|The 'lost city' in Limmen NP - Quick Facts|
Limmen National Park is located approximately 475km southeast of Katherine and 182km northwest of Borroloola.
Best time to visit the Gulf Country is during the cooler, dry season April to early October. Daytime temperatures can be very hot and nights can be very cold.
Tucked away in a seldom-visited corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria west of Borroloola, it's a must-do stop on the trans-continental Savannah Way that crosses the top half of Australia between Cairns and Broome. It's a remote and rugged place steeped in culture and history, with spectacular sandstone formations, numerous rivers and wetlands. And so far, no-one seems to know it's there, so you won't have to share it all with hundreds of other tourists.
Driving the Savannah Way from Cairns, you'll cross the Queensland/Northern Territory border just west of the Hell's Gate Roadhouse, which earned the rather Dantesque name in the nineteenth century as the point on the map where the police escort officially went home, leaving travellers on their own until well on their way towards Katherine, 475km to the southeast.
Next stop is Cape Crawford, home of the Heartbreak Hotel (there are caravan sites out the back) and little else, but worth a mention as it is the place most people stop to take a helicopter sightseeing tour over the Lost City, a large expanse of tall sandstone columns only accessible by air. It's a worthwhile joyflight that takes you over the Abner Escarpment onto a plateau on McArthur River Station. The area was once an inland sea, the water seeped into the rock and eroded it, breaking it into columns up to 25m tall, and from the air you get a good idea of how these natural sky scrapers were formed. You can also do a two-hour ground tour that includes a 1.5km walk around the base of a small section after being dropped off by the chopper, which returns to pick you up and fly you back later.
If you've had enough of the dust by now, you can hit the blacktop at Cape Crawford and take the Carpentaria Highway to Daly Waters on the Stuart Highway, but if you keep to the dirt and head north-west to Mataranka via Roper Bar you'll drive right through Limmen National Park.
Here, at the Southern Lost City you can take a walk though another lost city, getting a ground-up view of what you saw from the air the day before.
You can wander amongst identical towers on a one-hour walk without a single fellow traveller in sight, for free! At 1.4 billion years in the making, these rocks are some of the oldest in the world. They consist of 95 per cent silica and are held together by an outer crust made mainly of iron, giving them their unique red colour, especially at sunset.
There are two lost cities within the park. The Southern Lost City, the more accessible of the two, is 35km south of the Nathan River Ranger Station. It's a three-kilometre track in from the main road with a two-kilometre easy walking trail among the rock formations.The track winds its way through clumps of prickly Spinifex and it is prime snake habitat, so wear long pants.
You will need a key from the Ranger Station to unlock the gate at the start of the 28km track. It begins just north-west of the Nathan River Ranger Station and ends at a 300-metre walk and short climb to views over the O'Keefe Valley. Call and organise the key prior to your visit, as the Ranger Station is not always attended.
Lost cities aside, the many lagoons close to the main road are a bird watchers delight, but most people come for the fishing, especially the elusive barramundi. With the Roper, Towns and Limmen Bight Rivers flowing into the Gulf of Carpentaria to the east, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy fishing. Boat ramps and basic camp grounds are provided at Towns River, Tomato Island and the privately-run Limmen Bight Fishing Camp outside the park, but you will need to be self sufficient with food and water.
You can also camp at Butterfly Springs, a beautiful swimming hole surrounded by paperbacks and exquisite fern-leaved grevillea ablaze with dainty orange flowers during the dry season that attract hundreds of birds to the oasis. It's also home to thousands of common crow butterflies that cover the sandstone wall to the right of the pool and arise en masse when you approach.
Butterfly Springs is the only place in the park considered safe for swimming, although not suitable towards the end of the dry season as the pool becomes stagnant. Do not swim in any of the rivers or creeks in the park as they are inhabited by estuarine (saltwater) crocodiles.
Another good camping area, but without any facilities, is beside the Lomarieum lagoon beside St Vidgeon ruins. Not far from the Roper River, the large water-lily covered lagoon is a haven for birdlife. Set up camp, pour yourself a glass of wine, cold beer or cup of tea and you'll be hard pressed to find a better sunset view in the Gulf.
Article by Lee Atkinson, September 2005. Image courtesy Tourism NT.