Discover impressive waterfalls, examine ancient Aboriginal rock art and spot native wildlife on a choice of bushwalks through Nitmiluk National Park.
Nitmiluk National Park covers an area of 2,920km² (1,127mi²) and boasts 13 gorges carved through ancient sandstone, including the majestic Katherine Gorge – the central attraction of Nitmiluk.
Previously named Katherine Gorge National Park, the park's northern edge borders Kakadu National Park and shares the magnificent Arnhem Land escarpment.
Nitmiluk National Park has some of Australia's most stunning scenery and numerous bushwalks from short to middle-distance and long walking trails, which cover many of the highlights of the park including wildlife, Aboriginal rock art and pristine waterholes.
You can explore the park on foot, by canoe, boat or helicopter.
Paddle a kayak or relax on a guided cruise along the Katherine River passing beneath the magnificent red sandstone cliffs of Katherine George.
Spot wildlife, discover Aboriginal rock paintings, enjoy a refreshing swim in the pandanus-fringed natural pool at the base of Edith Falls or slide into the warm thermal waters of Katherine’s hot springs.
Explore the Northern Territory's only butterfly sanctuary and discover a colourful display of natural flora alongside the amazing collection of butterflies.
The Katherine region is a bushwalker’s paradise, with six national parks and many other reserves and conservation areas.
More than 100km (62mi) of walking trails traverse Nitmiluk National Park alone. Choose from short walks of 40 minutes to full-day hikes, or pack your backpack and head out overnight on the famous Jatbula Trail.
The gorges and surrounding landscape have ceremonial significance to the local Jawoyn people, who have maintained their traditions through the stories passed from one generation to another in the Dreamtime.
Nitmiluk – the Jawoyn name for Katherine Gorge – is pronounced Nit-me-look and literally means Cicada Place.
Nitmiluk National Park is located in the Northern Territory's 30km (18.6mi) north-east of Katherine and around 240km (150mi) southeast of Darwin.
Must-see sights in Nitmiluk National Park, include…
A trip to or through Nitmiluk National Park would not be complete without a visit to the pristine Katherine Gorge, the central attraction of the park.
Katherine Gorge comprises 13 gorges, with rapids and waterfalls that follow the Katherine River from its origin in Kakadu. During the dry season, roughly from April to October, the Katherine Gorge waters are placid in most spots and ideal for swimming and canoeing.
Freshwater crocodiles are often visible in the river, but they are harmless to humans.
However dangerous salt-water crocodiles regularly enter the river during the wet season, when the water levels are high, and are subsequently removed and returned to the lower levels at the onset of the dry season. For this reason, swimming in the wet season is prohibited.
During the dry season as the water level of the river falls the gorges become separated; they become interconnected in the wet season.
The gorges can be explored by canoe and flat bottomed boat. Cruises of various lengths go as far as the fifth gorge.
You can learn more about Nitmiluk at the visitor centre located at Katherine Gorge. Information displays are set up that explain the geology, landscape and aboriginal history of the national park. Tours can be booked at the centre or at the visitor centre in the town of Katherine.
There are two permanent camp-grounds where there are both tent and caravan sites. Both fires and bush camping are permitted.
Cool off with a swim in the paperbark and pandanus-fringed natural pool at the base of the falls or take the 2.6km (1.6mi) Leliyn Trail to the upper pools of the falls – a challenging walk along a steep, rocky loop. Here you can enjoy the sight of the cascading waterfalls that feed the plunge pool.
You can swim in the natural pool at the base of the falls most of the year, although it may be closed to swimming from November to April.
A longer 9km (5.5mi) loop trail leads to Sweetwater Pool, another tranquil swimming hole.
Edith Falls offers a number of scenic camp sites. The main camping site has a kiosk serving meals, as well as toilet facilities with drinking water, although fires and generators are not permitted.
Edith Falls is the finishing point of the 62km (38.5mi) Jatbula Trail, which begins at Katherine Gorge.
Edith Falls – known as Leliyn in the local Jawoyn language – is located on the western side of Nitmiluk National Park, a 60km (37mi) drive north of Katherine along the Stuart Highway.
Take a guided, underground tour to admire the system of ancient limestone caves formed millions of years ago.
Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park covers around 15km² (5.8mi²) of karst limestone landscape, found in only a few locations in northern Australia.
The caves sit 15m (16yd) below the surface. A winding boardwalk allows you to walk underground through the Cutta Cutta Caves, one of Australia's only tropical limestone cave systems, located just 22km (13.6mi) south of Katherine.
The Tropical Woodland walk begins near the car park and enables visitors to experience the open tropical woodland. Allow 10 to 20 minutes to complete the walk.
Look out for a variety of native wildlife, including the brown tree snake and the rare ghost bat and horseshoe bat. The park is open year-round, but the caves are occasionally closed due to seasonal conditions. Guided one-hour tours run daily
'Cutta Cutta' is a local Aboriginal word used by the Jawoyn people to mean 'many stars', as the caves were thought by local tribes to be the resting point for the stars during the day.
Located among the scenic ancient landscape of Nitmiluk National Park, the Jatbula Trail follows the route travelled by generations of Jawoyn people from Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) to Leliyn (Edith Falls).
The iconic, one-way 62km (38.5mi) Jatbula Trail is regarded as one of the world’s best bushwalks, and was named after Jawoyn traditional owner Peter Jatbula.
The trail follows the western edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment and takes hikers through sandstone plateau scrub, open woodlands, monsoon forest and alongside rivers.
For experienced hikers only and taking four to five days, the Jatbula Trail winds its way past waterfalls, monsoon rainforest, stone country and Aboriginal rock art; it provides camping alongside natural swimming holes.
The trail is graded as medium to hard and is suitable for those who are reasonably fit and active with some bushwalking experience – persons capable of walking over rough ground with a backpack weighing up to 15kg (33lb). Booking is essential.
Nitmiluk to Biddlecombe Cascades – 8.3km (5.1mi)
Day 1: Biddlecombe Cascades is the first camp site at the end of day one. It is one of the many swimming locations found along the trail. The waterhole is fed by a permanently flowing creek that drops into a lovely waterfall.
Along the way you'll pass Northern Rockhole – a lovely lunch spot on the first day of walking the trail.
Facilities situated close to the camp site include toilets and an Emergency Call Device (ECD).
Biddlecombe to Crystal Falls – 11km (6.8mi)
Day 2: Located 19.5km (12mi) along the Jatbula Trail, Crystal Falls is the second camp site on the trail.
Crystal Falls features several rock pools, rapids and small cascades that fall away into a spectacular and large waterfall.
Fed by nearby swamps and springs, Crystal Falls flows year-round – perfect for a refreshing swim after a day on the trail.
Toilets and an Emergency Call Device (ECD) are located close by the camp sites.
Crystal Falls to 17 Mile Falls – 10km (6.2mi)
Day 3: 17 Mile Falls is the third camp site on the trail and can only be accessed by trekkers on the Jatbula Trail. The waterfall flows throughout the year, fed by a permanent water source from several rivers and creeks.
The Amphitheatre is a favourite resting place along the trail. A short, steep set of steps descends into the Amphitheatre, which is a U-shaped gorge filled with monsoon rainforest, moss-covered boulders and clear rock pools.
Look out for the Aboriginal rock art on the Amphitheatre's walls, created by the Jawoyn and Dagoman people.
Toilets and an Emergency Call Device (ECD) are located close by the camp sites.
17 Mile Falls to Sandy Camp – 16.8km (10.43)
Day 4: On this section of the trail the scenery changes from rocky escarpment into the Edith Falls catchment area, with thick strands of grevillias and paperbacks found close to Edith River Crossing.
Edith River Crossing is a welcome break – around 12km (7.4mi) from 17 Mile Falls – on route to Sandy Camp, which is a further 5.1km (3.1mi) along the Jatbula Trail hike.
Sandy Camp is the fourth camp site reached on the trail and is the perfect spot to relax after a long days trek.
The large waterhole is perfect for cooling off and soft sandy beach surrounded by towering paperbacks makes Sandy Camp one of the most popular camp sites on the trail.
Toilets and an Emergency Call Device (ECD) are located close by the camp sites.
Sandy Camp to Sweetwater Pool – 11.1km (6.8mi); or direct to Edith Falls 15.6km (9.7mi)
Day 5: Sweetwater Pool is the last camp site on the Jatbula Trail and is home to several pools to cool off in the still waters.
Sweetwater Pool can also be reached on a 4.5km (2.8mi) walk from Edith Falls. If you plan to walk to and camp overnight at Sweetwater from Edith Falls, you will need to check availability through Edith Falls Camp ground as these camp sites are usually reserved for Jatbula trail walkers only.
Toilets and an Emergency Call Device (ECD) are located close by to camp sites.
Other ways to explore Nitmiluk National Park include the Baruwei Lookout and Loop Walks which lead through the western end of the Katherine Gorge system and escarpment.
The moderate Baruwei Lookout Walk is a 1.8km (1.1mi) return loop with views of Katherine Gorge and 17 Mile Valley.
The moderate 4.8km (3mi) Baruwei Loop Walk continues from the lookout along the escarpment and back down towards the visitor centre.
Northern Rockhole – This is a half day walk from the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre at Katherine Gorge and the perfect spot for a swim. You climb over dark volcanic rocks to reach the base of the falls, where you can see many layers of sedimentary rocks in the cliff face.
In the early half of the year you can usually bathe beneath a single drop waterfall.
You can do the return walk from the Nitmiluk Visitors Centre to Northern Rockhole in a day. Walkers must register at the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre and need to book a short Ferry ride to cross the Katherine River.
The Windolf Walk – This moderately challenging but scenic 8.4km (5.2mi) return trail winds its way along the Katherine River and up to Pat’s Lookout for a sweeping view of Nitmiluk Gorge. Go swimming in the river and check out the tumbling waterfalls at the Southern Rockhole.
The trail includes access to the picturesque Southern Rockhole – a seasonal waterfall, located near the top of the first gorge.
Southern Rockhole – The 4km (2.4mi) trail is not a man-made path, and requires rock-hopping most of the way.
Alternatively you can catch a boat ferry either one-way (with the option of walking one way) or return. The boat ferry will drop you off within 150m (164yd) of the Rockhole, where you are then required to walk the remaining distance.
Swim or paddle beneath the towering rock walls of Butterfly Gorge that are home to thousands of common crow butterflies.
This quiet gorge is tucked away at the base of a low sandstone plateau. The sheer rock faces, edged by dense riverine vegetation and rocky spinifex country, offer shaded riverine walks amid stunning scenery.
It's possible to climb up the rocky slopes to reach the top of the gorge with views of the rock pools.
Shaded by paperbarks up to 50m-tall (54yd) the rock pools are the perfect spot for a refreshing swim. You can swim across the main pool and through the narrow gorges to reach the upper pools.
The gorge and main swimming area are a 10 minute walk from the car park. No camping allow here but instead close by at Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs.
Usually open from May to October each year, Butterfly Gorge Nature Park is located 122km (75mi) south of Batchelor and 196km (121mi) north of Katherine.
Discover a natural wonderland of towering red cliffs and a creek that meanders through the gorge to rock pools that provide scenic swimming spots.
A 1km (0.6mi) walking track winds alongside the creek to a large pool with a small sandy beach, while the rest of the gorge can only be reached by wading, swimming and rock hopping.
Along the way view Aboriginal rock art sites and look out for colonies of short-eared rock-wallabys and rock ringtailed possums.
Discover magnificent views from the cliff-tops. For rock climbing and abseiling, permits must be obtained from the Batchelor or Palmerston Parks and Wildlife Services offices before you arrive at Umbrawarra.
Facilities include a small camp ground with barbecue facilities, car park and a pit-toilet a short distance from the gorge entrance. Camping fees apply and should be deposited in the honesty box provided. There is no drinking water provided.
Umbrawarra Gorge is reached by following the turn-off sign from the Explorer’s Way at Coomalie Creek, north of Katherine. The turn-off is about 3km (1.8mi) south of Pine Creek on the Stuart Highway; followed by 22km (13.6mi) on an often dusty and corrugated unsealed road.
Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park is located about 245km (152mi) from Darwin, about 115km (71mi) north of Katherine and around 27km (16mi) southwest of Pine Creek.
Note: It's best to visit in the dry season – May to September – when the river level has dropped and the gorge is accessible. During the wet season – October to April – the road is often closed.
Located at the gateway to Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine is an ideal spot for exploring the region and enjoying any number of adventure activities.
An historic pioneering town, Katherine township began its life as an outpost of the Overland Telegraph Line in 1872.
Katherine gets its name from the Katherine River, which was so named by explorer John McDouall Stuart during his third north-south journey across Australia, in 1862.
This is where the Outback meets the tropics: Katherine is considered a part of the Top End and of Central Australia, meaning it experiences both the monsoons of the Top End along with the dry climate of the Red Centre.
Visit the ruins of the 1879 Springvale Homestead (photo), one of the Northern Territory's first cattle stations; pop in to Katherine School of the Air, where school lessons are broadcast over the radio to children living in remote areas across the Top End; visit the picturesque Katherine Hot Springs; or take a refreshing dip in the large plunge pool at Edith Falls.
Wander among 200 different species of cycads, cacti and succulents at the Jurassic Cycad Gardens and don’t forget to browse Aboriginal artwork in one of Katherine's galleries.
Katherine Hot Springs – Open in the dry season – from April to November each year – Katherine Hot Springs are natural thermal pools on the banks of the Katherine River.
Surrounded by native vegetation and open 24 hours a day, the Hot Springs are the perfect place to warm up. Best of all, entrance is free and the springs are just on the edge of town.
Katherine Museum – Katherine has had an enthralling past that reflects the turbulent and unpredictable history of the Territory itself. Nowhere is this story told better than at the Katherine Museum.
Learn about the development of the Overland Telegraph Line, hear about Australia's first flying doctor, and see traditional Aboriginal artefacts that date back centuries.
The museum building itself – a former regional air terminal used during World War II – also has a story to tell.
Katherine is 317km (197mi) from Darwin on a mix of sealed and unsealed roads – around 3hrs 20mins by car.
Explore the historic sites of Old Sheep Dip and 12 Mile Yards, go river fishing, kayaking and, surrounded by paperbark and palm forest, relax in the warm crystal clear thermal pools at Rainbow Spring.
Take the 8km-return (5mi) walk to Mataranka Falls, cooling off in the gentle rapids, or choose the Botanic Walk, an easy 1.5km (0.9mi) loop around the park.
Marvel at the park’s diverse plant species, which helped to create the perfect setting for Jeannie Gunn’s We of the Never Never.
Elsey National Park is located 120km (74mi) southeast of Katherine.
Located on the upper reaches of the Roper River, Mataranka is renowned for its thermal pools, which bubble away at a constant 34°C (93°F).
Enjoy a warm dip in the sandy-bottomed lagoon fringed with paperbark and palm forest or go fishing, kayaking and bushwalking.
Pop into the Stockyard Gallery, exhibiting local Aboriginal art, and the Never Never Museum, displaying local Aboriginal history. Don’t miss visiting the Mataranka Homestead near tranquil Rainbow Spring.
Mataranka is located 108km (67mi) southeast of Katherine.
Various accommodation options are available within Nitmiluk National Park from camping and chalets to the upmarket Cicada Lodge, as well as in Katherine.
Find the best deal, compare prices and read what other travellers have to say about hotel accommodation in Katherine at TripAdvisor.
The best time to visit Katherine & Nitmiluk National Park (and the Darwin region) is during the winter dry season from May to October. At this time you can expect comfortable temperatures and minimal rainfall.
Nitmiluk National Park experiences a tropical monsoonal climate characterised by two main seasons: the dry season and the wet season.
The dry season from May to October is characterised by warm, sunny days and crisp winter nights. Daytime temperatures typically range from 27°C (80°F) to 32°C (90°F). Humidity is relatively low (around 65%) and rain is unusual.
Between May and July temperatures can typically range from 17°C (63°F) to 23°C (73°F) during the night, making it the coolest time of year in the Top End.
The wet season, from November to April, is characterised by hot temperatures and monsoonal rain. This season brings the waterfalls and floodplains to life, but some roads are closed due to flooding.
During the wet season, the Top End is subject to unprecedented volumes of rainfall. Characterised by intense and often visually dramatic weather events, the average temperature ranges from 25°C (77°F) to 33°C (91°F) and humidity is often in excess of 80%.
However the increased rainfall results in spectacular waterfalls with lush green landscapes that engulf much of the region, including the Katherine region and Nitmiluk National Park.
While not as visually dramatic as the wet season, visiting the Top End in the dry season offers an unrivalled opportunity to explore the region in relative comfort.
During the transition from dry to wet, humidity rises and the air becomes thick with heat and moisture. Known locally as as the ‘build up’ or ‘troppo’ season, this period is subject to gathering storm clouds but only sporadic rain, with locals and visitors alike doing their best to cope with stifling conditions.
About Darwin weather…
Located at the gateway to Nitmiluk National Park, around 317km (197mi) south-west of Darwin – 3hrs 20mins by road on the sealed Stuart Highway, Katherine is an ideal spot for exploring the region.
Alternatively, you can fly into Katherine from either Darwin or Alice Springs.
The most convenient route to Darwin, from overseas or interstate, is by air to Darwin International Airport (DRW), located about 12km (7.4mi) northeast of Darwin city centre.
You may also choose to drive the Nature’s Way from Darwin through Kakadu National Park and into Nitmiluk National Park before returning via Litchfield National Park; or vice-versa.
Nature's Way is the name given to the 550km (341mi) loop which takes in some of the Top End's most renowned sights.
Katherine and Nitmiluk National Park lie to the south of Kakadu and Arnhem Land, and southeast of Litchfield National Park.
About how to get to Darwin…
Latest update: Nitmiluk National Park: 12 November, 2020
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