The first thing you notice in Katherine Gorge / Nitimiluk NP is the silence.
And then our squids arrive. Squabbling over paddles, directions and seat locations.
Nitimiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park is the jewel of the region, a magnificent series of 13 connected gorges carved by the Katherine River, and impressive boulders separating each gorge. After an early morning hike up to the lookout, watching a smoky day in the distance awaken, we were keen to get down on the water and experience some solitude.
This epic area is best seen from within, on the river. The best way to truly appreciate and penetrate this is by paddling a canoe, portaging it across rock bars and soaking up the views from the water.
We dragged out “Alby”, our trusty and hardy inflatable canoe, and launched it just as two coach loads of Ghan train passengers arrived by transfer coach. There goes the neighbourhood.
Once the crowds passed, we canoed the silent gorge, marvelling at its ancient geological landforms which were sculpted from sandstone bedrock, and the freshies ignoring us from the riverbank.
It was hard work paddling, especially when you knew your endurance was being photographed by several shiny faced, admiring tourists as they cruised by in their tour boat.
A River Deep experience
We paddled by towering cliff-faces, nosing our canoe into the skinny wedge of a cave feeling the heat radiating off them, marvelling at their sheer drop into the water below.
Like the tourists we are, we marvel at the abundant flora and fauna.
Darters, known as snake birds, crane their slender necks and heads point in an S from the water. Cormorants dry their wings. Water monitors peer lazily at us. Croc tracks slide down to the water from sandy banks. Freshwater mangroves, their striking red flowers and river pandanus offer the odd respite from the heat.
A 3km paddle further rewarded us at the end of the 1st Gorge with a walk along the rockbars to the Jaowyn art site. A timeless art gallery, and we have it all to ourselves as we wander under cliff ledges spotting more and more drawings.
It was hot. We were spent, knackered, exhausted!
Three km’s each way in the heat, our water bottles draining fast …it was time to scramble up the rocks to check out some beautiful stencil and painted rock art, wave to the next Gorge and head back to our launching point.
Sweaty, thirsty and paddle-weary we alighted – just as the next cruise load of tourists arrived.
We reckon we had the more worthy Katherine Gorge experience however, so we shouted ourselves Paddle Pop’s as we gloated and deflated.
Check back in later, I’m way out yonder and there’s not enough juice to upload photos! Or pop over to our Instagram page and see what we’re up to. http://instagram.com/thecoastwriter