Southeast of Darwin is where you'll find Katherine Gorge – a series of not one but 13 glorious sandstone gorges. Part of the Nitmiluk National Park which borders Kakadu National Park, the area isn't just beautiful to the eye, it's also a very significant area to the local Jawoyn people who have used the area for sacred ceremonies for thousands of years. Some of just a few things you won't want to miss at Katherine Gorge include:
Swimming in rock pools and underneath waterfalls
Canoeing or cruising the Katherine River
Hiking prehistoric Jawoyn trails
Spotting wildlife including crocodiles
Seeing ancient Aboriginal rock art
See the gorge from above or below
Located 32 kilometres from the town of Katherine, the wonderful Katherine Gorge system should be high up on your Top End itinerary. Three out of the 13 total gorges in area are readily accessible by organised tour. To get an expansive view of the entire gorge system and the Arnhem Land plateau, book in a scenic flight or helicopter trip that leave from the Visitor Centre.
If you'd rather dial back the adrenalin, a much more leisurely way to see Katherine Gorge is to take a guided boat cruise. Flowing down the Katherine River might not be as fast paced as taking to the skies, but you'll still get plenty of excitement when you spot the eyes of a freshwater crocodile lurking beneath the river's surface.
Paddle at your own pace
Being accessible by boat or foot makes Katherine Gorge a superb destination for independent travellers. If you're a keen hiker, swimmer, or nature and wildlife lover, you'll definitely enjoy Katherine Gorge's waterfalls, rock pools and ample supply of wildlife. Just catching sight of the beautiful gorge system is not nearly enough for many, so a good idea is to hire a canoe and explore the gorge systems at your own pace.
Go for a secluded swim
Though Katherine Gorge has no shortage of excellent swimming spots, one place you'll have to leave the canoe behind to get to is Edith Falls. Made up of a number of serene waterfalls and pretty rock pools, this ancient site is perfect for bushwalking, picnicking and of course swimming. Don't worry about crocs, it's perfectly safe to swim in Katherine Gorge during the dry season!
One thing you will have to be careful of is falling head over heels. It's quite common to love Edith Falls so much you won't want to leave. If that's the case, there is a camping area right by the falls. Also close by is a secluded and tranquil swimming hole, Sweetwater Pool. Keep your eyes peeled while you're there to peruse some ancient aboriginal paintings.
Take a historic hike
If you have a few days and a good pair of hiking boots, put some time aside for the Jatbula Trail. A historic route travelled by generations of Jawoyn people, the walk starts at the park's visitor centre and ends at Edith Falls. Passing waterfalls, stone country and Aboriginal rock art on the way to the waterfalls, if you do decide to do the walk you'll need to be well prepared – you'll need to book a place on the trail, as there are only limited camping spaces along the way.
Head straight down the Stuart
Located 310 kilometres south of Darwin along the Stuart Highway, Katherine will be your main point of entry to the gorge. Once you get there, follow the signs to the park's main entrance, located 30 kilometres northeast via a sealed road. Getting to Katherine and back from Darwin is possible in a day. Companies such as AAT Kings offer day tours departing Darwin, but still it's always a nice idea to break up the trip up with a night camping at Katherine Gorge or staying at a guest house in the town of Katherine itself.
While you're there
Taking a dip in natural hot springs might lean itself to colder climates but rest assured that, at 32 degrees, the Katherine Hot Springs are more 'warm' than 'hot'. This thermal set of springs located on the banks of the Katherine River are especially popular in winter when the cooler air temperature makes swimming conditions just perfect. Being located close to the town of Katherine also makes the springs an easy place for you to access.
When to go
Deciding when to go is vital when planning your trip to Katherine Gorge. Dry season between April and October is when Katherine Gorge is best visited – during this period only the mostly harmless freshwater crocodiles visit the river. Come wet season, it's a different story all together as saltwater crocs make their way to the river. Wet season can be a more picturesque time to visit, but you'll want to keep to the safety of a boat if you are making the journey into the water.