Further north the attraction of the world famous site of Katherine gorge was one that couldn’t be overlooked. First though we had to visit the Katherine Hot Springs and though we had barely finished breakfast everyone jumped in. They are a very comfortable temperature, rather than hot, running through a shaded pandanus-lined embankment, offering approximately 200m or more fun-packed streams, cascades and small waterfalls. The kids might have spent all day but we moved on to Nitmiluk National Park. More caravan park than national park, this was a bit of a disappointing start for us, probably because we hadn’t researched enough, but when we returned from an afternoon walk to see the Jawoyn rock art to find a tent a couple of metres from the back steps on one side and a caravan reversed on top of the other side, the harsh reality of the commercialism of a popular site hit home. It was school holidays too.
We saw the gorge itself from a couple of vantage points, the entrance, Pat’s lookout, then I did a solo 22km walk to Lily Ponds which overlook one of the higher gorges. Maybe we had overdosed on gorges recently but compared with those we had already encountered in Karijini and on the Gibb River road we found Katherine to be quite average. The Jawoyn art was special though, and worth wading across the river for from Pat’s Lookout. I found some more on the walk to Lily Ponds but the highlight of that walk were the ponds themselves that offered a safe place to swim, and I didn’t see a soul all day. The only visitors were either kayaking up the river or on expensive boat tours. The kids meanwhile were cooling off in the “resort” pool back at camp.
Only too happy to make a hasty exit the next day a short drive brought us to Edith Falls. This is another popular tourist venue but the campsite was a delight run by two gorgeous ladies, who frantically cycled around the campsite making sure there were vacancies. A short walk from the camp leads to the bottom lake, probably 150m across to the waterfall, maybe 200m wide. It was deep but undeterred Oscar led the way with a recently re-acquired strong front crawl. It was deep and murky but he powered on and was the first to jump off the rocks at the waterfall back into the lake depths. Crocodiles live here too but they wait until the 7pm curfew before coming out to enjoy the waters.
We also walked up to the upper pool, even more popular with tourists, and quite a selection of rock outcrops, allow jumping opportunities up to 15m high into another unfathomable pool. Five metres was about the limit I could manage.
We met “JKSJ” another travelling NSW family that we first met in Emma Gorge, always good for the kids to have some socialising time back at camp.
Rob the ranger gave an interesting talk on fire management in the park that evening, explaining the challenges and complexities associated with using burn-off to manage biodiversity and protecting the park. The impact and frequency of fire on different habitats is all taken into consideration but Parks and Wildlife now rely on following aboriginal guidance given that the environment here is man-made and has been shaped over 20,000+ years by aboriginal burning regimes. All the rangers we have met so far have been inspirational and so passionate that it is a pleasure to listen to them. Their breadth of knowledge is astounding too