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Katherine Nitmiluk National Park
Katherine Nitmiluk National Park

Katherine Nitmiluk National Park

The outback is iconic Australia yet it seems a long, long way from Sydney and Melbourne. It is hot, hotter or hot and humid. It has industrial sized biting insects. There is a long list of discomfort why you put off your trip of a lifetime. However it is our backyard. It is a way of dreamlines and landscapes that are bigger, better and brilliant in the documentary you viewed last week. Let’s go on a journey and initiate you in the rites of being an outback Australian.

Nitmiluk Gorge Territory @Shaana McNaught 2012

Why go:

  • Katherine Nitmiluk Park is very accessible, family friendly as you are not travelling considerable distances coped up in a vehicle. Spot the huge termite mounds on the way as a way to pass the time.
  • Rugged, beautiful and unique to Australia. And it is our backyard.
  • The journey equals the destination. You are in a timeless landscape, the iconic Australian outback of a thousand images. Deep horizon to horizon blue skies against rolling red hills and sparse vegetation.

Getting there:

Darwin to Nitmiluk National Park is 278km. Main entrance is located 30 km northeast of Katherine settlement via a sealed road. Katherine is located 310 km south of Darwin along the Stuart Highway.

Getting here by car:
Nitmiluk National Park is a 3.5hr drive from Darwin. Simply head down the Stuart Highway until you reach Katherine. Heading along Gorge Rd, Nitmiluk National Park is located 30mins out of Katherine.

Nitmiluk Gorge Territory … image 13 stupendous gorges, ancient sandstone that reflects colour, light and shade according to the time of the day, raging waterfalls in the wet season and wildlife at home in the outback.

And best of all, just 30km from Katherine. Explore the world-famous park and gorge country on foot, by canoe, boat or helicopter.

Nitmiluk Gorge winds along 12km of sheer rock. The height of the Gorge is over 70 metres towering over the Katherine River.

Discover the ancient culture of the Jawoyn people, custodians of the region. Jawoyn people operate Nitmiluk Tour within Nitmiluk National Park and is the exclusive provider for touring the Nitmiluk Gorge. In Jawoyn, Nitmiluk means “place of the cicada dreaming”.

TIP:  trip planning

Plan several days to soak in the atmosphere of a timeless environment where nature is in charge of what you see and do. There are options within the National Park. Choose from camping, to chalets through to the upmarket Cicada Lodge.

“On behalf of the traditional owners of the land, the Jawoyn people of Katherine, I welcome you to Nitmiluk – the place of the Cicada dreaming.

Our vision is to create authentic and unforgettable holiday experiences, sharing and sustaining the ancient cultures and stories of the Jawoyn people.” Nitmiluk Tourism Operations.

What to see and do in Nitmiluk National Park

Nitmiluk Tourism describes activities as:

  • Hire a canoe and paddle along the gorges to see waterfalls, ancient Aboriginal rock art and wildlife. Feel the oars pushing through the water as you set your own pace, taking in the magic and the enormity of the impressive gorges. Canoes are available for hire or permits can be obtained for those wishing to use their own.
  • Watch the gorge move through a spectrum of colours and glowing hues on a sunrise or sunset river cruise. A must do You are at eye level with the water, with cliff faces towering over the boat. Your guide will bring you into their perspective with a passionate rendition of their world.
  • Aerial views are another must do A scenic flight over the park offers views from the air,showing the gorge system, Arnhem Land escarpment and local wildlife from a different perspective. Flights leave from the nearby Visitor Centre with some options including an exclusive swim in one of the harder to reach gorges.
  • Edith Falls (Leilyn), a quick detour off the main highway. The falls are a flat 125 metre walk from the parking area. Swimming is permitted at Edith Falls and it is a waterhole in the middle of the outback and there is enough space for everyone. You will have zen moments floating in dark green water with the horizon to horizon blue sky above. Once you have finished swimming, either set up for a picnic in the shady grounds, or purchase food from the on site kiosk. There are toilet facilities at Edith Falls.

Walks

  • Baruwei Lookout Walk, with its birds-eye view of the Katherine River. It’s a short one hour walk with a few steep sets of stairs, but the reward is a bird’s eye view of the landscape. A must do experience.
  • The Windolf Walk is a moderately challenging track that winds along Katherine River and up to Pat’s Lookout for a sweeping view of the gorge. The 8.4km return track includes access to the picturesque Southern Rockhole – a seasonal waterfall.
  • Walk the Jatbula Trail (experienced trampers)

For a tramp of  a lifetime walk the multiple day (5-6), 58 km Jatbula Trail. The trail is a difficult trail, due to the uneven surface and the climbs through areas where there is not a formed track. The trail  is named after an ancient Aboriginal songline used by the Jawoyn people that passes waterfalls, monsoon rainforest, stone country and Aboriginal rock art.

Songlines are walking maps created with oral geographic location songs. The songline is a path of where to go and what you will observe on the way.

Bookings are required during the walking season from June to September. Contact jatbula.trail@nt.gov.au. Bookings open November onwards. The trail starts at the Visitor Information Centre at the entrance of Nitmiluk Gorge and ends at Leliyn (Edith) Falls.

Aboriginal owners

Learn about the cultural and spiritual significance of the gorge for its traditional owners, the Jawoyn and Dagomen people. The Nitmiluk Visitor Centre is located at the entrance to Nitmiluk Gorge and should be your first stop when visiting the national park.

“For thousands of years the Jawoyn people have maintained their culture and traditions through the stories passed from one generation to another – the Dreamtime. Nitmiluk is the Jawoyn name for Katherine Gorge. It is pronounced Nit-me-look, and literally means Cicada Place.

There are many Aboriginal rock art paintings on sandstone walls throughout the gorge system, some of which are thousands of years old. Take a tour to learn about the traditions, stories, ceremonies and the significance of the land from a local guide.” Nitmiluk Visitor information.

History

A meeting place

Marking the point where the traditional lands of the Jawoyn, Dagoman and Wardaman Aboriginal peoples converge, Katherine has been a meeting place for indigenous people for many thousands of years, and remains so today. This can be seen across the region, through the ancient art and sacred sites throughout the land, as well as information centres and tours telling of the stories and places of Aboriginal significance.

Early pioneer days

When explorer John Stuart passed through the region in 1862, it was only ten years before the Katherine Telegraph Station was built and the Overland Telegraph Line would be completed. The first passenger train only arrived in Darwin in 2004. Much of Katherine’s history is tied up in the railway – the site of Katherine itself had to be moved twice during the railway’s construction, only finding its eventual home in 1926.

History & heritage around Katherine

  • Warlock ponds bridge road is the longest one-lane road bridge of its type in the Northern Territory. A  good example of World War II heavy engineering where the need for a crossing reflects the energy required for the remote location.
  • Elsey homestead replica “Homestead is an authentic replica that was especially constructed for the 1980s film We of the Never Never, based on the novel of the same name written by Jeannie Gunn. Every detail is duplicated down to the hand hewn local cypress pine. Nearby are Aboriginal gunyahs, or wurlies, built with the advice of local Aboriginal elders.” NT visitor brochure
  • Katherine railway station is a humble building that is part of railway history. There are artefacts on display.
  • O’keefe residence, “one of the very few structures from the World War II era that have survived in the Katherine area. The building is an example of bush innovation and local construction utilising locally available material such as Cypress pine, iron sheeting and flywire. Wander through the building and learn about regional history in the small museum.” NT information brochure
  • Bullita homestead is an abandoned homestead in a remote area which symbolises the struggle to farm in the searing heat of an outback summer. Check out for details.
  • Drovers rest boab trees “Drover’s Rest Boab Precinct is significant to the Territory’s cultural heritage. Consisting of seven carved boabs, the precinct is associated with the early pastoral industry of the NT when cattle were driven overland along stock routes to meatworks at Wyndham and Vestey’s Meatworks in Darwin.” NT information brochure.

Safety & the weather

Heat warning

Temperatures across the Northern Territory can be very hot between October and March. It can exceed 40 degrees celsius in some locations. High humidity in the Top End can also make you tire easily.

Check forecast temperatures before you visit. Find out how to prepare and stay safe in the heat.

Is a park open

Check if a park is open

Crocodile safety: be Croc Wise

Saltwater crocodiles are dangerous to people and pets. You should always be aware of the risk of a saltwater crocodile attack in all Top End waterways. It is never 100% safe to enter the water. Your personal safety is your responsibility.

Katherine River and the Gorges are a “no-go” zone for saltwater crocodiles. It is not a suitable habitat to start with, and on top of that the Gorges are closely monitored at all times. Remember always check with tour operator before entering the water.

Where you can swim: Check out

Swimming is allowed in 2nd and 3rd gorge July to September, however swimming is banned otherwise.If a waterway does not have a swimming area sign, do not swim in this area. There may still be danger if there is no sign. The area may not be safe or free from saltwater crocodiles. It is safe to swim in all public and private swimming pools. It is safe to swim in some areas at certain times of the year.

Birds – what bird is that?

The Northern Territory is a birding destination with exotic and rare bird species. From sandstone country to gorges and billabongs, its habitats are home to a variety of bird life. Red goshawks inhabit the monsoonal seasonal waters and black kites will accompany you on your way to Nitmiluk Gorges. The area is one of Australia’s top birding destinations. Home to around 240 bird species, the greater Katherine region will give you an insight into a world of flight and colour and inspire you to start your own list of rare birds.

The historic gold rush town of Pine Creek is a specific birding destination. Tours pass through this area in search of the vulnerable Gouldian Finch, Black-Tailed Treecreeper and the Blue-Winged Kookaburra.

Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park, 30km from Katherine is home to over 170 species of birds, including the vulnerable hooded parrot. The best time for bird-watching is in the early morning and late afternoon. The has limestone caves housing five species of bats. These include the rare orange horseshoe-bat and the ghost bat.

Travelpack information

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