We drove to the southern end of the Nitmiluk National Park to experience the Katherine Gorge and its many bush walks. A friendly mob of wallabies came over to our campervan during dinner and welcomed us to the area with their joeys in tow.
The deep gorge and its multiple feeder gorges is a popular tourist attraction, carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River and its tributaries. Above the gorge the escarpment is typical dissected sandstone country, baking hot by mid-morning, covered in small scrub acacia and thin gum trees. However, lush rainforest gullies inhabit giant cracks in the gorge walls, and broad valleys meander through both the high and the low country.
We chose to tackle the butterfly gorge walk, a 12km return journey and set off by 7am to try and complete it before the worst of the heat set in. We climbed gradually up on the escarpment and meandered around and over small outcrops until heading down into butterfly gorge. The trail was rough underfoot, loose stones and scree, steep inclines, large steps and generally tough going. As the walls came in closer and started to climb higher the temperature dropped and humidity rose. The foliage became greener and more lush, more birds appeared and the butterflies too. Dozens of them but all the same species hung on the rocks and flitted between the trees. A noisy flock of red-tailed cockatoos accompanied us on our march down the gorge, always remaining a few trees ahead and dropping seed husks down on us from the tree tops.
Eventually we reached the flatter gorge bottom and spring water began to flow around the tree roots. Suddenly we rounded a sharp bend and there she was, the confluence with Katherine Gorge. A stretch of sky blue water winded its way into the distance guarded by vertical sandstone cliffs. We looked at each other, nodded, stripped and plunged into the cool waters, instant refreshment and relinquish from the growing heat.
After a long swim we returned to the bank for our late breakfast picnic and as we turned to retrace our steps a number of fish came to feed on our crumbs in the river. They were followed by a much larger shape in the water, which rose to the surface and grabbed a morsel of apple core, a long neck turtle – awesome!
As we climbed back up the gulley, the cool shade gave way to the thin scrub and blistering heat. It was only 10:30 but the temperatures on the escarpment were already in the high forties and still rising. We hot footed it (literally) back the way we had come and after 2 hours found the shade of the campsite and the cold showers a welcome relief.
The welcoming party at the Katherine Gorge campsite
A female can have a joey in her pouch, an older juvenile that still comes to feed, as she produces two different types of milk simultaneously, and a fertilised egg that she can freeze its development until the young joey leaves the pouch
Its obviously very hard work for a mum
This wildlife watching is easy
On top of the escarpment overlooking the valley and gorge systems of the Katherine River
Catching a glimpse of the red-tailed black cockatoos
Into the cool shade of the butterfly gorge
The gorge teemed with this single species
Some weren't so lucky
The clear waters of the Katherine River
No "Salties" in this one so fine for a refreshing dip
A long necked turtle appears to finish off our apple
The heat on the return march was blistering and the rocks radiated it from every angle so that even the soles of your feet were roasting
The Katherine River as it leaves the gorge and heads out to the undulating plains