Only three-and-a-half hours’ drive south from Darwin, this 293,000-hectare park offers plenty for adventurous travellers, with numerous outdoor activities on tap, along with some (very) comfortable campgrounds and amenities close by. Plus, it is significantly rich in the culture of the local Jawoyn people.
In short, it’s a brilliant weekend away for the active family; your 4x4 will not be tested too harshly here – except in terms of how much outdoor gear you can jam in to cater for all the park has to offer – but it is a definite must for that Darwin weekend destination list.
This spectacular national park centres on a deep gorge carved by the Katherine River through rugged sandstone. It also includes numerous waterfalls, more than 100km of walking tracks, a number of lookouts that offer those less mobile some fantastic viewpoints over the park’s unique landscape, and a great campground.
It is the Gorge itself (also known as the Katherine River and comprising nine gorges) that is the park’s centrepiece, with good reason: this waterway offers excellent canoeing and kayaking, with the potential to paddle for as long (or short) a time as you like. For the less active visitors who still want to experience the gorge’s many charms, there are daily boat tours through the gorge.
Canoeists can either head farther into the gorge, using a hire canoe or paddling their own (a small fee applies for this), or you can paddle downriver in kayaks/canoes. Whichever way you float, you’ll be shadowed by an ageless and spectacular landscape, and have the chance to spot plenty of wildlife including turtles, barramundi and – if you’re lucky and a quiet paddler – the odd freshwater croc sunning itself on a sandy beach or semi-submerged tree.
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A long, leisurely day of paddling starts at Gorge 2 (there’s no canoeing allowed in Gorge 1 anymore) and should see you reach the eastern end of Gorge 3, while still allowing for plenty of swimming stops along the way, a check-out of the Jawoyn rock art dotted along the cliffs, and food breaks at some of the pretty sandy beaches that line parts of the gorges.
If you’re keen for an overnight journey, there are canoe campsites at Gorge 4, 6 and 9, with toilets at Gorge 4 and 6. This is a brilliant experience if you have the time.
For those super-keen and not afraid of challenging portages (the rock bars and rapids get bigger farther into the gorge system), the campsites of 6 and 9 are worth all that sweat and strain as you will be pretty much on your own. You can even throw a line in and try your luck for a barra (legal size is 550mm).
For walkers, the Big Bopper is the Jatbula Trail; although, that covers four days. But, don’t despair, there are myriad tracks that range in distance from a couple of hours to overnight that offer a true insight into this park’s history, geology and culture.
The park’s southern section includes seven walks, with the Baruwei Lookout walk perfect for young and old adventurers, while the overnight Jawoyn Valley walk takes you to some impressive rock art.
Most visitors to Nitmiluk think that the gorge and surrounds are ‘the park’, but it’s well worth tacking on a side-trip to Leliyn (Edith Falls), in the park’s northern section, on your return day to Darwin. The walking tracks that start at the expansive picnic and camping area (unpowered sites only) take you to great swimming at the upper and lower pools of Edith Falls.
If you’re keen and have the time to take the longer walk (8.6km) to Sweetwater Pool (actually the final camp for those tackling the Jatbula Trail) you’ll revel in this amazing waterhole. If you have the time, you can even make this walk an overnighter. Whatever you do and however you wish to experience it, Nitmiluk is, without doubt, a brilliant Top End experience.