Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge)

Occasionally, although thankfully, rarely, things can go horribly wrong on a hike. No, not an injury, getting lost, or even the much feared snake bite or croc encounter. One can run out of reading material. Even those who have meticulously packed for their hike, including not one, but two books, can be caught short. I completed both my books during the long, lazy afternoons at each campsite.

Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge), Northern Territory

Maybe not horribly wrong, but as those of you who are fellow book lovers, this isn't a situation one wants to find oneself in. I had tried to fill my days with hiking, picking the furthest campsites with the most difficult trail ratings. As you might know, I waste no time in walking. I completed each day's hiking within four hours. The first day, this wasn't so much of a problem as I only started out at 10am. The second day though, I was eating an early lunch atop the cliff's edge overlooking Katherine Gorge and my night's campsite.

I could have done all the walking in two, not three, days, but I wanted to give my ever-injured feet a break, and to enjoy each of the spectacularly placed campsites on the Katherine River.

The day before my hike the Katherine River was closed to swimmers and canoeists due to a saltie sighting. A canoeist had seen what they thought looked awfully like a saltie, and not a freshie. Two days later, the rangers confirmed it. As is their way, the saltie had moved up the river undetected. It was only a little fella, only two metres in length, but still, it wouldn't pass up the opportunity to have a bit of a nibble on a German or Japanese tourist. It had snuck past the main swimming and boating area near the visitor centre, over the first set of rapids and into the second gorge.

There was no danger to my planned hike, or so I was assured. The croc still had to cross a few more sets of rapids to reach my swimming and camping spots. Even so, the thought plays on one's mind as one swims in the river. These crocs can move about undetected, let's not forget that.

I walked first to the Eighth Gorge, not deviating down any of the side trips from the main east-west track. The network of walks here is referred to as the Southern Walks of the Nimiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park. It presents many options - one main track leads end-to-end, many side tracks lead down to the gorge and river. Several weeks ago I had walked a day hike into Butterfly Gorge and Pat's Lookout with Beni - at the time we had been limited to day walks as we needed to check daily at the post office to see if the new radiator for the crippled car had arrived.

Butterfly Gorge is not so special. There are butterflies, true, but they aren't of particular interest. The monsoon forest here has been blackened by recent bushfires. The river's edge is somewhat inaccessible. Returning from out walk here, we diverted down another side track to Pat's Lookout and the Southern Rockhole. The lookout has panoramic views over the river from the cliff edge. We also enjoyed a nice swim in the river, not put off by the signs on the opposite side of the river stating, "Warning. Do not enter beach. Croc breeding ground." They were, of course, only harmless freshies.

Eighth Gorge is special. The campsite is beside a large plunge pool with waterfall. The river can be found by following the trickle of water leaving the pool's edge, growing to a creek, before it itself tumbles over the cliff edge to the Katherine River far below.

On the second day, I returned along some of the main track, but this time deviating into Jawoyn Valley. The indig rock art was hard to find, I suspect I found very little of it, but the views and surroundings were pleasant so the detour was well worth it.

Returning to the main track, I took another side track, this time to Smitt Rock where I would spend the afternoon and camp. Naming the place a rock is quite an understatement. The river is split in two by the huge rock formation, it as high as the surrounding cliffs. The campsite sits on the sand banks of the river. I had this campsite, like the previous night's, all to myself. There were no other hikers, and no-one was permitted to canoe up the river to join me. Pity, it was a wonderful place to spend a warm afternoon reading in the shade of a nice gum tree.

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit


Southern Walks of Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park
Monday Tuesday Wednesday
26/7/2010 27/7/2010 28/7/2010
Nitmiluk Visitor Centre to Eighth Gorge Eighth Gorge to Smitt Rock via Jawoyn Valley Smitt Rock to Nitmiluk Visitor Centre
Distance 15.65km 15.5km 10.8km
Start Time 9.50am 8.10am 7.38am
End Time 2.10pm 12.40pm 10.06am
Moving Duration 2h55m 3h10m 2h08m
Stationary Duration 1h07m 1h23m 19m
Moving Average 5.4km/h 4.7km/h 5.0km/h
Overall Average 3.6km/h 3.3km/h 4.4km/h
Oodometer 15.65km 31.7km 42.1km

Assurances of Secrecy

I've had a few requests for details of the secret camping location in Litchfield. Assurances of secrecy and loyalty. Want to know the details of the eight campsites, a short walk from the carpark, each with it's own private rock pool and waterfall?

Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory

Just forward me the 16-digit number that appears on the front of your credit card. Don't forget that little three digit security code on the back either.

I cant post it here, I simply cannot. I cannot put it somewhere like this, where the great Google in the Sky will spread the details far and wide. I just cannot risk it. As it is, the campsites are popular. I lucked it on the first night. When we returned to camp another night, even though we were early, all the campsites had been taken. You might need to allow for an extra night, one to camp out in the car park first, so you can be standing, ready at the chalkboard, for when the first person vacates their campsite in the morning.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


My main interest in Litchfield National Park was the 39 kilometre Tabletop Track. However the park was so good, and the offer of a friend to come down and join me for the weekend from Darwin was too good to refuse, so I stayed on for another three days.

Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory

The Tabletop Track is a loop walk, accessible from several different link walks that connect to car based campgrounds or natural attractions. So even though it is a 39 kilometre walk, one has to walk further to access the track, and further still to take in some of the side trips the natural attractions such as the rock holes and waterfalls. Well, if, and I mean IF, one can cope with walking during the day seeing almost no-one, then walking down a side track to a waterfall which has seemingly just been inundated with several tourist buses worth of people, each armed with an SLR camera and complaining about how tiring the three hundred metre walk from the carpark is.

Florence Falls is one of the more famous sites in Litchfield National Park, perhaps only Wangi Falls rivals it. I did the two kilometre side trip to Florence Falls, the link walk taking me through a humid monsoon tropical forest to the spectacular falls with a large, cool plunge pool. Somehow I quite accidentally managed to get a photo with no-one in it, how I don't know, as I swam another tourist bus load of people arrived.

The following day though, I couldn't bear to repeat the people inundation experience at Wangi Falls, so I skipped this side trip. I did return in the following days though with my friend from Darwin, and there were so, so many people, but it was still good, maybe helped by his tales of visiting Wangi during the Wet. No people there then, just lots of water and maybe lots of crocs lurking around too.

Much of what is easily accessible in Litchfield National Park, including the Tabletop Track, lies in the north of the park. The Tabletop Plateau dominates, the roads skirt around the plateau following the escarpment edge, frequent short roads in to the many waterfalls and water holes. The Tabletop Track likewise follows much of the escarpment, but on the plateau well away from the road and people. While most of the waterfalls are accessible by these short roads, some are only accessible from the Tabletop Track, which is what makes this track so special.

The walking in the savanna was hot, I really should have done the walk over more days and restrict my walking to the cooler mornings. The monsoon forests and many creeks and waterfalls though were so much cooler to walk through, always a nice place to sit and relax, maybe swim.

One campground was particularly special, only a very short walk from a link walk car park, each campsite with it's own private bit of creek, rock pool and waterfall. But if I tell you it's name I will have to kill you. So if you email me or leave a comment asking me, I will need to send a hit man around. And that wont be very pleasant, now will it? I would like to keep the Best Ever Campsite a secret as much as possible, although I shared it with my Darwin friend and I decided I would let him live (he was, after all, rather nice to talk to).

I lost my much loved and travelled hiking GPS unit, an insurance agent slammed into the back of my car on the highway, and I accidentally took too much of what I like to call my Deadly Drug (a medication), but these are all stories for another time...

Sorry, no map from the GPS for you this time. Too bad heh, you won't be able to find the secret campsite unless you come up here and explore it for yourself.

Updated 25/05/2011. There are GPS files available for this walk now. They come from - I reconfigured the XML file as a GPX file and KML file. The path doesn't have a huge amount of points, but should be ample for navigating the trail should you wander off it (really only possible through burnt out areas of wide creek crossings.) I would place a caveat on the area around Walker Creek though, I'm not sure it looks correct, the trail goes from the main trail west to Walker Creek Campsite as a spur trail rather than the main trail passing through the carpark. If coming off the main trail you won't get lost, the spur meets to the carpark to campsites trail near the toilet, at about campsite 6 of 8. Turn left for sites 6-8, right for sites 1-5 and carpark.

Download GPX file - for use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit
Download KML file - view in Google Earth

View in full screen format
The above Google Map shows the official trail file from
Download GPX file
- for use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit
Download KML file - view in Google Earth

Farmers Union Territory

Oh, half of Darwin is populated by people from Adelaide. Welcome back to Farmers Union territory Jeremy

Monday, July 19, 2010


Spent a couple of days chilling out in Darwin: the lagoon, Mindil Markets, some beaches. Meeting some locals.

Darwin, Northern Territory

Spent an afternoon at the Melbourne Docklands style wharf precinct - nice and warm though with a swimming lagoon and lawns. Also the sunset Mindil Markets, lots of asian food stalls and some good live bands. Emdee, contemporary didgeridoo music. I have seen them at the Fringe before and have an album of theirs, good stuff. The Fringe show was more intense, but hey, it's free market music. Also World Fly, a Darwin based trio recently signed to a German label. Enjoyed their chilled out sounds, cello, I love it.

Met some locals, caught up with some friends made on the road. Farewell to Beni, back to Germany. Cool city, hot people, warm climate. Tempting to stay a little longer. I've always thought Darwin could be a nice place to work for awhile, good to see it lives up to expectations.

The beaches though, keep a watch out for crocs and stingers, and undetonated hand grenades from the war: news story from this morning.


"People need to come here and relax, sit on the country, feel the spirits of this country, and go home and feel the same way" -- Natasha Nadji, Bunidj Clan

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory

There is a lot to see in Kakadu, and it will touch you in a special way. The park is divided by an escarpment ranging between 60 and 300 metres in height, on the top is the Arnhem Land Plateau, lower down, the billabongs, monsoon forests and flood plains. On the Plateau, Stone Country. Two rivers pass through the park, the water plunging over the escarpment making many waterfalls over it's length.

Lots of swimming holes, and of course salties, a plethora of bird life. Lots of hiking. And lots of Indig Rock Art, some 5,000 known sites. A further 10,000 sites are thought to exist in the park.

The best place to see the rock art is at Ubirr, in the park's north east. Here there is rock art of different styles and vastly different ages spread over a wide accessible area. There is a painting of a Thyracine, the Tasmanian Tiger which became extinct on the mainland some 2000-3000 years ago. There are paintings of white men from the 1880s, buffalo hunters. Clearly clothed, their hands in their pockets or smoking a pipe. Paintings of life size barramundi, they used to be so much larger than they are today. Perhaps we fish too much. Pocket Fish the local indig people now call them. They used to require two men to carry one. Stories of hunts. Stories of discipline. Stories of the spirits. Anatomical drawings of turtles to educate the younger folk as to the best bits to eat. Mimi paintings very high on the roof of an overhang, near impossible to access, the very tall Mimi spirits are said to have painted them. In one place the paintings are up to 14 painting layers deep. The age is difficult to determine, context is the key. Style, what it depicts. There is no organic matter in the paint used here, so carbon dating cannot be used as it is used in the south of the continent.

Archaeological digs at one shelter site suggest occupation for at least the last 20,000 years. Axes, stone tools, grinding stones and grinding holes, discarded food bones. The complexity of the artwork reflects the environment at the time. 20,000 years ago the land was very different, a sparse ice capped planet, not much food here. 6,000 years ago occupation increased, as did the painting complexity. A changing environment. Only in the last 2,000 to 3,000 years did the Wet and Dry Season cycle we are familiar with begin, seas rose, life was abundant, so indig populations flourished.

We did a few hikes, one to the top of Jim Jim Falls. Only 7km return, it was a tough climb up the escarpment during the hot afternoon, then a walk over the stone country, two swim in one of the upper pools. Another hike through monsoon forest to a swimming hole.

Crocs a plenty. In the billabongs, on the flood plains, in the rivers and pools. Twin Falls was closed due to a croc attack (it was a just a nibble), no, not really, just closed because the salties returned after being removed. They remove salties from the big tourist sites, otherwise tourists couldn't see these places.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Back on the Road

My face lit up, yep, over there in amongst the hundreds of parcels awaiting collection was a large radiator sized box. Our seven day wait for a new radiator was over.

Katherine, Northern Territory

The car has been struggling since the second-to-last-day on the Gibb River Road. The radiator had a hole in it, we kept topping it up with water, a lot really. In Kununurra the mechanic could not source a new radiator, only 13 years old and no longer manufactured, they suggested the radiator be removed from the car, trucked to Darwin and repaired. Seven days to wait in Kununurra without a car. Mmm. We could drive to Darwin I thought, the radiator only needed topping up with water every 20-100km (depending on speed and road conditions). 4WD dirt roads were particularly bad, as was city driving.

Five minutes on Google and we had a new radiator, to be flown from Melbourne. Today, there it was in Katherine Post Office. Straight to the radiator repair place here in Katherine, fitted within the hour. Back on the road. To Kakadu we come!

We have spent the last week in the Bungle Bungle and Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge). I cant wait to get back here at the end of the month to walk the four day the Jatbula Trail, and also another three day hike we couldn't do now because we had to keep going to the post office to see if the parcel had arrived yet.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Bungle Bungle

Although known to local pastoralists and indigenous folk, the Bungle Bungle was unknown to the outside world until the mid 1980s. It did not appear on maps - not even topographical maps - nor was it photographed, not even named. A helicopter camera crew discovered it by accident, making it's dramatic scenery known to Australians and the rest of the world.

The Bungle Bungle, Purnululu National Park, WA

The local pastoralists saw it only as a source of a river, the business of cattle kept them occupied. Gold was discovered in nearby Halls Creek in the 1880s, but still the Kimberley held the secret of the Bungle Bungle. To the indigenous folk it had special meaning, but we know they like to keep their secrets sometimes, and why not?

If I share, too many white men will come all right, and they will go on doing this. Sticky beak all right, and look for something. If they find something goody goody, they'll take it.

-- source: interview on ABC's Stateline, 28/5/2010, concerning rockart in Kakadu (url

Some stuff is still a well guarded secret by the indigenous folk. Their rock art, which includes depictions of crocodiles, and burial sites.

This is one of the iconic places I wanted to visit on my four month trip, I think you will see why in some of the photos. To enter Cathedral Gorge one is filled with awe. Walking through a narrow gorge, the shear cliffs towering 200 metres above on each side. The gorge floor is occupied by a flat creek. It feels like you are about to stumble upon an ancient city in the desert, Petra maybe. Not a noise can be heard, it's one of the places in the world that seems to call for silence. Walking several hundred metres through this narrow space, the gorge suddenly opens up, revealing a huge amphitheatre formation. The area, made round by rolling boulders as the water runs down the cliff above, open to the sky in a narrow opening. The middle occupied by a shallow pond, a reminder of how much water would be here during the wet season. The roof ceiling provides a perfect environment for your echo, the place calls for silence but at the same time wants sounds to reverberate around it's walls.

Naturally the Bungle Bungle has more to reveal than just this one special place. The drive from Kununurra down Highway One is spectacular in itself, but it is merely setting the scene for the Bungle Bungle. The 50km 4WD road in from the highway hints a little more, only very close to the park does one see for the first time the mountains of the Bungle Bungle. The orange cliffs rise abruptly from the plains. Dramatic as they are though, they are not the Bungle Bungle one sees in photos. It is only when you drive further in, or better still, walk further in, that one sees their iconic and true beauty -- the stripped beehive formations. These are the most exceptional examples of sandstone cone karsts anywhere in the world. Standing up to 250 metres tall, they create an intricate maze of twists and turns, almost a city of rock sky-rises (to borrow a phrase from the national park literature.)

The sandstone is an ancient riverbed, uplifted high above the surrounding plains. Weathering and erosion slowly formed the distinct shapes we know today, as new rivers were formed through the old riverbed. The sandstone is sedimentary, layers of gray or orange rock. The grey rock has a high clay and moisture content, allowing cyanobacteria to grow on the surface. The orange bands have a lower clay and hence moisture content, preventing the cyanobacteria from growing. This layer oxidises forming the distinct rusty orange colour. Occasionally recent landslides reveal the true colour of this band - a bright silver white colour.

It was through this that we undertook a two day hike. If we did not have a new radiator awaiting collection in Katherine, to be fitted to the crippled car, I think we would have spent three days on this hike. We spent a day hiking along the Piccaninny Gorge, camped beside a rock pool, then hiked back. Had we a third day, we could have explored some of the five side gorges that are present in the upper gorge beyond our campsite. Although only a 14 kilometre hike in, it is a difficult hike. Following the creekbed, it is either sandy, soft gravel, navigating eroded rocks or large boulders.

On the first day we had lunch at the distinct Elbow in the gorge, well, so we thought, until we came upon a more distinct Elbow further upstream. It really was slow walking.

We had the gorge almost to ourselves, beyond the tourist bus groups near the very start of the gorge we passed only two other parties. Both had chosen to hike in and out in a single day, both were jealous we would have so much time to explore and have such a magnificent campsite. The campsite we chose - we could camp anywhere we liked - was beside a rockpool. Cliffs soared high above us, the rockpool being in the corner of the gorge. During the Wet water would cascade down the cliff, filling the rockpool and overflowing into the main gorge creek.

During the day the gorge was filled with a cacophony of bird sounds, echoing up and down the gorge. As night fell, silence descended. Our voices could be heard echoing far up and down the gorge, in the silence we could finally appreciate how far the echo travelled. Our campsite was fitted with a security device, not that it was needed in this isolated place. The cliffs the other side of the rock pool amplified the sounds from the main gorge creek, we could easily have heard footsteps as they approached from either upstream or downstream.

After the hike, we visited nearby Echidna Chasm. We had missed the best time of day to visit, the narrow chasm, sometimes only shoulder width wide, was best seen at true noon, the only time the sun could shine down into the narrow space. The chasm is a fracture in the rock mountain, snaking it's way from the palm entry deep into the mountain, gradually narrowing until it's eventual abrupt end.

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit


Piccaninny Gorge, Bungle Bungle, Purnululu National Park
Wednesday Thursday
7/7/2010 8/7/2010
Carpark to Gorge 1 Gorge 1 to carpark
Distance 15.2km 13.1km
Start Time 9.27am 7.33am
End Time 2.52pm 11.27am
Moving Duration 3h33m 3h02m
Stationary Duration 1h56m 56m
Moving Average 4.3km/h 4.3km/h
Overall Average 2.8km/h 3.3km/h
Oodometer 15.2km 28.3km

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gibb River Road

Ten days on the Gibb River Road, a 4WD dirt road stretching from Derby in the west, to Kununurra in the east. Stunning gorges, cascading waterfalls, and aside from a few crocs, beautiful cool afternoon swims.

The Gibb River Road, in the Kimberley

The Gibb River Road cuts through the heart of the Kimberley. It is a 4WD dirt road. True, it is possible to drive a 2WD on it, we saw two in ten days - countless 4WDs though. Thing is, the two wheel drivers, they will see almost nothing. The attraction is not the road, it is the various rough 4WD tracks that lead off to gorges, waterfalls and pools. These tracks are rough, but every one is worth travelling down. The track to Mitchell Falls is some 250km long and takes about five hours to drive. Walking a further 3.5 kilometres from the carpark one is struck by the immensity of the falls, cascading down from the river into three lower pools.

A few small sections of the Gibb River Road are sealed, sometimes in the conventional manner, sometimes just a lane width in the centre of the road. Most of the bad hills are sealed. There are frequent river or ford crossings, on only one is it not possible to walk out and check the depth. You might just loose a leg to a saltie.

The shy freshie crocs inhabit many of the waterholes, but they pose no problem to people. They don't eat us, not even a nibble. Well, as long as you don't go poking your fingers in their eyes or something. They're shy fellas, they keep their distance. In the huge Diment Gorge we paddled four kilometres up and back in a canoe, we saw just one croc. In the distance, the eyes and snout just above the waterline distinct, as soon as it saw us, it submerged.

The gorges are stunning, or, as Beni couldn't let go of his lamo play on words, just gorge-ous. Waterfalls fall down one side of an almost circular gorge, just one side leading to the downstream river. Boulders, lily pads, boab trees, gum trees, palms, line the sides. Refreshingly cool water, nothing better than an afternoon swim to get out of that 30 degree heat and wash away the bull dust of the dirt roads.

In Windjana National Park the devorian range stretches for many kilometres, just a narrow width, a remnant of an underwater ancient barrier reef. It stands in stark contrast to the countryside around it, rising some 100 metres above it. The Windjana Gorge cuts through it, a series of large rock pools and sandy beaches with freshies laying in the sun, waiting for a fruit bat to fall out of the tree above. Further down the range lies Tunnel Creek, a 750 metre tunnel through the range. A creek, inhabited by freshies, flows through the tunnel. Walking through, wading in ankle or waist deep water, the tunnel only broken by one roof collapse midway.

Adcock Gorge and Galvans Gorge, both stunning circular pools. Both beautiful, one the most visited, one hardly at all. One, the carpark on the Gibb River Road, a short walk in. The other, a rough eight kilometre drive in. Words and photos do neither justice. Luckily for us - read bad planning - we arrived at Galvans Gorge, the most popular, very late in the day. Sunset was just minutes away, the winter solstice not so long ago. But what a treat, the popular pool all to ourselves.

Manning Gorge, a couple of styrofoam boxes lying beside a creek. Chuck in your camera and clothes, thank goodness for bringing those hiking dry sack bags to protect the camera - the styrofoam boxes being well used. Swim across the river, walk a few kilometres to explore and swim the Manning Gorge. A large circular one, huge falls pummelling down. Swim under them, can you stand the water pressure? Jump from the top into the deep pool below. Climb to the cliff edges, witness it all. Try to take it in.

Diment Gorge, wide, lots of water. Steep narrow cliffs at one point, no wonder it has been the site of two plans to dam the gorge. What a travesty it would have been. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy's Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary occupies much of the land that would have been flooded. Destock of the Kimberley cattle in 2004, three threatened species have thrived. On a night time motion activated camera, rare footage of a bandicoot previously thought to be extinct in the Kimberley. A bar, inside or outside, the edges blurred. Green lawns, tables set out, a fire pit, a cold beer. Listen to the talk from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy ranger. Special work they do.

Spent a night with a couple of Polish Aussies. Fresh succulent beef care of the Aboriginal community they had been welcomed into the previous day. A camp fire, a few drinks. The all Star Hotel, as many stars as you like in the starry night. Stories from war torn Poland, a prisoner of war camp and an escape to Australia into the small hours of the morning.

Zebedee Springs, 32 degree springs, pool and creek. Moss covered rocks, tall palms, nestled in a steep gorge. Okay, jealous? Please note we had to get up at 4.30am to enjoy this one to ourselves, we heard a bus tour was starting at 5am here. By 12 the place closes up to the public, the fancy pants $400+ a night tour groups get the arvos.

Still dealing with that jealousy? Don't overlook the leaking door panels in the car, fine red bull dust entering the car and filling every crevice and hole, nothing is safe. Stone chips on the windscreen, thanks for speeding past with the camper trailers guys. A hole in the radiator, stopping every 20 kilometres to pour more water into the leaking radiator, limping into Kununurra. She'll be right, a helping hand anywhere on the road. Oh, and no mobile reception, not anywhere. Better coverage in more places, not up here. Watch for the cattle on the road. They don't respond to a car horn, they've heard too much of them. Petrol at 205.5c/L. Fill the jerry cans, do the fuel consumption calculations, this petrol beast has a long way between roadhouses. Diesel is king up here. Inmintji Roadhouse just sells diesel, no unleaded petrol for you city folk. Nice ice creams but. No tvs to watch the World Cup either for my German friend here. Germany is going into the semi-finals, pity the family weren't so good at commentating the match live from the tv in Germany. Not a skill we all possess I suppose.

The Gibb River Road, well worth the effort. So glad I bought the 4WD instead of a 2WD. It was this road that tipped the scales. 2WD? See nothing mate. We met a couple a few weeks ago in Broome, the kitted out 4WD. Gibb River Road, two days, rough. Saw nothing mate. This is the Kimberley, take your time. Enjoy the swims and sunsets.