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One of the highlights of our Northern Territory road trip was taking in the splendor of Katherine Gorge, otherwise known as Nitmiluk Gorge by its traditional owners.
Located in Nitmiluk National Park, this mighty gorge is home to the Katherine River, where you can sail, canoe, or kayak through the gorge and take in its wonderful sites.
From aboriginal rock art to sandy beaches, there is plenty of things to do in Katherine Gorge and surrounding areas.
That’s why I’ve prepared this guide on the Katherine Gorge so you can learn what there is to see and do, and help you plan your visit.
- About Katherine Gorge
- How to Get to Katherine Gorge
- Things to Do in Katherine Gorge
- 1. Top Attraction: Katherine Gorge Cruise
- 2. Canoe or Kayak Katherine Gorge
- 3. Walk to Barrawei Lookout, Nitmiluk National Park
- 4. Check Out Katherine Gorge Sunset with the Fruit Bats
- 5. Go Camping in Katherine Gorge
- 6. Check out Aboriginal Rock Art Sites
- 7. Relax in Katherine Hot Springs
- 8. Check Out Edith Falls (Leliyn)
- 9. Hike the Jatbula Trail (or some of it)
- 10. Take a Scenic Helicopter Flight
- 11. Visit Butterfly Gorge
- FAQs About Visiting Katherine Gorge
- Final Thoughts on Visiting Katherine Gorge
- More Northern Territory Travel Tips
About Katherine Gorge
Katherine Gorge is made up of thirteen gorges carved through 12 km of ancient sandstone by the Katherine River. These gorges have great ceremonial significance to the local Jawoyn people, who are custodians of Nitmiluk National Park.
The Nitmiluk National Park is one of our top National Parks in Australia so far, because it’s scenic, peaceful, and full of amazing wonders.
Like Kakadu National Park, it’s an ancient region rich with Indigenous culture and history. You can learn all about sacred sites from the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre, and view ancient aboriginal rock art in Katherine Gorge.
A natural treasure of the Northern Territory and one of Australia’s most impressive outback regions.
How to Get to Katherine Gorge
Katherine Gorge is just a 4-hour drive from Darwin. By road, you can drive along the Stuart Highway which is a scenic highway that leads you pretty much straight there.
Another popular way to visit Katherine Gorge is on a stop over on the Ghan train, which goes from Adelaide up to Darwin, stopping in Alice Springs.
You can also fly to Katherine, the nearest town to Katherine Gorge, and from there it’s a 30-minute drive.
Things to Do in Katherine Gorge
Katherine Gorge is an incredible site that will simply wow you with its natural beauty. I highly recommend you include it in your itinerary for any visit to the Top End or Northern Territory road trip.
Here are the best ways to see Katherine Gorge…
1. Top Attraction: Katherine Gorge Cruise
One of the popular ways to experience Katherine Gorge is via a cruise. We chose the 2-hour dawn break cruise and it was magical to see it awaken in the morning light.
As we were visiting during the dry season we didn’t get to see any running waterfalls and would love to come back just after the wet season for a different perspective – this visit really wet the appetite.
It’s called the breakfast cruise, but forget the eating, it’s more about the stunning scenery.
Seeing the gorge at first light was beautiful and we highly recommend you do that cruise.
The Katherine Gorge cruise takes you deep into the network of waterways that flow through the Katharine Gorge.
You jump out at various states for short walks between the gorges, which allows you to see more of the rugged landscapes. Check out the glistening pools which reflect the rocky cliffs, paperbark and pandanus trees, and other native plants and fauna that hug the river shores.
Guides were very informative throughout the cruise with their commentary about the wildlife and Aboriginal people of this land, the Jawoyn.
2. Canoe or Kayak Katherine Gorge
We couldn’t do the kayaking trip as Savannah was too young, but I have done it previously and it also comes highly recommended by our community.
Definitely, make a day of it and paddle into the second gorge, which I found the most beautiful.
Our friends had a stand up paddle board which he took into the gorge of an evening for a paddle near the camping area and loved it.
We were a little nervous about crocs.
3. Walk to Barrawei Lookout, Nitmiluk National Park
Do the 3.2km loop walk up to the lookout which offers great views over the gorge.
You can do the shorter walk taking a steep climb up to Barrawei Lookout from the Katherine River and back down again. It gets very hot here so be prepared and hike early. It would also be good for sunset.
There are plenty of other walking trails. If we didn’t have the kids with us, I’d take on the 12 km Butterfly Gorge walk.
4. Check Out Katherine Gorge Sunset with the Fruit Bats
If you’re staying in Nitmiluk National Park, in the evening at sunset walk down to where the tour boats leave from and view the hundreds of fruit bats flying over the river.
It’s an amazing site to see.
5. Go Camping in Katherine Gorge
Nitmiluk Caravan Park is the perfect place to stay right near the entrance to Katherine Gorge, about a 30-minute drive from the town of Katherine.
You can easily walk to the gorge, it’s clean, tidy, shady and has a great swimming pool. You’ll need it!
If you want a bit more luxury, you can stay at Cicada Lodge in Katherine Gorge.
6. Check out Aboriginal Rock Art Sites
If you want to see incredible rock art that dates back over 40,000 years old, head over to the top of First Gorge where you can see some excellently preserved examples.
If you have time, I highly recommend doing a guided tour of the rock art sites so you can hear the Dreamtime stories from the Jawoyn people.
These tours allow you to hear age-old legends about the significance of the Gorge to the local owners.
7. Relax in Katherine Hot Springs
Located on the shores of the River Katherine, just downstream from the Gorge in the town of Katherine, is a natural thermal pool nestled amongst a forested area.
The series of clear pools are the perfect place to sit and relax in after a long day of exploring.
There are several scenic walking trails nearby and places to unpack a picnic.
8. Check Out Edith Falls (Leliyn)
Another attraction in Nitmiluk National Park that you should make sure to check out whilst visiting Katherine Gorge is Edith Falls.
This huge 8-12 metre tiered waterfall is a picturesque setting where you can swim in its refreshing pool, or grab a refreshing drink from the kiosk nearby.
You can also use the nearby campsite’s facilities such as gas barbecues, toilets and showers.
9. Hike the Jatbula Trail (or some of it)
The Jatbula Trail is a multi-day hike from Katherine Gorge to Edith Falls. The trail is around 62km long and is expected to take up to six days to complete because it’s a grade 4 track, meaning it’s a moderately challenging trail.
The hike was once the trail used by the Jawoyn people and passes through several sacred sites. It also follows the western side of the Arnhem Land escarpment, and has views of open forest, woodland, riverines and more.
If you don’t want to hike the whole trail, you can walk it in sections.
10. Take a Scenic Helicopter Flight
One of the best ways to see Katherine Gorge is from above. You can take a scenic 30-minute helicopter flight over the gorge, leaving from Katherine.
The 30-minute flight takes you over all thirteen gorges in Katherine Gorge. You will fly through the Mouth of the Gorge, see Jedda’s Rock, Smitt Rock, the Baruwei Lookout and more.
Check out helicopter flight tours here.
11. Visit Butterfly Gorge
I mentioned earlier that Katherine Gorge has thirteen gorges, though many people only visit the first three as it’s so big.
If you have time, I highly recommend you head over to Butterfly Gorge which is home to a huge number of crow butterflies.
You can hike up to the top of the gorge to get incredible views of the pool below. Be sure to check with the visitor centre before visiting, as this gorge is sometimes closed in the autumn due to bad weather.
FAQs About Visiting Katherine Gorge
Here’s what people usually ask us about visiting Katherine Gorge…
Are there crocodiles in Katherine Gorge?
There are saltwater crocodiles further downstream in the Katherine River.
Guides and locals will say that Katherine Gorge is a “no-go” zone for saltwater crocodiles as it is not a suitable habitat to start with. It is closely monitored at all times.
There are traps located downstream from the gorge entrance, the direction where any crocodiles would be coming from.
We saw many of these traps on our cruise and they work hard to get them out at the end of the wet season when the rivers are high and the male cros are moving around. So they can come into the gorge then and a few crocs have been relocated.
The authorities are very thorough at ensuring the gorge is clear before they open it to swimmers.
So it’s up to you and your comfort levels. Crocs scare me more than anything so I wasn’t taking a chance. There haven’t been any croc related issues in Katherine Gorge.
What is the best time to visit Katherine Gorge?
The best time to visit is between May and September when the weather is warm and sunny but not stiffling hot.
This is also the dry season which can mean high temperatures and the water levels are a little lower.
The least humid months are June to August, and temperatures are warm in the day time but cold at night, so be prepared with warm clothes if you plan to camp.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Katherine Gorge
So there you have it, this is everything you need to know about visiting Katherine Gorge. As you can see, it’s a nature lovers paradise!
There is so much to see and do here, make sure you plan a full day at least (preferable two days) to really experience the magic and beauty of the gorge and its surroundings.
I hope this guide helped you plan your trip and gave you some insight into what to expect when visiting.
More Northern Territory Travel Tips
Are you planning to visit other parts of the Northern Territory? Then you may find these other resources helpful…
- 34 Fun things to do in the NT, Australia
- The West MacDonnell Ranges & Alice Springs
- 9 Ways to Experience the Magic of Uluru, Australia
- Lovely Darwin Accommodation in Cullen Bay
- Highlights of a Northern Territory Road Trip from Darwin
- Best Things to Do in Darwin (+places to eat & drink)
- My Dream Visit to Darwin and Arnhem Land: T-QUAL Tick Race
- 25 Outstanding National Parks in Australia
- 14 Best Road Trips in Australia
- 20 Places to Put on your Australian Bucket List
- 45 Things to know before visiting Australia
- Best Cold and Hot Winter Destinations in Australia
Can you picture yourself at Katherine Gorge? What would you do there? Let us know in the comments.