The 13 gorges of Nitmiluk a.k.a. Katherine Gorge, carved by the Katherine River, are of immense significance to their traditional owners, the Jawoyn people, as home to the spirits of creation.
The 292,800 hectare Nitmiluk National Park lies 244 kilometres southeast of Darwin. Previously known as Katherine Gorge National Park, its northern edge borders Kakadu National Park. The central attraction is the deep gorge carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River; in fact there are thirteen separate gorges with rapids and waterfalls along the river, which rises in Kakadu. The gorges and surrounding landscape have great ceremonial significance for the local Jawoyn people, its custodians. In the Jawoyn language, Nitmiluk means "the place of the cicada dreaming".
In the dry season, the waters of the gorge are largely calm and ideal for swimming and canoeing. Freshwater crocodiles, which are harmless to humans, nest along the banks. However during the wet season when the water level is high, saltwater crocodiles enter the river and are subsequently removed and returned to lower levels at the onset of the dry season. As a result, in wet season (late October to late March) swimming is prohibited, and at this time flooding may restrict some activities. Birdlife includes ospreys, red-tailed black cockatoos, great bowerbirds, white-gaped honeyeaters and red-winged parrots. Yinberrie Hills Important Bird Area, identified as such by BirdLife International because of its importance for endangered Gouldian finches, lies partly within the park.
Cruises of various lengths reach as far as the fifth gorge, but you can also explore by canoe and flat-bottomed boat in the wet season, when the gorges are connected to each other. In the dry season however, as the river drops, the gorges become separated from one another. The visitor centre 30 kilometres east of the town of Katherine has displays that explain the park’s geology, landscape and aboriginal history; you can book tours here or at the visitor centre in town. There are numerous trails for walking in the park.
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