Katherine Gorge and the Magical Kakadu

Words and photography by Steve Collins

Katherine Gorge or Nitmiluk - its Indigenous name

Once the lock-down is over, the first place Australians will be allowed to travel to, is other parts of Australia. This will open up a whole new experience for many senior travellers, who up until now, have tended to favour overseas travel and cruising, etc. This is your opportunity to discover parts of the wonderful country we live in and there is certainly lots to see.
Here we join Steve Collins on a day tour of Katherine Gorge in the Northern Territory.

If you’re looking for a holiday with a difference, I’d strongly recommend a visit the Northern Territory. And if you make Darwin your base, you’ll find there are lots of organised tours to choose from. For instance, I decided on the AAT Kings One Day Edith Falls and Katherine Gorge Tour, as it offered great value, and promised to show me a part of the world that I had been keen to experience for quite some time.

The coach ride takes us through some amazing country

This was a deceptively long tour – up at dawn, in the coach by 6.30am, and returned to the hotel at 8.30pm. If I had of chosen to do this drive myself, I would have been seriously exhausted at the end of the day, but by choosing an organised tour, my total responsibility was to relax and to enjoy myself. The highlight of this tour was the 2-hour Katherine Gorge Cruise, which easily surpassed my expectations.

Rock carvings have ceremonial significance to the local Jawoyn people

The Katherine River winds itself through 12 kilometres of gorges, some of which have walls rising to a height of 70 metres, and it is an outstanding place. We boarded a flat-bottom boat, which was open-sided for perfect viewing, and cruised deeper into the gorge system. The Katherine Gorge was formed about 23 million years ago. The Gorge consists of thirteen gorges, with rapids and falls, which follow the Katherine River, which begins in Kakadu.

The open-sided flat-bottomed boat makes for perfect viewing

The colours of the rocks change throughout the day, and the riverbanks are covered in lush greenery which grows out of ochre-coloured sand, upon which the freshwater crocodiles lay their eggs. After travelling through the first gorge, we came to a natural rock barrier, through which the vessel could not pass. This meant that we had to negotiate a 400-metre walk to another gorge, where a new boat awaited us.

Edith Falls through the bushes

The second boat took us to the most picturesque part of the gorge. It was long and straight, and very impressive as the walls of the gorge towered over us. We ventured right through this gargantuan corridor until we reached another rock barrier, where we were turned back as the waters above this impediment were too shallow to negotiate at this time of the year.
During the wet season, these waters flow at a level up to 12 metres above our heads. The water at this time is so abundant that what is normally a three-hour tour in the dry season, can be completed in just 45 minutes during the wet when there is nothing to impinge the boat’s progress.

Bird-life abounds including the endangered Gouldian Finch - photo 123RF

Katherine Gorge is 340 kilometres south of Darwin, and the tour also stops at Adelaide River, for refreshments, and at Edith Falls, where you can enjoy a swim in a natural rock pool. The AAT Kings driver, coach and organisation were all exceptional and I would certainly travel with them again.

Author: Steve Collins is a professional travel writer and regular guest on The Couch, Foxtel Australia, Radio 6PR Perth and Have-A-Go News, Western Australia. Website: www.stevecollinstravelcorrespondent.com

Footnote: During the Dry Season, roughly from April to October, the Nitmiluk (Indigenous name for Katherine Gorge) Gorge waters are placid in most spots and ideal for swimming and canoeing. There may be freshwater crocodiles in most parts of the river, as they nest along the banks, but they are harmless to humans. Saltwater crocodiles regularly enter the river during the wet season, when the water levels are very high, and are subsequently removed and returned to the lower levels at the onset of the dry season. Thus, swimming in the wet season is prohibited. Cruises of various lengths go as far as the fifth gorge.