“One, two, three, go!” yelled the father and his pre-teen son and daughter, as they cannonballed into a circular pool, fortunately quite deep though just 4 to 5 meters wide. The mother snapped the picture just before the three hit the water with a huge splash. Then they tried it again, and again.
We had just left the four of them after sharing the spa-like pool high atop the Tjaetaba waterfall in Litchfield National Park. The park is a forested preserve notable for its many clear pools, streams and waterfalls, most of which offer pleasurable dipping and swimming. All this water flow results from Litchfield’s unusual terrain: the center of the park is actually an elevated sandstone plateau which holds water like a sponge and releases it down the sides into the plains below.
These features attract many locals and a lot of tourists who flock here for a pleasant getaway by car and caravan. It’s close to Darwin; the park is just an hour or so away, either by dirt track or more circuitously along sealed highway and roads.
So, it’s a challenge during the weekdays, let alone the weekends, to get off by oneself and find any of these pools relatively empty. The larger ones – Florence and Wangi – where you can get in a good swim as well as a cooling dip, are guaranteed to have dozens, if not hundreds of people enjoying them, but they’re at least big enough to spread the people out a bit. The only way to get away from the madding crowd, we discovered, is to hike through the dry dusty terrain up the escarpment, where only the hardier tend to go.
That’s why we decided to hike to that circular pool atop the waterfall, a heated thirty minute climb. But we were not to be alone. At the trail head, we first talked with those four family members. They took some time to consider their options while covering themselves in bug repellent. But they proved in no hurry to explore, and open to whatever challenge lay before them. All four maintained a good pace up the challenging hillside and would have arrived before us except for their detour to view the falls first from a lookout off a side trail.
When we arrived up top, we dipped into a slightly higher and larger pool, which turned out to be much too shallow and weedy to enjoy. When the four showed up a few minutes later, they headed straight for the circular one, which was hemmed in by a broad rock ledge that ended in the steep dropoff of the waterfall beneath it. The father almost immediately plunged into the circular pool headfirst. Perhaps he could tell it was deep enough, or maybe he was just foolish, but he was fine. He invited the children to follow his lead, which they did repeatedly.
The diving eased off as we joined them, but we soon discovered that the family had plunged into a very different lifestyle as well as this pool.
They had been traveling and camping around Australia for nearly six months, with another six to go, in order to explore the country and its people. The parents had decided that the children would gain a lot of wisdom and experience from a year away from school. “They certainly know how to swim by now,” the father laughed. But he then underscored what they, and the adults, had gained from the people they had encountered and from their exploration of their country.
During the year, the mother and father were teaching the children the formal lessons they might have covered in school, using opportunities along the way to make lessons in math, for example, truly practical ones by, say, handling money. The mother was a nurse anyway, so she was accustomed to administering learning along with her duties.
It was so easy to include instruction on the road, they noted, as the school had referred them to a number of online resources and learning tools, which they supplemented with others they uncovered. They had not completely abandoned the real world, for the father had left his business in good hands; he checked in regularly, but without too much distraction. And this hiatus had given the parents a chance to consider other options for their own lives after the year was done.
They admitted that many of their friends hadn’t agreed with what they were doing. Yet, clearly to us, they were happy together and showed few doubts about their course.
With a drive ahead of us, we said goodbye and left the pool to them, as hand in hand they dove again and again into the deep hole. We passed others heading uphill to the pool, which would soon be a lot more crowded. But we were pleased to have learned what this enterprising family was doing, pleased to have shared that zest for exploration and adventure that was, perhaps, the best learning their children would gain.
(Also, for more pictures from Australia, CLICK HERE to view the slideshow at the end of the Australia itinerary page.)