The natural beauty and wonder of Katherine Gorge, renamed Nitmiluk Gorge, is located in the Northern Territory of Australia in Nitmiluk National Park. Katherine Gorge offers a holiday getaway for those who love and enjoy the outdoors. Nitmiluk National Park borders Kakadu National Park. It name was changed from Katherine National Park to Nitmiluk when ownership of the land returned to the Jawoyn people, its traditional owners. Nitmiluk means “cicada dreaming,” which figures prominently in Jawoyn cultural history.
The park, southeast of Darwin by 244 km, was established based on its natural beauty, gorges and sandstone cliffs that border the Katherine River. The Jawoyn people place significance on the Katherine gorges and the surrounding geography as part of their cultural and ceremonial history. Carved through ancient sandstone, the Katherine Gorge, the innermost attraction of the park, consists of thirteen gorges complete with river rapids and plunging waterfalls. The gorge follows along the Katherine River, with its origins in Kakadu Park. In the dry season from May to October, people travel the Katherine Gorge with canoes or on guided tours. Some travellers choose to bushwalk the area and camp overnight. Freshwater crocodiles reportedly pose no threat to humans as they nest along the banks, but during the wet season when swimming in the area is advised against, saltwater crocodiles enter the gorges from the lower river. Rangers remove the saltwater crocodiles at the beginning of the dry season and return them to the river delta area.
One of the most spectacular areas in Australia, the Katherine Gorge winds 12 km with walls climbing more than 70 meters high. A variety of tours and cruises are available to those who want to traverse the area. The Jawoyn’s ancestors have been reported to have lived in the region up to 45,000 years ago. A newly discovered sacred site, Gabarnmung Cave, at the top end of the Northern Territory depicts Aboriginal Art that dates back 35,000 years ago in nearby Arnhem Land. The Katherine Gorge also serves as home to many ancient sites depicting early aboriginal art.
The third largest settlement in the Northern Territory, the town of Katherine has a population of approximately 10,000 people. Katherine sits on the banks of the Katherine River that flows down from the Katherine Gorge and is a regional and tourism centre for the area. A variety of motels, lodges and a caravan park offer overnight accommodations and the town provides bistros, cafes and restaurants that dish up a variety of menus.
For the adventurous at heart, you can canoe, camp, bushwalk and helicopter through the area, some of the best ways to experience the region. With well over 100 km of walking trails in the Park region, one well-known but challenging journey begins with the famous Jatbula Trail, a four-to-six day 58 kilometre bushwalk from Katherine Gorge to Edith Falls that traverses lush scenery, plummeting waterfalls and Aboriginal rock art. The Jatbula Trail is a challenging bushwalk and is not for the faint of heart. Along the Jatbula Trail you’ll find the Northern Rockhole, a beautiful shimmering pool at the bottom of a long and plunging waterfall where weary bushwalkers relieve the heat of the day in its placid waters.
For those who want to take a bit of the area home with them, visit the Katherine Art Gallery, where you’ll find a variety of aboriginal art reflecting cultural diversity from many local tribes including the Jawoyn, Dagoman and Warlpiri peoples, all who have lived in the Katherine area for a long time.
Katherine Gorge, northeast of Katherine, also offers walks over the sandstone plateau that afford spectacular views of the Gorge only an hour away. Known as a monsoon rainforest area, the region is rich with an ecosystem unparalleled elsewhere. During the dry season, there are commercially operated cruises on the river that last two, three and a half, and four hours through the gorge. Swimming and canoeing are only permitted during May to November, because during the wet season, saltwater crocs make their way inland via the Katherine River. Though rangers work tirelessly to return these crocs to the river delta area where the river meets the ocean, tourists must always be conscious of the wildlife in the area.
The Jawoyn Association established Nitmiluk Tours in 1993 and became the only operator of the many canoes and boats, the caravan park and visitor centre. Katherine Gorge, renamed Nitmiluk Gorge by the Jawoyn people, welcomes 250,000 people annually with the majority of these people visiting in the cooler and drier time of the year from May to August.
The Jawoyn Association also established a Ranger program that oversees the regions many lands. Begun in the 1990s, the program now has eight Jawoyn rangers who manage the lands and oversee its wildlife. The rangers handle feral animals, controlled burns, weed control, monitor poaching activities and are based in the town of Katherine.
Areas of Interest
- Nitmiluk Visitor Centre should be your first stop when visiting the national park. It’s situated at the entrance to Katherine Gorge and offers information on tours and travel in the region. Wildlife rangers are available to give advice on bushwalking, camping and other activities in the region.
- Visit Katherine Hot Springs where a spring-fed crystal clear pool is surrounded by lush green lawns, pandana trees and shady paperbarks.
- Tour the Springvale Homestead, an original homestead in the Territory built in 1879 by Alfred Giles and found just eight kilometres south of Katherine.
- Check out the Cutta Cutta Caves, a quick 10-minute drive from Katherine, with limestone caverns that date back 500 million years. Be amazed by calcite crystal columns, pillars and flowstones.
- Take a quick trip to Leliyn (Edith Falls), subject to weather conditions, where you’ll find a natural pool at the base of the waterfalls safe for swimming most of the year.
The Katherine Gorge on the Katherine River is accessible by:
- Greyhound bus services with daily departures to Katherine and the Gorge area from Darwin.
- Rented car – where you can travel the scenic byways yourself.
- The Ghan – a train that is part of Australia’s railway system that offers a whistle stop at Katherine.