‘Done’ Darwin and in need of some serious Northern Territory open spaces? It’s time to head three hours south to Katherine, the Top End’s ‘adventure territory’ for your outback fill.
Just 10 minutes out of Darwin grab a coffee for the road at Laneway Specialty Coffee in Parap. Once you and your 4WD are fuelled, hit the Stuart Highway for the three-hour drive to Katherine.
En route you should stop at Leliyn (Edith Falls) for a refreshing dip, 19 kilometres off the highway. There’s a large pandanus-fringed pool at the base of the falls, or walk along the Leliyn Trail to the upper pool.
On a budget
Just 45 minutes from here is Katherine, the Top End’s ‘adventure territory’. Base yourself at Nitmiluk campground for easy access to the main attraction, Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge (powered camping sites from $47.50 per night; permanent tents from $143 per night).
Comprising 13 separate gorges, Nitmiluk Gorge has some of the most stunning scenery in the NT; this ancient wonder winds along 12 kilometres of sheer rock that reaches more than 70 metres in height.
Walking tracks abound in Nitmiluk National Park – each one offers differing views of the gorge from lookouts, the escarpment and along the banks. There are shorter walks from one to six hours, or adventurers can take a five-day hike along part of the epic Jatbula Trail. You’ll need a permit if you do an overnight walk.
If you prefer to see it from the water, hire a canoe (from $41.50) and go at your own pace – you should reach the third gorge in a day.
From this perspective the cliffs look even more dramatic and you might spot wallabies and water monitors along the banks as you paddle by, with time to stop for a swim, walk or picnic (or join a guided tour from $61).
Thirty kilometres south of Katherine, Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park is home to a limestone cave system, an unusual find in sub-tropical Australia. Join one of the daily tours ($22 adults; $11 children) to descend 15 metres below the surface into caverns formed millions of years ago.
While it’s not strictly a ‘budget’ activity, we highly recommend topping off your Katherine stay with a helicopter flight. Nitmiluk Scenic Flights offers flights to three gorges ($99), eight gorges ($159) or all 13 ($215). Seeing the landscape from above gives you a sense of how vast this Jawoyn-owned land is.
The Katherine upgrade
Stay at the wonderful Cicada Lodge, an indigenous-owned luxury lodge with 18 spacious rooms, located inside Nitmiluk National Park (from $409 a night including breakfast).
During your time here, join a Nabilil Dreaming Sunset Dinner Cruise to experience the otherworldly colours of the gorge as the sun sets. The three-course meal is (almost) as impressive as the locale ($159.50).
If you’d rather take to the air, then upgrade the helicopter flight to an Adventure Swim Tour, which includes all 13 gorges and one of Australia’s most remote swimming holes, or do the Jawoyn Rock Art Tour and fly to an indigenous art site (both options $499).
Back towards town, Marksie’s Stockman’s Camp Tucker is a unique bush food experience cooked with aboriginal bush ingredients, and served under the stars with campfire yarns ($75).