Just a 70-minute drive away from Edith Falls is one of Australia’s most spectacular outback regions – Katherine Gorge or as the local indigenous Jawoyn people call it – Nitmiluk National Park.
Frankly, I had envisioned the gorge to be something like Maguk (Barramundi Gorge) where the hike is long and strenuous across most parts. My fears, however, proved unfounded. You can’t just walk in and out of Katherine Gorge. You either take a cruise or canoe.
All tours in the region are operated by Nitmiluk Tours that offers 2-hour and half-day safari gorge cruises, canoeing, hiking, helicopter rides and accommodation within the National Park. You can buy your tickets at the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre located at the entrance to the jetty, and then make your way down the ramp and hop into a boat or canoe.
Nitmiluk Gorge is made up of 13 separate waterways that wind along a 12 kilometres stretch of ancient rock with heights extending to more than 70 metres. Sculpted from sandstone over 20 million years ago by the Katherine River, it is open all year round, and features some of the most stunning gorge scenery in Northern Territory – raging waterfalls, rocks and boulders, breathtaking cliff views of Jawoyn country, pockets of rainforest along streams, water holes, bushland and a myriad of lizards, insects, birds including freshwater crocodiles!
These thirteen gorges are actually sections of one massive gorge that become separated by rock bars and boulders when the water level drops during the dry season. Conversely, when the water level rises during the rainy season, rivers, rapids and waterfalls develop and flow down the escarpment. Therefore, accessibility into the upper reaches of the gorge by boat and canoe depends very much on the water level.
The cruise I went in took me as far as the Second Gorge. The guide gave a good account of the local Jawoyn culture, the make up of the gorge, and some of the plants and wildlife that inhabit the area. It was not long before we came across a freshwater crocodile camouflaged underneath a rock along the bank.
At reaching the end of the First Gorge, we had to get off the boat and make a 400-metre walk across rocky terrain before getting into another boat that would take us to the Second Gorge.
This crossover with its uneven surfaces can become quite tricky. Those with restricted mobility do not need to hike all the way to the Second Gorge. There are benches and rocks at the crossover to sit down and take in the views while waiting for the rest to return.
Here are some views that opened up as we made our way to the Second Gorge.
Making our way down the steps to the Second Gorge.
The Second Gorge is even more stunning than the first one. Every turn of the winding river provides another visual masterpiece of near vertical bedrock plunging straight down into the blue-green waters of the expansive Nitmiluk Gorge.
I felt a sense of deja vu when cruising along the Second Gorge. The place looked strangely familiar and I couldn’t recall where I had seen a similar scenery. And then it struck me! I was cruising along the same route that was used in the filming of the Australian horror crocodile movie, “Rogue”.
Rogue (2007) is about an idyllic wildlife cruise that disintegrates into terror when a party of tourists are stalked by a massive man-eating crocodile. The movie was shot in Yellow Water at Kakadu National Park, with additional scenes in Nitmiluk Gorge. You can watch the trailer here.
All too soon, two hours seemed to whiz by. It would have been very nice to have been able to stay back for the sunset. Sadly, time did not permit. We were soon back inside the coach, making a stop at Emerald Springs for dinner, before embarking on the last leg of the long journey back to Darwin.