We had covered a huge distance in our first two weeks on the road and decided it was time to pitch up for a few days and use Katherine as a base to visit the surrounding area. Being the largest town for miles, Katherine has everything you need to restock, relax and generally get your bearings. It’s worth noting that a majority of the caravan parks are on the outskirts so, if you are planning a visit, just be aware that they are generally more than walking distance from the town centre. This is particularly true if, like us, you are there during or in the build-up to the wet season where temperatures are creeping over 40 celsius.
At this point we need to have a bit of a gush about the fantastic Katherine Visitors’ Centre; over the next few days we were there 4 times to ask about completely different trips and the experience was excellent every time as the staff there are incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the area. Whilst planning our trip to Kakadu National Park we left the visitor centre with a park map completely covered in highlighter and footnotes because they were so determined that we see all of the right things and enjoy it as much as they clearly do.
Unfortunately, mundane tasks still exist when you are living the dream and our first day in Katherine was dedicated to admin, shopping, laundry and washing a very dusty and disheveled looking Heidi. That evening we took the opportunity to cook a proper meal for the first time in a while and got to chatting with our fellow campers. Camp kitchens are a great place to spend an evening; most people love to strike up a conversation with complete strangers whilst they cook and it is an excellent way to get tips about what to do and where to go, as you are all inevitably doing similar things in different orders. We got chatting to a great couple from Chirstchurch who have done exactly the same thing as us, packed in the jobs to go exploring, and who kindly offered us a shower and a washing machine when we are in New Zealand which we were only too happy to accept.
The next morning it was back to adventuring and we drove the short distance to Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk) National Park. We’d heard many good things about the boat cruises up the gorge but, as they were rather pricey and walking is free, we laced up the hiking boots, plastered ourselves in sun cream and struck out on the trails armed with cameras, water and more sun cream. Fourteen very sweaty kilometres and 7 litres of water later we arrived back at Heidi, gratefully exchanged hiking boots for flip flops and watched the steam rise off our feet. It was fantastic. Doubtless all of the walks are great, but we tackled Butterfly Gorge and Jedda’s Rock which gave us beautiful views of the gorge from top and bottom.Tracks through dense forest filled with butterflies opened up on to stunning views across the water and steep hills peaked to wide open vistas under the beating sun. The only downside was that our planned swim was a no-go due to a crocodile taking up residence at the swimming site and so there was no relief from the heat which had reached 40 degrees by the time we got back to the car. It was 100% worth it and boy did we work hard for it, none of this instant gratification of a boat trip. This is James about half way through:We clambered back in to Heidi, set the air-conditioning to blizzard, and worked our way back through Katherine to the other end of the park and Edith Falls where we set up camp. One could get complacent about waterfalls and plunge pools quite easily on this trip and we confess to be being a tad bit guilty of this as we strolled to the swimming area, looking forward to the swim we had been denied on our walk. It’s nice to be shocked back in to wonder: Edith falls is no rock pool, it is a lake of beautifully cool water and a slice of paradise on an extremely hot day. With semi-indecent groans of pleasure, we slid in to the water and floated aimlessly for an hour, the heat of the day forgotten. Then we got out of the water and remembered the heat of the day all too well but it was still early, we were parked in a shaded area and we were confident that the temperature would fall away at sunset. Oh how wrong we were; the clouds came over, the humidity built and we suffered through a most unpleasant sweaty half night’s sleep in our Aga of a campervan. The only small respite was provided by our excellent, and now revered, USB handheld fans which moved some hot air around. Unsurprisingly, neither of us was in the best of moods the next morning but there was a readily available solution and we had the falls to ourselves for an early morning swim.Back in Katherine, we stopped in at the Visitors’ Centre to swot up on Kakadu, Litchfield and Darwin. Once again, we were given more information than we knew what to do with and left the centre with a plan for the next week, the most forward planning we had done since arriving in Australia. We opted for a powered site that night to give us air-conditioning and the ability to charge our two new best friends.