Katherine Gorge – Overview & Things to See and Do
The deep gorge carved through sandstone by the Katherine River is the central attraction of this 292.008 hectare National Park. Upstream, the gorge widens into a broader valley which forms the southern most portion of the Arnhem Land plateau. Swamplands cover the plateau and are surrounded by dry sandy woodland.
The most visited landmark in the region. The twelve kilometre Katherine Gorge is carved through the Arnhemland plateau. It is a continuous gorge, running along perpendicular fault lines that are separated during the dry season by rock bars. The spectacle of the river, shear cliffs and rock art make this an excellent place to explore. Photos do not do this area justice.
There are three ways to explore the Park, bushwalking, helicopter flight or boat (organised cruise or canoe). The best way to see Katherine Gorge is probably a combination of two.
Things to See and Do
Walkers are well catered for by a network of signposted trails. In addition to the sheer gorges, monsoon rainforests grow in the park’s sheltered ravines. The fauna is just as varied including barramundi in the waterways. There are 168 species of birds in the park and a number of animals including turtles, and freshwater crocodiles (the ‘safe’ ones)
As a safety precaution, all walkers must register with the rangers at the visitors centre. This enables Rangers to organise a search if you fail to arrive at your destination by the due date or time. (Refundable deposits are $1 per day walk, $20 per overnight stays within Gorge, $50 for the 66 km Edith Falls walk). Those on day-hikes must check in again by 6pm.
A 5.5 km one way walk (2hr) that makes its way through rocky outcrops with moderate slopes. Towards the end the walk decends into butterfly gorge were there is a monsoon rainforest and safe deep water swimming hole. There are often large number of Black and White crow butterfly hence the name.
A 7 km one way walk (3hr) that continues past Butterfly Gorge up a steep incline to the top of the plateau. The trail ends at the third gorge and a waterfall that flows in the wet season. The last section to the base of the waterfall is very steep and care must be taken. Swimming is possible all year round in the Lily Ponds Creek. As always care should be taken especially if large volumes of water are flowing.
Smitt Rock Walk
An 10km (typically overnight) walk to the start of the fifth gorge. If you are camping you must first obtain a permit before you start this walk. The first 8.7 km is through rocky outcrops with moderate slopes. The remainder is through rocky outcrops and the trail decending into the gorge is very steep. There is an opportunity to camp and swim along the way at Dunlop Swamp (8.7km ) and there is a sandy camping area and safe swimming at the end of the walk.
A 16km one way walk (overnight) to the start of the eight gorge. From Dunlop Swamp the trail winds through open woodland Five kilometers further on the trail drops down from the plateau and continues through rocky outcrops. The camp site is located above an attractive waterhole that holds water all year round.
While waiting for a cruise, you might want to take the steep, four-hundred-metre walk leading from the jetty to a superb cliff top lookout up the river (no need to register for this short walk).
Katherine Gorge to Edith Falls:
The 66-kilometre walk from Katherine Gorge to Edith Falls is 4-5 days leisurely walking. You’ll need at least three days, a minimum of two people and a $50 returnable deposit.
Along the Katherine to Edith Falls walk, Crystal Falls is a mass of rockpools, rapids and small waterfalls, falling into a crystal clear rockpool. A relaxing area with opportunities to explore the river and abundant birdlife.The walk to Crystal Falls takes about a day and a half .
For more information to plan this trip refer to the map supplied by the NT Conservation Commission available from the visitors centre. Ph:
Cruises & Canoeing
Nitmiluk Tours offer two-hour cruises to the second gorge, a four-hour cruise to the third gorge (the limit during the wet season) and an eight-hour “safari” to the fifth gorge which includes some rock-hopping. The relaxed “safari” cruise includes a barbecue lunch, refreshments, plenty of time for swimming. A recommended way to explore the Gorge.
Canoeing up the gorge is an option for the more energetic, but don’t expect to paddle up to the thirteenth gorge in a day. Nitmiluk Tours rents solo canoes for $30 a day, $23 per half day and two-person canoes (easier to control and a shared load for beginners) for $48, $34 per half day. The rental period is 8.30am-4.45pm; overnight trips cost an extra day’s rental. Alternatively, put your own canoe on the river, for a small fee payable at the visitors centre. Expect long sections of canoe-carrying over boulders and successively shorter sections of water as you progress up the gorges. Those determined to reach the thirteenth gorge (which, scenically speaking, is not really worthwhile) will find it easier to leave the canoe at the fifth and swim/walk the last couple of kilometres.
Flights offer a truly exhilarating view of all 13 gorges. 15min (sixth gorge), 25min (all 13 gorges) and 45 min (whole park including Edith Falls)