Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge)

Occasionally, although thankfully, rarely, things can go horribly wrong on a hike. No, not an injury, getting lost, or even the much feared snake bite or croc encounter. One can run out of reading material. Even those who have meticulously packed for their hike, including not one, but two books, can be caught short. I completed both my books during the long, lazy afternoons at each campsite.

Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge), Northern Territory

Maybe not horribly wrong, but as those of you who are fellow book lovers, this isn't a situation one wants to find oneself in. I had tried to fill my days with hiking, picking the furthest campsites with the most difficult trail ratings. As you might know, I waste no time in walking. I completed each day's hiking within four hours. The first day, this wasn't so much of a problem as I only started out at 10am. The second day though, I was eating an early lunch atop the cliff's edge overlooking Katherine Gorge and my night's campsite.

I could have done all the walking in two, not three, days, but I wanted to give my ever-injured feet a break, and to enjoy each of the spectacularly placed campsites on the Katherine River.

The day before my hike the Katherine River was closed to swimmers and canoeists due to a saltie sighting. A canoeist had seen what they thought looked awfully like a saltie, and not a freshie. Two days later, the rangers confirmed it. As is their way, the saltie had moved up the river undetected. It was only a little fella, only two metres in length, but still, it wouldn't pass up the opportunity to have a bit of a nibble on a German or Japanese tourist. It had snuck past the main swimming and boating area near the visitor centre, over the first set of rapids and into the second gorge.

There was no danger to my planned hike, or so I was assured. The croc still had to cross a few more sets of rapids to reach my swimming and camping spots. Even so, the thought plays on one's mind as one swims in the river. These crocs can move about undetected, let's not forget that.

I walked first to the Eighth Gorge, not deviating down any of the side trips from the main east-west track. The network of walks here is referred to as the Southern Walks of the Nimiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park. It presents many options - one main track leads end-to-end, many side tracks lead down to the gorge and river. Several weeks ago I had walked a day hike into Butterfly Gorge and Pat's Lookout with Beni - at the time we had been limited to day walks as we needed to check daily at the post office to see if the new radiator for the crippled car had arrived.

Butterfly Gorge is not so special. There are butterflies, true, but they aren't of particular interest. The monsoon forest here has been blackened by recent bushfires. The river's edge is somewhat inaccessible. Returning from out walk here, we diverted down another side track to Pat's Lookout and the Southern Rockhole. The lookout has panoramic views over the river from the cliff edge. We also enjoyed a nice swim in the river, not put off by the signs on the opposite side of the river stating, "Warning. Do not enter beach. Croc breeding ground." They were, of course, only harmless freshies.

Eighth Gorge is special. The campsite is beside a large plunge pool with waterfall. The river can be found by following the trickle of water leaving the pool's edge, growing to a creek, before it itself tumbles over the cliff edge to the Katherine River far below.

On the second day, I returned along some of the main track, but this time deviating into Jawoyn Valley. The indig rock art was hard to find, I suspect I found very little of it, but the views and surroundings were pleasant so the detour was well worth it.

Returning to the main track, I took another side track, this time to Smitt Rock where I would spend the afternoon and camp. Naming the place a rock is quite an understatement. The river is split in two by the huge rock formation, it as high as the surrounding cliffs. The campsite sits on the sand banks of the river. I had this campsite, like the previous night's, all to myself. There were no other hikers, and no-one was permitted to canoe up the river to join me. Pity, it was a wonderful place to spend a warm afternoon reading in the shade of a nice gum tree.

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit


Southern Walks of Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park
Monday Tuesday Wednesday
26/7/2010 27/7/2010 28/7/2010
Nitmiluk Visitor Centre to Eighth Gorge Eighth Gorge to Smitt Rock via Jawoyn Valley Smitt Rock to Nitmiluk Visitor Centre
Distance 15.65km 15.5km 10.8km
Start Time 9.50am 8.10am 7.38am
End Time 2.10pm 12.40pm 10.06am
Moving Duration 2h55m 3h10m 2h08m
Stationary Duration 1h07m 1h23m 19m
Moving Average 5.4km/h 4.7km/h 5.0km/h
Overall Average 3.6km/h 3.3km/h 4.4km/h
Oodometer 15.65km 31.7km 42.1km

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