The Katherine Region is in the lower Top End where the ecosystems transition from the tropical wetlands of the north to the more arid conditions of the interior. Named after the town of Katherine and the Katherine River, the region comprises a wide swath of the NT from the Gulf of Carpenteria in the east to the Western Australia border.
The region is a land of forests, savannahs, deep river gorges and wild stretches of coastlands where it’s easy to imagine no one has ever been before. Travellers are drawn to these natural wonders, finding abundant opportunities for outback adventures like camping, canoeing, bushwalking, rockclimbing and four-wheeling.
The region centres on the town of Katherine, about 300 kilometres south of Darwin on the Stuart Highway. Katherine is the perfect place from which to explore the diverse natural attractions of the region, and lies just downstream from the world famous Katherine River Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park.
Within day-trip distance from Kathrine is Mataranka and Elsey National Park to the south and Pine Creek to the north. Pine Creek is an old gold mining site rich with pioneering history, and Mataranka is known for its idyllic tropical thermal pool.
To the southwest of Katherine is the Victoria River area, famous as a premier fishing ground. To the north is the Daly River area, a favourite for campers and also known for good fishing. To the east of Katherine lies the remote coast of the Gulf of Carpenteria, where the most adventurous anglers go to find monster fish that have never seen bait before.
Katherine the Town
While Katherine is a small town of around 10,000 people, it is the administrative and economic centre for a vast area, servicing the pastoral and mining industries of the region. Because tourism is an important and growing sector of the economy the town is able to provide services and accommodations to a growing number of travellers, and there are more shopping, lodging, restaurants and cultural attractions than one would expect for a town of this size. Some points of interest around town:
- Top Didj Cultural Experience & Art Gallery — A can’t-miss for anyone interested in Australia’s first peoples. Artists and storytellers host interactive sessions to demonstrate the lifeways and cultural legacies of both Desert and Top End Aboriginal peoples.
- Katherine Art Gallery — Houses a fantastic collection of indigenous artworks reflecting the cultural legacy of the Jawoyn, Dagoman and Walpiri people who have lived in the area for thousands of years.
- Katherine Museum — Displays and artefacts documenting the pioneering history of Katherine from the time of the first settlement at Knots Crossing.
Katherine School of the Air — Like the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the School of the Air is a distinctly Australian institution developed to provide educational services to young person’s across a vast and sparsely settled area.
Nitmiluk National Park
Just 30 kilometres up the road from the town of Katherine is perhaps the most famous natural wonder of the region, the spectacular Katherine River Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park. The park comprises nearly 300,000 hectares around the 13 magnificent gorges along the river up to Leilyn (Edith Falls), and its northern edge borders renowned Kakadu National Park.
When the land was handed back to the traditional owners, the park regained its original name of Nitmiluk, which means “place of the cicada dreaming” in the Jawoyn language. Aboriginal culture is strong in the area, and there are many sites in and around the park that have cultural significance to the Jawoyn people, who jointly manage the park along with the Parks and Wildlife Service of the Northern Territory. The park features a variety of activities, including:
- Bushwalking tours
- Boat and helicopter tours
The park has two permanent campgrounds to accommodate tents and caravans, and designated bush camping areas for walkers and canoeists. There is a boat ramp near the Visitor Centre at the first gorge, and a variety of commercial boat tours. Canoeing and kayaking the gorges is a popular pastime, and canoes may be hired by the hour up to overnight.
The most popular bushwalk tour is the Jatbula Trail, a 60-kilometre trek from Nitmiluk through all 13 gorges up to Leilyn (Edith Falls) that takes five days to complete. It is recommended to book this walking tour early as campsites along the trail are limited to 10 persons per night and places fill up fast in the dry season.
Mataranka and Elsey National Park
Mataranka is a town about 105 kilometres south of Katherine near the Roper River and Elsey National Park. The community’s everlasting claim to fame is that it was the setting for Jeannie Gunn’s famous autobiographical novel, “We of the Never Never”. The homestead that she lived in has been reconstructed near the famous hot springs.
The famous homestead and the crystal clear Rainbow Springs thermal pool are a few kilometres east of the town. The warm pool of mineral-rich water is surrounded by thick rainforest palms and remains a constant 34 degrees centigrade. The waters of the pool are replenished at an astonishing rate of 30 million litres per day. There is camping, boating, swimming and barramundi fishing along the Roper River, and another thermal pool called Bitter Springs at the top end of the park.
To the south and west of Katherine is the beautiful Victoria River region. Timber Creek is the main centre of the area, a small township of only about 70 people. Gregory National Park and Keep River National Park offer bushwalking and four-wheel drive trails, camping and some of the best barramundi fishing in the Territory
The Daly River region between Katherine and Darwin is an area where ecosystems collide, creating a unique landscape of gorges, savannah woodlands, hot springs and watercourses. The area is popular for camping, fishing, swimming and bushwalking. One of the best-known attractions is Butterfly Gorge Nature Park, where millions of colourful butterflies seek shelter in crevices in the rock walls.
The Gulf of Carpenteria
To the east of Katherine lies the coast of the Gulf of Carpenteria, an area that is remote even by Australian standards. This unspoiled coastal country is one of Australia’s most exciting and unique fishing destinations. The centre for the area is the tiny town of Borroloola on the MacArthur River. Other points of interest are King Ash Bay, Cape Crawford and Limmen National Park.