Nitmiluk National Park, NT: Destination Guide

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The magic of Nitmiluk National Park has to be seen to be believed, and with a multitude of options available to explore this sacred land, there is no excuse not to visit this Top End masterpiece.

Read on to discover the best things to do and see in Nitmiluk National Park, or find and book accommodation in Nitmiluk National Park today.

About Nitmiluk National Park          

The Northern Territory is home to some of Australia’s most iconic scenery; none more so than Nitmiluk National Park. Not only are visitors treated to vast sandstone plains, cavernous gorges and thundering waterfalls; there is also a profound otherworldliness that the land embodies, and you can guarantee the spirit of Nitmiluk National Park will still be with you, long after you have left.

The park is the traditional home of the Jawoyn people, whose ancestors have inhabited the land for over 40,000 years. Their stories surrounding the land have been passed on through the generations, and include legends about Bula – the creator, who features heavily in the Dreaming, and Bolung – The Rainbow Serpent.

Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart gave the river its European name, when he crossed it on July 4, 1862 during his epic trans-continental journey. He purportedly named it in honour of Catherine Chambers, the second daughter of friend and expedition sponsor, James Chambers, and the misspelling has never been changed. The town of Katherine was named after the river on which it stands, 30km downstream from the gorge.

Things to do

Nitmiluk National Park has a fantastic network of walking tracks that take you right into the very depths of the park and offer the best way to really discover the diverse landscape. The 120km of trails are divided into the Jatbula Trail, which is a 3-5 day hike across the northern side of the gorge; and the Southern Walk, which leads hikers across the sandstone plateau and down through lush rainforest gullies. For those that enjoy a more leisurely stroll, there is also a range of alternative walking experiences that are much less taxing and still allow walkers to take in the sublime scenery and stop at the many refreshing swimming holes.

A popular way to see at least part of the gorge system is by flat-bottomed boat on one of the numerous cruises operated by Nitmiluk Tours. The two hour cruise goes to the Second Gorge and visits a rock art gallery by an 800m walk; the four hour cruise goes to the Third Gorge and includes refreshments and a chance to swim; the full-day, eight hour trip extends to the Fifth Gorge and includes a 5km walk, a barbecue lunch and refreshments.

There are more than 40 species of fish in the river, including barramundi and freshwater bream, and recreational fishing is permitted, with lures only and subject to the NT Fisheries Act and Regulations.

Attractions

Leliyn (Edith Falls)

As the finishing point of the arduous Jatbula Trail, Edith Falls is a welcoming sight for many a weary traveller. The popular oasis, located on the western boundary of the park, is a safe haven where you can cool off in lagoons encircled by rocky outcrops and picturesque waterfalls. Two walking tracks loop around the area and lead to lookouts that provide stunning views over the falls and waterholes. There is also camping and picnic facilities available at the site, allowing visitors to set up a base from which they can further explore.

Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge

Nitmiluk Gorge, which the vast Katherine River pulses through, is comprised of 13 separate gorges reaching over 70m high in some sections, and is where you can find some of the most spectacular views. The gorges are the heart of the national park, and extremely significant to many of the Jawoyn people and their Dreamtime stories; and there are many spots along the gorge where visitors can find ancients sites filled with Aboriginal art. Whether it’s from the air, land or river, there isn’t a bad view of Nitmiluk Gorge to be seen.

Weather

The region’s tropical savannah climate brings distinctive wet and dry seasons, with an annual rainfall approaching 1000mm delivered principally in monsoonal downpours during the summer months. The low, flat topography of the landscape below the gorge renders this region prone to severe flooding during the wet season.

Expect temperatures to regularly climb over 35 degrees Celsius during the wet season and just below 30 degrees Celsius in the dry season.

Getting to Nitmiluk National Park

Nitmiluk National Park is located in the Top End of the Northern Territory, only half an hour from Katherine.

By car

Nitmiluk National Park is a 345km journey from Darwin via the Stuart Highway, and takes approximately 3 and a half hours.

When to visit Nitmiluk National Park

The best time to visit Nitmiluk National Park is during the dry season (May-September) .The Katherine River is placid and its level falls to reveal rocky shoals and rapids that separate the gorges, enabling Nitmiluk to be explored in many ways. When it’s wet season flooding often causes restrictions on many of the activities normally open and access roads can be completely cut off.

Where to stay in Nitmiluk National Park

 For more accommodation options in and around Nitmiluk National Park, click here.