Four day Maguk walking trip with the Darwin Bushwalking Club

Tripadvisor rating: 5 stars *****

We did a 4-day bushwalk with the Darwin Bushwalking Club that I highly recommend to keen bushwalkers who are comfortable with walking in the tropical climate of the Top End of Australia. We walked in August, towards the end of the dry season, and luckily the Top End breeze picked up at times during our walk. From previous walking experiences in the dry season, we know that temperatures and humidity can change quite quickly based on pressure system changes over the mainland of Australia. This time we were lucky – the nights were even a bit cool and we definitely needed our sleeping bags and some of us put their thermals on.

Our tour guide for the 4-day walk was Chris. He deserves a 5 star rating for his expert planning, permit application, preparation and navigation during the walk. We met our tourguide and the rest of the group on the outskirts of Palmerston, from where our journey started. The drive to the Maguk campsite was very smooth. At no stage we were slowed down by grey nomads with big campervans, roadtrains or roadworks. And with only a quick stop in Jabiru, we made it into Maguk campsite well before sunset. For a car camping site, this camping spot deserves the maximum number of stars because of the size of each individual camping spot. We had expected a busy area where we had to huddle our tents together but there was plenty of space for us to spread out a bit. We did not need to be concerned of sleeping next to a snorer! Snorers might actually not be the worst; we would recommend to stay away from fellow walkers with Sea to Summit sleeping mats – although comfortable and light weight, they can be very noisy when the bushwalker turns over in their sleep. The campsites all have their individual firepit which is excellent when you have a prepared bushwalker in the group who loaded his vehicle up with fire wood.

An early start of day 1 of our walk where we planned to walk from the picnic area to Piccaninny Falls. Our tourguide had disclosed to us that he had never walked in this area yet so he wasn’t familiar with the terrain. Day 1 was our second longest walk so leaving early (7.30am departure from the campsite) seemed like a reasonable – though unpleasant- thing to do.

Our walk started and we easily found our way up to the top of the waterfall. Getting around the cliff was a bit trickier; the obvious path led us to the lookout though without ability to continue along the gorge; the guide thought the lookout was worth the detour and made us believe he had planned it this way. When we got back on track, we enjoyed the walk along the top of Barramundie Gorge and the beautiful vistas over the trees and cliff faces. Once we scrambled down to creek level, we had a stop somewhere along the river before our walk continued towards a beautiful site with flat rocks, pools, cliff faces and rainforest trees. We were informed that this would be the spot for our third night’s camp; definitely something to look forward to!

We soon left the gorge area and continued along the creek; to our surprise, a well formed track led us through the grassy woodlands. It appears quite a few people (and animals) do this walk. It made navigation quite easy and the walking pace a lot faster than we had expected. We found the turn off creek quite easily and made our way upstream. The path along this side creek was less well trodden and the ground a bit more rocky. We would not recommend this walk to people who are wheelchair bound or have to push a pram; walking shoes are of more use than wheels on this terrain. Before long, we found a beautiful rockpool and waterfall.

I thought we had already reached the campsite – I had been informed that the first walking campsite was small; the sandy patch near the lower pool was tiny; I wondered how we would ever fit 6 tents in there. Our guide Chris had kept a good eye on the map and new our proposed campsite was another few 100 metres upstream, above the falls. We all agreed though that this spot was worth a stop and a swim. Excellent spot to cool down and have lunch. We later learned that this first swim was Cheryl’s highlight of the trip: the first swim brings you into the true relaxing mode of bushwalking. I give this swimming spot a 4.5 star rating; the loss 1/2 a point is due to the fact that I ended up with multiple mosquito bites (apparently this is why I was invited to join the walk; a mosquito attractor keeps mozzies away from other walkers).

After lunch, we scrambled uphill over a goat track and made our way past beautiful cascades and an infinity pool until we reached our first campsite next to the creek.

A lovely sandy beach where we could fit our six tents without difficulty. Many more than that would have been a tight fit. A few of our group wandered back to the infinity pools mentioned before; it was straight away clear that our swimming experiences on this walk would be great though the water was very cold. Something that led to some audible displeasure from Tomoko. She made it into every swimming hole however. The volume of sound we heard after she entered the water gave us a good indication of how chilly the water was.

After our swim, we set up camp and started to get ready for dinner. Our fire master Scott had already set up the wooden tipi shape for the campfire. We finished our dinner, but where was Scott? We were all surprised that when the fire was going, Scott brought out his lightweight home made metal rack and a 300g steak to be cooked over the coals from the fire. It appeared that the metal mesh was too heat resistant and Scott decided to cook over the flames. The smells were just amazing. If I had been able to eat a steak like that at camp, I am sure I would have given the restaurant a 5-star rating. Unfortunately, Scott only catered for himself – we just ate our dehydrated curry (which by the way was very nice too). In our estimated 150 years of bushwalking experience, nobody had ever seen a steak being cooked on the campfire!

At the campfire, our walking guide gave us the good news that we only had to leave camp at 8.30am or shortly after. He explained to us that this trip was supposed to be a relaxing trip: relatively short walking days with plenty of time to relax, swim or birdwatch after arrival in the camping area. The smiles on the walkers faces were sufficient indication on how much agreement there was with this plan. It also meant that the walks were relatively short and there was no need to rush. Enough reason for the keen birdwatchers (Greg, Tomoko and Chris) to get the binoculars out to look at interesting winged animals along the way. They created a birdlist with 36 species, with the following highlights: emerald dove (on the walking track into Maguk), brown falcon (flying over the gorge), little shrike thrush and white throated gerygone (campsite 3). Five stars for birdwatching on this trip.

Our goal for the second day was Allosyncarpia pool; this campsite was actually the main reason this trip was planned in the first place; as walking is the only option to get to this pool and Kakadu National Parks were so kind to approve the permit in a timely manner, we were able to get to this amazing place.

Our tour guide Chris required his best navigation skills as we went cross country to our destination, this time without a pre-formed track. Tomoko was amazed that every time she counter checked on Avenza, it appears that Chris’s route was exactly on track. The majority of this walk was dry, but we still managed to find a surprise at the end of a dry creek bed: a large gorge area even with flowing water. How amazing would that fall be at the end of the wet season! Maybe we should do this walk again another time earlier in the season? My highlight of this day was the small detour to the edge of the cliff, looking out over the Barramundie Creek line and the escarpment on the other side. What a beautiful place to sit and reflect on life. We were very happy that we followed our leader’s advice, dropped our pack and made the short climb to the top. From this point, it was only a short walk, with one steep and slippery descent to the Allosyncarpia pool and campsite. Despite the fact that the waterfall was not flowing anymore, I still give this campsite a 5-star rating. I would even give more if I could. A spacious sandy area under magnificent Allosyncarpia trees.

It wasn’t hard to find a good spot to set up our tent, with plenty of room for everyone. The swim in the pool was beautiful though a bit cool. Sophia was clearly the bravest swimmer in our group; she would be in the water soon after we arrived at camp and also had a dip every morning. I personally prefer a coffee to wake me up. Sunset and sunrise at this magical place were both amazing, with the ever changing colours of the rocks surrounding pool and campsite. And the trees make it even better. Most of us were perfectly happy to relax, watch birds, practice yoga or taichi, read in this area although Greg could not resist to make the walk to the top; he was however not able to convince anybody to leave the beautiful campsite.

On the morning of day 3 we were woken up by a chorus of friar birds and kookaburras. Such a good way of waking up at sunrise! Today’s walk was our longest day, but we expected an easy walk mainly over flat ground and – at least partially – well formed tracks from previous walkers. We made good pace and were at the day 1 junction quicker than expected. We decided to walk for another hour with the aim to find a good swimming/lunch spot. We kept an eye for dingoes as we had seen paw prints on the way in  (one of the group members even caught a glimpse of a dingo from far away).  Our tour guide was happy to leave someone else in charge of navigating; she did really well and brought us to a beautiful shady spot next to the creek with plenty of shade and good swimming opportunities just upstream from Barramundi Gorge. Scott and Sophia could even do laps if they wanted to. And we admired the waterlilies that were still flowering. One of our meal time routines was checking out each others’ meal choices. I was surprised with the variety of Back Country meals that is on offer; I had no idea they do soups, desserts and even breakfast. Japanese cuisine was regularly on the menu for one of our group members. For dinner, we saw a few Continental pastas of the white variety. And besides steak, our fire master brought out some marshmallows to toast above the fire on our last campsite.

After lunch we made our way to our final campsite, the flat rocks where the gorge makes a 90 degree turn. As Sophia correctly noted, our tourguide had planned the camp sites perfectly – they were all equally beautiful, just different. There were a few pools close by for swimming and we shared the pool and sunning terrace with a beautiful water monitor – a highlight for the day. Our campfire today was probably a bit smaller than the day before, but the surroundings not less beautiful. And because a cool breeze had picked up, we could definitely use the cozy warmth. The stars during our 4-day Kakadu trip were mesmerising. Greg taught us about the dark emu in the sky which we now all recognise. Chris discovered how amazing it is to look at the milky way through binoculars: it is suprising how many extra stars one can see when looking through a pair of extended eyes!

At the end of the evening, we voted on the way out for the walk the next morning: the same way back through and along the gorge or a new route via a small side creek. Most us of voted for the alternative route. We were all glad we did this! The creek bed was very shady and not difficult to walk and navigate. We admired flowering Darwin Woolybuts, many birds and native lemon grass. Cheryl even spotted a goanna along the way. It wasn’t long before we were back on top of Maguk Waterfall. Despite the fact that another tour group had just arrived at the pool, we all thought that we should have a final swim. The water in Maguk pool was lovely and pleasantly cool, but not cold. What an enjoyable way to end our walk!

We made our way back to Darwin and stopped for the post walk lunch at the Bark Hut Inn. After that, we explored Mitsuaki Tanabe’s granite carvings along the Stuart Highway and admired the size of the carved rice flower (aka MOMI). A nice way to end a fantastic trip!

Thanks to Chris for this 5 star trip!

And thanks to the other walkers (Cheryl, Greg, Scott, Sophia, Tomoko) for the great company!

Until next time!