Experience an ancient land steeped in rich indigenous history.
Read on to discover the best things to see and do in the Katherine Gorge National Park, or find and book accommodation in the Katherine Gorge National Park today.
The area to the north and east of Katherine belongs to the Jawoyn people, one of the largest and most active indigenous groups in the Top End. Their native title claim was successful in 1989, and the large parcels of land they received included the Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, which title holders call the ‘place of the Cicada Dreaming’.
Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart gave the river its European name, Katherine River, 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.
In late January 1998, Cyclone Les dumped 400mm of rain on the region in just 48 hours, causing the already full river to peak at 20.4m, devastating the town and 1000sq km surrounding it, forcing the evacuation of 1100 homes and claiming the lives of three people. Then, in early April 2006, the Katherine River again burst its banks, resulting in the declaration of a state of emergency. Floodwaters reached a peak of nearly 19m at the Katherine River Bridge, inundating the town centre and scores of homes, and causing millions of dollars of damage.
Get out and enjoy the great outdoors while in Katherine Gorge National Park. Explore the gorge system in a flat-bottomed boat on a cruise with Nitmiluk Tours, swim off the jetty in the First Gorge, or paddle a canoe beneath towering sandstone.
Additionally, 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.
The Southern walks consist of one long trail across the sandstone plateau, with tracks branching off it to stunning lookouts, descending through palm-filled rainforest gullies to the river at six locations. Walking along the gorge rim is easy enough, but the side-tracks can be tough with some steep sections and loose, rocky surfaces. These are serious hikes that require sturdy shoes, hat, sunscreen and plenty of drinking water. Water bottles can be refilled at tanks strategically located along the way and from the river at the end of each walk.
The Jatbula Trail is a 3-5 day hike, beginning on the northern side of the gorge and following a 66km, one-way, overland route travelled by generations of Jawoyn people to Leliyn (Edith Falls). It is named for Peter Jatbula, a man who was instrumental in securing land rights for his people. This challenging trek traces the edge of the Arnhem Land Escarpment, traversing savannah woodlands, rocky outcrops and pockets of lush rainforest around spring fed creeks. The trail also encounters Aboriginal rock art at the Amphitheatre and the Northern Rockhole, a beautiful shimmering pool beneath a plunging waterfall. The walk is well marked and not technically difficult, but you’ll have to fit to carry a heavy backpack for a multi-day foot slog over rough and uneven country.
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. Katherine was flooded in 1957 and 1974 but these inundations were a drop in the bucket compared with cataclysmic weather events in later years.
Katherine is about 300km south of Darwin along the Stuart Highway.
Nitmiluk Caravan Park at the Gorge and a campground at Leliyn (Edith Falls) both offer RV travellers grassy sites, plenty of shade and full amenities, but powered sites only at Nitmiluk; elsewhere in the park, designated bush camping areas have been established for overnight walkers and canoeists, with toilets at some locations and a source of water almost always available nearby.
For more accommodation options in and around the Katherine Gorge National Park, click here.
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