Offroad in Oz: The Lost Cities of Limmen

Parked at the lost city

To continue the offroad section of posts on the site, which I started with my piece on Gregory National Park, here are some thoughts on another less well known and somewhat out of the way park in Australia’s Northern Territory – Limmen National Park.

Where and what is Limmen National Park?

Limmen is a 10,000 square kilometre National Park in the east of the Australia’s Northern Territory. It is managed by the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, and has it’s own ranger station, as well as a number of basic campgrounds, which are either free or very inexpensive to stay at.

It is very isolated, located in a spot between Katherine (305km to the north-west) and Borroloola (76km to the south east).

So what is the point of going to this patch of wilderness in the middle of nowhere? Well, Limmen is probably best known, if that term can be applied, for a number of spectacular sandstone formations, known, rather romantically, as the Lost Cities.

Clearly, anywhere sounding like it might be right out of an Indiana Jones movie is worth an investigation. When I visited, I wasn’t running against any schedule, so decided to take my time to get through Limmen. I ended up spending seven nights traversing the park, starting from the fishing mad Borroloola end, although you could spend much less time if you wished.

Star trails night sky Australian outback camping

Lorella Springs

The first highlight of the trip through the park wasn’t actually in the park at all, although it did require using the park roads. The Lorella Springs Wilderness Park is a privately owned million acre wilderness sanctuary, which offers bush camping in a seriously remote spot.

It also happens to have a rather pleasant hot springs fed river running through the middle of the campground, wherein you can lie in and let the fish nibble at your toes. Plus there is a bar serving cold stubbies, and even a happy hour, signalled by a bell. Almost perfect luxury, given my usual camping conditions at this point. Walking trails are signposted, and the owners are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable about the surrounding area. Worth a visit, if you happen to be passing through.

The Southern Lost City

Lost city rock formation in Limmen National Park Australia

After Lorella Springs I visited the first of the two lost cities on my route - the Southern Lost City. This is relatively easy to get to from the main park road, plus it has a fairly new (if basic) campground right next to it. There are marked walking trails, allowing you to explore the quite eerie sandstone pillars that are the Lost City.

I took a walk at sunset up onto the ridge adjoining the campsite, which afforded an excellent view of the surroundings, then, as the sun set set and darkness fell, retired to the camp area to enjoy the beauty of the night sky in the outback.

Butterfly Springs Campground

The next highlight of Limmen was the Butterfly Springs campground, another wonderful bush campsite set next to a large pool and slowly trickling waterfall. I suspect this would be more impressive during Australia’s wet season.

I camped by the pool and spent a while swimming in it, sharing it with an active Mertens’ water monitor, a large aquatic lizard who spent some time finding tasty titbits to nibble on under the water.

The Western Lost City

View over the O'Keefe valley

After Butterfly Springs it was on to the final port of call in Limmen: the Western Lost city. This is a bit harder to get to, involving a drive down a very sandy 28km track.

Because it is a bit tricky to navigate, and so remote, the access track is usually locked, and to get into it you need to borrow a key from the rangers office, a few kilometres from the start of the access track at Nathan River.

A visit to the rangers office should be on your list of things to do when in Limmen, as it is set in the former homestead of the park, and the buildings are fascinating to look at.

As with the Bullita Homestead in Gregory National Park, there is a small display on homestead life as well as information on the park itself.

After successfully retrieving the key from a wonderfully bearded ranger, it was down the track itself. I took my time and enjoyed the scenery. Finally the Western Lost City loomed into view, and absolutely spectacular it was. There were giant rock columns stretching out into the distance, as far, in fact, as the eye could see.

Western Lost City Limmen National Park AustraliaThese were accompanied by hollowed out amphitheatre formations (lunch was had in one of these, it was quite weird), all surrounded by what seemed to be infinite miles of outback nothing. Truly the middle of nowhere. A short hop and scramble up a path, and there were stunning views across the O’Keefe valley. Once again, it felt I could be the last person on earth.

Highlights near Limmen – Bitter Springs of Mataranka

The bitter springs hot bath near Mataranka

Finally I left Limmen and emerged back into the Northern Territory equivalent of civilisation, near the town of Mataranka. Here it was only appropriate to wash a bit more of the grime off myself in the absolutely amazing (and free!) thermal springs.

The best of these are the Bitter Springs, a thermal spring fed river with a section around four hundred metres long set aside for swimming. The water is absolutely crystal clear, and you can float with the current from one end to the other, sharing the space with countless fish, the odd terrapin, and a few rather scary looking spiders suspended in the palm fronds lining the banks. A truly remarkable way to end a visit to another wonderful part of Australia!

Four wheel driving notes

From a four wheel driving perspective, the main road through the park is not too challenging, being a fairly decent gravel surface all the way, although corrugations, patches of bull dust and washouts can occur. There are also a couple of shallow creek crossings, although as we did the whole thing deep into the dry season, these weren’t a problem.

I would expect the conditions to be somewhat more tricky in the rainy season, or “the wet” as it is known locally.

Some of the side roads to access the Lost Cities or campgrounds are a little more tricky, with deep sandy sections and more difficult river crossings. For more information on things to do, camping, and when to visit, the excellent Northern Territory government page has heaps of information, right here.




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