Australia Hiking Northern Territory Travel

Hiking Katherine Gorge To Splash In Southern Rockhole

Katherine Gorge - Nitmiluk National Park

I’m just about to head out for the long weekend in the Northern Territory (it’s Picnic Day, yay!) and I was thinking about another long weekend that happened a few months back. I’m not willing to say how many months, but I think we’re beyond calling it recent. For this past trip Dean’s roster was such that he got a three-day weekend, and I was able to take a single day of leave from work as well, so we decided to do a walk at the Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park.

We drove down from Darwin (about three hours) and overnighted in a local motel so we could make the trek at dawn when it was cooler. Up before sunrise, we drove the 30km or so out to Nitmiluk National Park and made our start. We’d decided to do the Windolf track which is about 8.4km return (just over 5.2miles), but we tacked a little bit extra on that exploring some of the other paths. The Windolf walk allowed us to get a few amazing views of Katherine Gorge (particularly from Pat’s Lookout), and also stop for a rest and swim at Southern Rockhole.

There’s something kind of amazing about coming across a body of water in the Northern Territory. The landscape is so dry, so unforgivable to those on the outside without the local knowledge to survive there, that it is incredible to suddenly see these rich landscapes spring up wherever water is present. In places like Katherine Gorge, and other areas like Litchfield National Park, you really are driving through often dry bushland for miles before encountering the water, which makes it all the more welcome a sight.

Katherine Gorge - Nitmiluk National Park

Finally getting to Southern Rockhole was one of those moments for me. We had enjoyed a decent hour or two of cool morning walking, but once the sun came up we started to bake in earnest. The tracks at Katherine Gorge have you walking on top of the escarpment, and there are times when you’re in the open when you really do feel like an egg frying on a rock. Southern Rockhole is a reasonably steep climb down from the escarpment into a secluded, and shaded, pool and seasonal waterfall. It was incredible, and because we were travelling in the shoulder season we were able to enjoy the pool alone for quite a while before a few intrepid German pensioners wandered in.

To be completely honest, I could have splashed in the water there all day long. The climb back up to the escarpment seemed so far and it was HOT, but eventually we had no choice but to go. I’m not going to lie to you, the way back was excruciating. Oppressive heat and the humidity of the wet/dry shoulder season sapped at us. How we passed the time I’m still not sure, but at least some of it was spent conspiratorially criticising walkers who were only just leaving to make the same trek as us at midday. Definitely not recommended!

Still all paths come to an end at some point, and we arrived back to the car hot, sweaty and a little bit delirious, but still capable to making the drive home.

Katherine Gorge - Nitmiluk National Park

What You Should Know About Hiking Katherine Gorge

  • There are a range of hikes you can do at Katherine Gorge, ranging from very short and accessible walks for those who aren’t super fit or interested in long treks, to extended hikes that even allow you to camp further up the gorge (bookings are required and these camp sites are not open all year around).
  • There are places to fill up your water bottle on the hike, but I’d still recommend traveling with a reasonably large bottle, at least 2-3 litres, to sustain you.
  • Sun protection is super important up on the escarpment, so make sure you’re wearing sunscreen and sunglasses, as well as a hat if that’s your style. I also wore longer sleeves.
  • I would highly recommend getting into Nitmiluk National Park (where the Katherine Gorge is located) super early in the morning, preferably as the sun is rising, so you can make the most of the cooler weather. We hiked in the shoulder season, but even in the dry season (our winter) it will certainly get hot up there.
  • For those not interested in hiking, there are also boat cruises and canoe trips available at Katherine Gorge, but check seasonal access.

Katherine Gorge - Nitmiluk National Park

This post originally appeared on, the pre-evolved version of Maps And Mandalas. I’ve republished it here with its original date because I love it that much.

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