Nitmiluk National Park is full of quintessential Aussie scenery. Explorer Dan Parkes shares his experience of sweat, swimming holes and how, in the Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, there’s no such thing as too much sunscreen.

Quick Overview

The hike to Katherine Gorge in the Nitmiluk National Park is a 22km trek located in Northern Territory. The hike can be combined with season swimming and kayaking adventures.



  • Authentic Australian landscapes and scenery
  • Develop a deep appreciation for how Jawoyn people have lived for thousands of years.
  • Pristine outback oasis

Nitmiluk/Katherine Gorge – Nitmiluk National Park

There are normally two socially accepted seasons in the Northern Territory: the wet and the dry. But as a Southerner, I consider there to be three – hot, hotter and stinkin’ farkin’ hot.

This sweat fest adventure took place at the back end of ‘build-up’ (October – November), a weather period where humidity is through the roof, the ground is as dry as a dead dingoes donga and you’re begging for that rain to come. Seems like a bloody good time to head out for a hike through the Nitmiluk* Gorge (otherwise known as Katherine Gorge) in Nitmiluk National Park, doesn’t it?

*Pronounced “Nit-me-look” and meaning place of cicada dreaming.


Stomping The Gorge // Nitmiluk National Park (NT) Dan Parkes, river, trees, lookout, rocks, man

Andy overlooking the gorge before we descended down to the Lily Ponds

Sweating My Way To The Lily Ponds Waterfall

Our hike started out on a less than comfortable 42°C day with a caution sign at the beginning of the track that warned us to ‘expect the escarpment temperatures to be 10°C hotter than the temperature near the water’. In unison, Andy and I peered at each other and our eyes shuttered the phrases, ‘Bugger this’ and then, ‘Let’s hit it’.

We began our very optimistic 22km trek out to the Lily Ponds waterfall. The terrain we were covering is what I would classify as an authentic Australian landscape which includes epic red sandstone gorges and lush bushy gullies.

After two hours of the sun’s rays burning holes through our optimism (as well as 2cm of caked on 30+ sunscreen) we arrived at our destination. We sighed in relief as we approached the Lily Ponds because not only did we have a ripper view all to ourselves but we discovered the small cave behind the waterfall. Finally, we could cool off.


Stomping The Gorge // Nitmiluk National Park (NT) Dan Parkes, waterfall, rocks, cave, man

Me looking super chuffed after finding some shade and a spot to cool off at Lily Ponds.

Coolin’ Down At The Southern Rockhole

It was with much reluctance that we began our trek back home, or what turned out to be a diversion to the outback oasis of the Southern Rockhole. This waterhole is an absolutely cracking spot for a dip, especially after hours and hours in the burning hot sun.

It is important to note that in the dry months the Southern Rockhole is empty and only fills up after some rain, so best check with the Nitmiluk Gorge Visitor Centre to see if there is water before you embark on foot in its direction.

There’s a boat shuttle that runs from the Nitmiluk Gorge/Katherine Gorge Visitor Centre to the Southern Rockhole which was lucky for Andy and I, as we opted to hitch a boat ride from there, through the gorge and back to our starting point.

Remember you are in the Top End and crocodiles are found in Nitmiluk Gorge/Katherine Gorge so check with rangers for guidance on swimming and always be crocwise.


Stomping The Gorge // Nitmiluk National Park (NT) Dan Parkes, waterfall, bush, red rocks, trees, lily ponds, underwater, man swimming

The Southern Rockhole is a ripper spot to collapse into after a long day in the sweltering heat.

Key Stats

Below are some key stats from this sweat-inducing adventure in Nitmiluk Gorge/Katherine Gorge:


Stomping The Gorge // Nitmiluk National Park (NT) Dan Parkes, key stats

Lessons Learnt

Every adventure teaches me a few lessons – especially when the going is tough. So here are some lessons I took away from this trek.

1. If you’re adventuring in the Australian outback and you haven’t spotted a single bit of wildlife, not even a kite in the sky, then that’s a bloody good indication that its farkin hot and you’re as mad as a cut snake for being anywhere else but in the shade.

2. Sunscreens were not created to combat the rays and heat of the Northern Territory. Re-applications are a must.

3. Be over ambitious with your water supply. Pack way more than you think you’ll need and don’t rely on the provided clean water sources (they were either empty or hot).

4. Be cautious of your own and others’ optimism.


How To Get There

You can reach the Nitmiluk Gorge/Katherine Gorge section of Nitmiluk National Park from Katherine by turning left (from Darwin) or right (from Mataranka) onto Gorge Road and simply following it to the end where the Nitmiluk National Park Visitor Centre is situated.

Essential Gear

  • Water, water and more water.
  • Sunscreen
  • All forms of sun protection
  • Swimmers
  • PLB

Skill Level

The terrain in the gorge is very easy to traverse. However, weather conditions can be extremely testing. Skill level will vary depending on the time of the year you go and the distance you are covering – so keep your eye on the mercury.

See the Nitmiluk Gorge/Katherine Gorge Excursion Guide for more information on adventure planning.