ON 4TH JULY 1862, John McDougall Stuart, an early NT explorer,named the Katherine River for the second daughter of his patron,James Chambers, accidentally misspelling her name with a K instead of a C.
Today, Katherine is a central business hub that connects three major travel routes - Darwin to the north, Alice Springs to the south, and Kununurra to the west. It is also a major stop along the Savannah Way, which traverses the country from Cairns to Broome. Like many tourists, we have always driven straight through Katherine, on our way somewhere else. But when you take some time to look around, Katherine has a lot to offer.
Katherine is most famous for it's spectacular gorge system, named Nitmiluk by the traditional owners. There are 13 spectacular sandstone gorges separated by rapids; they can be accessed by canoe, scenic flight, bush walking tracks, boat or fishing tours.
We took a boat cruise through the first three gorges, which are also the largest. As the tour winds its way through the gorge, we were told stories about its history and that of the Jaowyn people.My favourite story is about how the freshwater mangrove can be used to fish. The Jaowyn people would crush the leaves of the freshwater mangrove, which is prevalent along the river banks, and drop the juice into a small pond. The film on top of the water excludes oxygen, slowly suffocating the fish in the pool. The stunned fish rise to the surface and are picked off easily by the fishers. Then all the kids jump in for a swim and stir the water up again,allowing the remaining fish to swim away unharmed. What an easy way to catch fish!
Between each gorge there is a short walking track along the bank,and then another boat in the next gorge. The sheer sandstone ravine provides an amazing backdrop for the many waterfalls and gardens that hang precariously from the walls. We also spotted a large freshwater crocodile and an olive python catching some sun on the warm rock surface. This tour is reasonably priced and well worth it.
KATHERINE HOT SPRINGS
Only two kilometres from the city centre, Katherine Hot Springs provides a refreshing place for a crocodile free swim. The water is 28°C all year round, so it can warm you up on cool days and cool you down on hot days. We did the walk along the boardwalk to view the source of the spring, where the warm water rises from the artesian basin and meanders through the bush, eventually finding its way to Katherine River.
SHADY LANE TOURIST PARK
While in Katherine we stayed in Shady Lane Tourist Park, which certainly lives up to its name. As you enter, the driveway is lined with tall palm trees and this shade continues throughout the park.Owners Philip and Marianne Bates allocated us a large grassy site for the evening, with trees along the boundary providing privacy and shade. A water tap and power point were available at the back of the site, which easily accommodated our rear fold camper, even without unhitching. There were plenty of grassed sites, as well as sites with concrete pads for caravans and motor homes.
We had arrived late, so rather than cook dinner slowly in our trailer we elected to use the spacious camp kitchen instead. Here there is a refrigerator, gas burners, barbecues, picnic tables and two large sinks for washing up (with hot and cold water). We drove the other guests mad the next morning, as the smell of our bacon and eggs wafted from the kitchen around the camping ground. More than one person offered to share with us that day! This well designed camp kitchen backs onto the most user-friendly and clean caravan laundry we have ever encountered.
The 12m swimming pool has a large shade covering it, so the kid scan enjoy it any time. Surrounded by shady palm trees and recliners, it is the perfect spot to enjoy the sunshine and a book.
There are also several large ensuite cabins for people wanting to visit who need onsite accommodation.
Heading away from Katherine we found Leilyn (Edith) Falls, 62km north. The waterfall is not very large or impressive, but the swimming hole and campground are fantastic. Boasting hot showers,running toilets, grassy camping areas, communal barbecues, picnic tables, and an amazing waterhole for swimming, you could not ask for more. There is a short walk to the top of the falls for as tress-free swim with no crocodiles. The large pool at the bottom of the waterfall only has the freshwater variety, so is pretty safe.
There was more to see in Katherine if you are lucky enough to have more time than us. The Katherine Museum has an excellent reputation, as do the Cutta Cutta Caves. There is also the Railway Station Museum and Springvale Homestead to explore.
Shady Lane Tourist Park, www.shadylanetouristpark.com.au,(08) 8971 0491.
Katherine Gorge Cruises, www.nitmiluktours.com.au,1300 146 743.
Katherine Hot Springs, (08) 8972 5500.
Source: Camper Trailer Australia #44, Sep 2011