Create your own adventure along the various Southern Walk tracks that follow the Top End’s most famous gorge. Sandstone features, culturally rich sites, and relaxing swimming spots, make up the untamed beauty of Nitmiluk Gorge.
- Stunning views of Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge
- Jawoyn Valley Aboriginal rock art
- Secluded swimming hole at the 8th gorge campsite
- Isolated and uncrowded campsites
Nitmiluk National Park is located about a 3.5 hour drive from Darwin. A leisurely cruise is the most popular way to see the Nitmiluk Gorge for tourists however a more immersive experience of the landscape can be found by following the Southern Walks. These walks extend much further along the vast gorge system.
This was also to be my first solo multi-day hike.
Want more NT overnight hikes? 5 Days on The Jatbula Trail
Day 1 – Nitmiluk Visitor Centre to Dunlop Swamp
Time: 3.5 hr
The day started at the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre and quickly ascended onto the rocky escarpment before getting onto the Waleka trail leading to Pat’s Lookout. The Waleka trail is graded as ‘difficult’, being a more rugged trail guided by navigation arrows every 50 metres or so. But the views overlooking the first gorge were certainly worth the effort.
Jedda’s Rock is only another 800m up the track and offers an amazing view of gorge two. This elbow of the gorge has great significance for the Jawoyn people. It’s believed that the Rainbow Serpent, who created the entire gorge system, inhabits this location.
The rest of the day’s walk to Dunlop Swamp involved trekking 4.6km along the Yambi trail, which is predominantly an easy-to-follow 4WD accessible track.
Hot weather is a key feature in this region and temperatures on the escarpment can be 10° warmer than below, so staying hydrated and protected from the sun was a high priority throughout the trip.
Although Dunlop Swamp isn’t the most beautiful campsite, especially with the consecutive poor wet seasons, it nonetheless served as a welcome place to rest after a hot day of hiking.
Handy Tip: There are tanks of freshwater located at regular junctions along the Yambi walk where you can fill up your bottles, or just grab water from the gorge river itself. Either way, it’s best to filter or purify your water before drinking, just to stay be safe.
Day 2 – Dunlop Swamp to 8th Gorge Campsite
Time: 3.5 hr
Leaving soon after sunrise in an attempt to beat the heat, I carried on along the relatively flat Yambi walk for 5km until reaching the Jawoyn Valley trail. This is a 5.6km loop that passes by several sites containing Aboriginal rock art. This was a reminder that people have lived in this part of the world for tens of thousands of years and thrived, despite not having the gear in my pack I considered ‘essential’.
The track continues on for another kilometre before a final descent into the 8th gorge campsite. This is a beautiful sandy campsite located next to an upper pool of the gorge that served as the perfect spot to cool off. The pool even has a waterfall that runs at certain times of the year.
The campsite also has a rocky opening to a clifftop overlooking gorges 7-9. I was actually quite taken aback at how magnificent the view was. As I returned to eat dinner at this spot, I got a sense of how isolated I was now, being solo at the furthest point away from the visitor centre. As I sat there contemplating all my life choices up until this point, I concluded that going on this hike was definitely a good one.
Handy Tip: Check the conditions and status of all tracks and swimming locations on the Nitmiluk National Park website before heading out.
Day 3 – 8th Gorge Campsite to Smitt Rock
Time: 2.5 hr
This day’s walk to Smitt Rock was only 7.5km, but much of the route taken was along the tougher Waleka walk. While the terrain was rocky and more undulating, the navigation arrows were easy to follow and it presented fantastic views of the landscape.
The walk approaching the campsite runs along the top of the gorge, providing great views of Smitt Rock all the way in. This is where I saw the first signs of human life for a while, a small group of kayakers in the distance.
The descent from the campsite to the river follows a short but rather steep track. There’s a perfect spot to collect water here and take a relaxing dip. The sandy area in the shadow of Smitt Rock also provides an excellent escape from the heat – this is where I spent most of the afternoon.
Handy Tip: Look out for a single tent site situated close to the cliff edge that overlooks the gorge – it’s arguably the most desirable spot at the Smitt Rock campsite.
Day 4 – Smitt Rock to Visitor Centre
Time: 3.5 hr
After having a final breakfast overlooking the gorge at sunrise, I packed up camp and began the day’s walk. The 11km route back to the visitor centre mostly followed the Yambi trail walked on day one.
A tell-tale sign I was approaching the end was the gradually increasing numbers of day visitors once back on the scenic Baruwei loop walk.
While a sadness set upon me that the trip was coming to an end, I felt very privileged to be able to enjoy this land and collect memories that will inspire my next multi-day adventure.
Handy Tip: This trip is best done in the cooler months of the dry season (May-August). Avoid doing this trip in the wet season.
- Capacity to hold at least 3L of water
- Sun protection (broad brimmed hat, sunscreen, long sleeves, sunglasses etc.)
- Water purification/filtration gear
- 4 days’ worth of meals/snacks
- Camping permit
- PLB or EPIRB
How To Get There
The Nitmiluk Visitor Centre is an easy 25 minute drive from Katherine. There’s ample parking at the visitor centre to leave a car.
Intermediate – Advanced
The great thing about this track is that you can choose different tracks of varying difficulties to suit your skill level. The greatest challenge is likely to be managing daytime heat. Each campsite also has a long drop toilet.
Distance Covered / Elevation Gained / Duration
Approximately 45km / 120m / 4 days