A visit to Nitmiluk Gorge at Katherine

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After a long day’s drive from Darwin and a refreshed night at one of Katherine’s motels it was time to drive 30km out of town to what I and countless others come to town to see – Nitmiluk Gorge. This deep gorge carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River draws thousands of visitors to the Nitmiluk National Park each year. The park is owned by the Jawoyn people.

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Entry to the park is surprisingly free but your feet have to pay the bill. A steep set of stairs takes you into the first part of the walk, the Baruwei Loop Walk.

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The reward for the climb comes quickly with terrific views over the Katherine River and beyond. The Katherine is part of the Daly River system and its headwaters are in the national park. Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart was the first European to see the river on 4 July 1862, and named it after Catherine Chambers, daughter of expedition sponsor James Chambers, though he changed the spelling.

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This is the view looking back to the visitor centre. The centre has a restaurant, souvenir shop and cultural displays and I enjoyed a beer there as a reward for a long walk. But that was much later in the day.  In the meantime I headed away towards the Southern walks to explore deeper the Gorge system and surrounding escarpment away from the daytrippers who just do the Baruwei Walk or who take a boat trip.

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I’m headed towards Pat’s Lookout but first a detour and a clamber down to the Southern Rockhole. Situated 4km from the entrance it is a seasonal waterhole and there was nothing flowing when I arrived in June in the middle of the dry season. But with no-one around the croc-free waterhole, there was enough water for a refreshing skinny dip before continuing on my way.

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This was the view from Pat’s Lookout, looking out on to the Second Gorge. There are nine gorges in total, though the ninth is a good 20km into the park.

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This is another view from Pat’s Lookout. At the bottom of the picture is one of the Katherine Gorge cruise boats. Nitmiluk Tours are run by the Jawoyn People and leave from a jetty near the visitors centre.

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While at Pat’s Lookout I bumped into a Danish man in his 70s named Sven who asked me to take his photo overlooking the Gorge. I did that and then kept going. I missed one of the directional signs (sometimes placed on the rocks, sometimes placed in the foliage) and was backtracking the way I came when I bumped into Sven a second time. He had been here a couple of days and said the signs got harder to follow as you got deeper into the park and he had got badly lost the day before. We agreed to accompany each other figuring we had a better chance of finding the signs together with two pairs of eyes instead of one. This proved a smart move as one more than one occasion one of us would miss a sign, but the other spotted it. At the next turn-off we decided to head to Butterfly Gorge. The cliff in the photo above is on the way to Butterfly Gorge.

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As the name suggests it is a popular spot not just for bushwalkers but for common crow butterflies which were in abundance. Though they refused to pose for any of my photos. The Gorge itself is a tranquil paradise tucked at the base of a low sandstone plateau. Sven suggested we get in for a swim. I told him that was not advisable given the number and size of crocs my colleagues in the Katherine Times keep writing about in these parts. Sven thought better of it and we just admired the view and moved on.

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But we did want to get our feet wet and from our trip down we knew there was a pleasant waterhole back on the walk just up from the river. We backtracked to the waterhole and discarded shoes and socks and talked of life in Australia, Denmark and Ireland. We were at least a couple of hours from the entrance and it was getting late so we went back to the visitors centre to enjoy that aforementioned beer. I thanked Sven for his company, he said he wouldn’t have gone down to Butterfly Gorge if we hadn’t met. But I’ll be back – There is still plenty of Nitmiluk National Park I need to explore.

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