16kms) there was a sound that suddenly took me back to the many times I’ve worked in the South Pacific. It was the sound of Pandanus trees, gently being tickled in the breeze – tap, tap, tap. The support act was the feeling of the hard packed and rocky ground, giving way to a sandy beach. Without a doubt, this campsite wins hands down. Again, warm blue skies, shadey trees and if you really wanted to, you could roll out of your mozzie dome (no tents needed in this weather) and into the water.
In the final episode, we taste the sweet water of Sweetwater Pools campsite AND get my top 5 tips for hiking the Jatbula Trail.