A Fischer’s Secret Spot travel piece on the Katherine Region in the Northern Territory

The Katherine Region

There hasn’t been a better time to travel to Katherine, the Top End’s “Jewel of the Territory.” There’s no question that it’s simply glistening after this year’s aggressive Anzac Day floods, the gushing waters having swept through main street, causing quite considerable chaos. On the flipside, the overflowing waterways enforced a cleanup and simultaneously rejuvenated the gardens, lawns and wild vegetation along the flood course. Now, only months later, the dynamic little spot is looking superb – and, not dissimilar to how it looked after last century’s super floods.

As you explore this raw area, it’s not uncommon to come eye to eye with a freshwater crocodile, on rare ocassions maybe even a saltwater croc, or a barramundi if you’re lucky or skilled enough to hook one. Unsurprisingly, travellers wishing to step somewhat into the unknown are drawn to the “adventure territory”, and with its hot springs, tropical caves, swaying palms and the opportunity to sleep out in swags, you’re treated to the Australian outback the way it was meant to be experienced. 

This area also marks the Northern Territory’s original settled residence, the historic Springvale Homestead, established in 1879, now a peaceful birding and wildlife sanctuary. And, yes, the mighty Katherine River Gorge, which stretches over 12km, laced with cascading waterfalls and imposing cliff faces towering a magnificent 70m above you.

Darwin International Airport is just three hours away by car, down the mighty Stuart Highway, so Katherine’s not overly hard to reach. For those who prefer the overland experience, the impressively high standard of the Highway provides sturdy passage for 4WDs and family sedans alike. Or, of course, there’s the splendid Ghan, which conveniently pulls in and out twice weekly, northbound in the mornings and southbound in the afternoons. In fact, more and more often travellers are electing to put their cars on the train itself, then sit back and relax enroute to Katherine. Roughly 45min further north of Katherine, the highway crosses the Fergusson River. On the eastern side is a world-record railway bridge, built for the old narrow gauge Northern Australia Railway a century ago. It was so well constructed that it still performs its duties today, carrying freight and passengers from Adelaide to Darwin.

Just 20min south of town and open in dry season lie the enticing and exhilarating Cutta Cutta Caves – a real bonus for the curious. The underground network of tropical limestone caves can be easily explored in an hour. The unique formations, created millions of years ago, are still growing today. The caves are home to native wildlife, glowing crystals, secret underground lakes and extraordinary helictites, which grow in any direction, defying gravity. Horseshoe bats also call the caves home, and with further permission you can go far deeper to spot the small, blind, albino micro beasts (a variety of shrimp), which are peculiar to a tiny region in Africa and these very caves! During WWII the caves were used and abused when the Japanese bombed Darwin and targets further south – stalactites still show remnants of 303 gunshots – and there were numerous examples of sections of the cave system collapsing during the building of airstrips. Water from the caves travels more than 100km north, rising as hot springs in the Douglas Daly region.

For local hot springs and thermal pools, head down the highway to Mataranka; the silent surrounds provide a relaxing and rejuvenating oasis for the jaded traveller. Fringed by shady cabbage tree palms, the soothing turquoise waters peak at 34ºC, a natural location for a picnic stopover.

The vastness of this region, huge swathes of which remain largely unexplored, can intimidate, but this shouldn’t steer travellers away. This kind of farflung wilderness playground, tucked into the northern pocket of the country, is well worth extending yourself to experience to the full. You’ll not soon forget it. Indeed, you’ll have a unique set of enjoyable experiences around Katherine to remember for a lifetime.

DETAILS: Katherine region
Where: Around 320km (3.5hr drive) south of Darwin along the Stuart Highway.
Katherine Visitor Information Centre: 1800 653 142
Katherine Region Tourist Association: www.krta.com.au/katherine_region.htm
Katherine Town Council: http://www.ktc.nt.gov.au/
Tourism NT: www.tourismnt.com.au

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