Stunning Katherine Gorge, the major attraction of Nitmiluk National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia, is an absolute must see. Katherine Gorge shows that the most impressive experiences in the Australian Outback do not cost an arm and a leg, do not have to be shared with a kazillion other tourists, and they do not require any special preparations.
The 180,353 hectare Nitmiluk National Park is typical rugged Australian Outback country: red rocks and escarpments, and dry bushland with pockets of rainforest along streams and water holes. Wherever there is water the area is teeming with wildlife: lizards, insects, birds, turtles, and even harmless freshwater crocodiles.
On top of the natural beauty, flora and fauna Nitmiluk offers insights into Aboriginal history and Aboriginal culture. The rock art you see here is up to 7000 years old. The traditional owners, the Jawoyn Aboriginal people, only regained the title to their lands in 1998. They have the area its name: Nitmiluk – meaning Cicada Place.
The main attraction of Nitmiluk National Park is Katherine Gorge itself.
No visit to the Australian Outback is complete without a flight, cruise, canoe trip or hike up the spectacular 12 km Katherine Gorge, winding its way between red sandstone cliffs up to 70 meters high.
23 million years it took the Katherine River to form this natural wonder … An amazing region that can be discovered and enjoyed in many ways.
For those with little time there is the usual array of boat tours and scenic flights to choose from. Both can be recommended and will reward you with impressive views and spectacular photos to take home.
However, Katherine Gorge is also one of the big tourist attractions in Australia where it is very easy to get away from the tourists …
Here are some suggestions on how to do just that:
Go hiking along Katherine Gorge
The shortest track at Katherine Gorge is a 400 m steep clim near the Visitor Center and boat ramp. It will take you to a magnificent spot overlooking the start of the gorge. Many of the Katherine Gorge promotional pictures are taken from here (and almost every visitor to the park will come up here to take a photo …).
But for those who want to get away from the masses and explore the gorge further there are another 100 km (!) Of marked walking trails winding through the park, including serious full day and over night hikes. You will not see many tourists on these.
For example you can walk along the rim of the gorge to Smith's Rock, which marks a huge fork in the river. This full day hike offers breathtaking views and opportunities to duck down to the gorge itself for a swim. Other trails take you to scenic prospects (Windolf Walk), secluded swimming spots (Southern or Northern Rockhole) or simply beautiful places well worth visiting (Lily Pond and Butterfly Gorge, which really is filled with butterflies …).
The king of all walks is the Jatbula trail, a three to five day hike to Edith Falls (now called Leilyn), the popular lake and waterfall in the north western part of Nitmiluk National Park. The hike spans 66 km and leads away from Katherine Gorge, through scenic rocky country to spring fed creeks, waterfalls, wetlands and pockets of rainforest. It is well marked and not technically difficult in any way. Above all it offers stunning scenery. However, it IS a five day walk and requires fitness and preparation.
Go canoeing in Katherine Gorge
Canoeing is my favorite way to see Katherine Gorge. The days in the Australian Outback are hot! If you're in a canoe you just slide over the side, cool off and climb back in … But there is another reason:
You often read that thirteen individual gorges make up the Katherine Gorge. They are actually sections of one and the same gorge that become separated by rock bars and boulders when the water level drops during the dry season. Tour boats have to stop at these rock bars, canoeists do not. A canoe is the only way to explore the whole length and the most spectacular parts of the gorge.
If you choose to go on an overnight trip you will often find that you have the more distant parts of the gorge entirely to yourself. No other people, no tour boat engines, no shouting and splashing. Wildlife does not take much notice of a canoe quietly moving along the still waters here and you will see a lot.
One and two person canoes can be rented for half a day, a full day or over one or more nights. The rental of the canoe includes waterproof containers for your food, sleeping bag, camera, tent, change of clothes, whatever you wish to take. No special preparations or equipment are needed.
An overnight canoe trip in Katherine Gorge definitely gets my vote as the number one experience in the Australian Outback!