| The Katherine region lies nearly 400 kilometres south of Darwin, taking in world famous Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk) National Park with its towering cliffs, waterways, indigenous art and stunning geology. Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park protects ancient limestone caves while the soothing warm waters of Mataranka's thermal pools calls weary travellers to rest. And why not pan for gold at Pine Creek, where an outdoor historical museum displays old equipment from the days of the Gold Rush. |
|How do I get there? |
| Katherine is the major town in the region. It is located 350 kilometres south-east of Darwin and can be reached either by private transport or on an organised tour - of which there are many - from Darwin. |
|Where can I stay?|
| Travelmate has accommodation in the region to suit every budget. |
|What are the main towns?|
|The main towns in the region include: Katherine, Mataranka, Daly Waters and Pine Creek. |
|What's there to do in the region?|
| The town of Katherine is located 350 kilometres south-east of Darwin. It took its name from the nearby Katherine River, first seen with European eyes by John McDouall Stuart in 1862. He named the river after the daughter of one of his supporters. After the Overland Telegraph was erected in the 1870s, the settlement of Katherine developed as a service centre for the surrounding cattle industry. It is also the site for the RAAF base Tindal, and today an important part of the local economy is tourism.|
The wild and rugged landscape around Katherine has much to offer the visitor to the Top End, and something like 300,000 people per year come to experience it. The chief attraction is the 292,000-hectare Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, 30 kilometres north-east of the town. Here 13 gorges have been carved out of the Arnhem Land sandstone by the Katherine River, forming a series of long, calm pools separated by rapids in the dry season. In the wet, the water level can rise by 18 metres and the river becomes a torrent.
The best way to see the gorges, their 60-metre tall cliffs contrasting with sandy beaches and their fascinating wildlife is by boat. A variety of options are available. Most visitors take a guided tour along the first few gorges, with commentary on Aboriginal rock art, as well as the wildlife that includes goannas, bats, wallabies and a multitude of birdlife. Other more daring options are night-time tours in search of freshwater crocodiles or overnight canoe trips, which can take you beyond the commonly explored first five gorges. A truly spectacular viewing is by scenic flight over — sometimes nearly into — the gorges in a light plane or helicopter. For those wanting something more down to earth, more than 100 kilometres of marked walking tracks wind around the gorges.
In the larger park area, Edith Falls, on the park’s western boundary, is well worth visiting, with its pretty and safe (for most of the year) swimming pool at the base of the falls and its bush walks. Unpowered camping sites are also located here. Another nearby attraction is Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park, south on the Stuart Highway, where guided tours of the caves, which have been formed out of 500-million-year-old limestone, are conducted.
Nitmiluk was handed back to its traditional owners, the Jawoyn people, in 1988 and the land leased back to the National Parks and Wildlife for 99 years. The Nitmiluk Visitor Centre provides information on the Jawoyn life and culture, as well as the area’s wildlife and geology. For those wishing to experience Aboriginal culture more closely, four-wheel drive tours to remote areas are available out of Katherine.
About 100 kilometres south-east of Katherine along the Stuart Highway is the township of Mataranka with Elsey National Park and the Mataranka Thermal Pool nearby. The 14,000 hectare Elsey National Park is named after Elsey Station, once home of Jeannie and Aeneas Gunn (of We of the Never Never fame), and takes in the rainforested surrounds of part of the Roper River. A camping ground, signposted walks, waterfalls, picnic and swimming areas, as well as opportunities for canoeing all exist in the park, but the main attraction is the spring-fed, 34-degree C Mataranka Thermal Pool. The pool presents a paradise-like setting of paperbark and palm forest around a circle of soft, green, warm water.
Two other national parks further south-west of Katherine are Gregory and Keep River. As its name suggests, the Keep River National Park covers an area either side of the Keep River, extending right to the West Australian border; the Gregory National Park takes in an area around the Victoria River. Both parks contain semidesert landscapes in which the strangely shaped boab tree can be seen emerging over grassland and the gorges and escarpments typical of the region drop — or rise — steeply. Both parks also contain ancient Aboriginal art sites. Gregory National Park, in a transitional zone from tropical to semidesert, is named after Augustus Gregory, whose arrival opened the area to graziers. Special four-wheel drive tracks have been marked out and a campsite exists at Bullita, an old outstation. Bullita Station was sold by Reginald Durack to become part of the park in 1983. Campsites are also located in Keep River National Park. A walk along the floor of the 4-kilometre-long Keep River Gorge passes Aboriginal art sites.
One of the more major centres north of Katherine on the Stuart Highway towards Darwin is Pine Creek. In 1872 alluvial gold was discovered here by men digging post holes for the Overland Telegraph, and a gold rush began that lasted until the turn of the century. Gold mining continues to this day, with one of the biggest open-cut mines in the territory located there. Pine Creek is an excellent place to explore history, with many old buildings still standing. On a visit to Gun Alley Gold Mine you can get an account of the gold rush days and see a range of old machinery on display. Outdoor activities available in the area include bushwalking, canoeing and sightseeing. One unusual attraction is Bonrock Station, which doubles as a pastoral lease and a sanctuary for wild horses.