Through a combo of dumb luck, good timing, and a fair amount of last minute scrambling, Amy and her mate Eva recently tackled the five day, 62km Jatbula Trail on stunning Jawoyn Country. Here’s why any keen day hiker could tackle the Jatbula Trail.
I’ve done a fair bit of overnight hiking in the last few years, with a few two-nighters thrown into the mix as well. Eva’s been on the road for over a year, hiking almost every day, but never for longer than an overnight trip.
When we hiked the Jatbula Trail, it was the most amount of days and kilometres either of us had spent on the trail. Not to mention, it was the end of September in the Top End which meant temps were predicted to reach 38 degrees on four of the five days we were hiking. Sheesh.
But none of that was gonna stop us from taking on this epic hike, which with a little bit of preparation and a few early alarms, turned out to be a lot less painful than we thought. Here’s why I reckon anyone who loves a day hike could take on the Jatbula Trail.
The Hike Has Been Tread by Families for Generations
The hike’s named after Jaowyn man Peter Jatbula, who played a major role in securing land rights for the Jawoyn people and used to walk the trail with his family.
That’s right – kids, parents, grandparents – they all used to walk the trail together. It hasn’t been designed to test the fittest amongst us, but rather for everyone to immerse themselves in this ancient and cultural landscape.
So, five days of hiking might sound a bit intimidating for Explorers who usually stick to day hikes or overnighters. But when you break down the distances day by day, some of the hike lengths are shorter than your standard weekend stroll. Each day’s distances range between 8.3km on day one, to 16.8km on day four.
The landscape can be exposed at points, which can make the heat intense. But in terms of elevation, it’s fairly minimal. Sure there are a few rocky inclines, but most of the track is across a plateau, not mountaintops.
If you think of each day as a day hike to a stunning swim spot, minus the walk back to the car, you’ll be laughing.
You Can Cool Down Every Afternoon
Your home for every night of the hike sits mere metres away from a drop-dead gorgeous freshwater swimming hole or waterfall.
Even at the end of the dry season when there hasn’t been a spot of rain for months, these freshwater sources continue to flow, and it’s not just a trickle.
We witnessed gushing waterfalls, strong currents in rivers, and perfect plunge pools. It’s little wonder why the Jawoyn people have followed this route for centuries.
Knowing that at the end of each day’s hiking you’ll arrive at a permanent and spectacular freshwater source, where you can cool off and refill your water bladder, is a treat you rarely find on multi-day hikes.
It means no matter how hot you get, you can refresh and rinse. It means you don’t have to stress about carrying more than a day’s worth of water or about rationing it. Hell, we didn’t even treat the water, and it was divine.
Help is Never Far Away
To hike the Jatbula Trail you need a permit, and they only give out 15 per day for around five months of the year.
So although it’s a bit competitive to get a place, this almost guarantees there’ll be a dozen or so people close by on the trail and camping at the same location as you every night.
For some, having to share the scenery might be a turn off (it shouldn’t be there’s plenty of views to go around), but in terms of safety, especially on a long, hot walk, this is a big tick.
Although Eva and I arrived together, we ended up in a hiking group of nine. Everyone was often crossing paths on the track, catching up at camp, and checking in on each other, especially if someone turned up later than the rest of the group. There was a strong sense of comradery and everyone wanted to make sure we all succeeded together.
Before setting foot on the track, hikers need to register with Nitmiluk National Park and attend a safety briefing so the rangers know exactly who’s on the trail at all times.
At every campground, there’s an emergency call device that allows you to buzz into the rangers in the park and call for emergency help. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a helipad by each campground in case you need to be choppered outta there.
They’ve really thought of everything! I still recommend carrying a PLB as out on the track between camps is where the trouble’s most likely to happen.
There’s Time to Let Those Blisters Breathe
As the hiking distances are relatively short, and you’ll probably be starting early to avoid hiking in the peak heat of the day, you end up with half a day (or more) to relax and let your body recover.
Eva and I were told ‘If you don’t take a hammock, you’re an idiot!’ and idiots, we are not.
After getting the kilometres outta the way in the morning, the rest of our days were a blissful combination of food, swimming, relaxing in hammocks reading or napping, exploring the area around the campground, and hanging out with the other hikers.
The day after we finished the hike I expected to feel terribly achy, tired, and sore – we’d just walked 62km after all! I was none of those things. I started work the next day feeling equally accomplished, relaxed, and restored.
The structure of the hike allowed plenty of time for my body to recover in between walking. It allowed time to wind down, to stretch and move around before lying on the ground for multiple hours, and enough time for proper sleep.
Essentially it’s a hike holiday! And with the right preparation (and restraint from snoozing your pre-dawn alarm) you won’t want to reach the end (although a barra burger and choccy milkshake will be waiting for you when you do).