Once called Edith Falls, but known to the Jawoyne people as Leliyn, this is one walk I’d encourage everyone to do.
Situated about 1 hour from Katherine, it is part of Nitmiluk National Park. You can get a campsite if you’re very, very lucky, by asking at the kiosk, first thing.
There is a relatively short and easy walk from the start of the carpark, by which you can return or a longer return, 2.6km, affording views of the falls and the gorge, giving a ‘bigger’ view of the whole.
The top falls provide a refreshing swimming opportunity that is usually less crowded, as many don’t take the walk. You can sit under that short (4m?) fall, or swim nearby, and there are several access points, not all being slimy!
The different return trip, while providing views, can be slippery in parts, with dusty rocks or rubble.
Once you’re at the base, you cross the bridge that looks out onto the major gorge, with the 12m falls in the distance.
A few people had noodles to assist them in the swim there, but it’s less than a km, with little current.
Be aware of water pythons, as my husband had one swim against his legs as he was approaching the ladder to get out. I don’t think they have us on the menu, and it was pretty small, but it can be a trifle unexpected.
Enjoy a relaxing stretch in the sun or shade while you have lunch, buy something from the kiosk, or walk back to the carpark, reading the information boards as you go.
There are several famous thermal springs in the region, in fact in the Northern Territory. Approximately 15km off the main highway, Mataranka has a reputation and well-designed pool for up to about 30 people, or 50 at a squeeze. The house from an author has also been recreated on the grounds and a campsite is available, as well as a restaurant and some entertainment.
But just off the highway, with room for perhaps 100, is Bitter Springs, where you all get in the water by platform or riverbank, and most float down the stream in their swim noodles. Out you get at the other end and walk back up the path to do it all again. There are rocks close to the surface, or tree roots and trunks that enable you to get a hold if you need to rest on your journey. Both the spring mentioned are in Elsie National Park.
In half an hour you would be in Katherine and the hot springs run through the town. So accessible. Try to get there at the quiet times – early in the morning, to feel the bubbles frothing up from underneath somewhere, and the current taking you downstream, the salts soaking into your skin and a faint cloud of steam settling over the water.
Now let me take you some many 130km up the Stuart Highway, into Litchfield National Park, and Berry Springs. Now that is the monster spring! The sign at the start of the carpark says if the carpark is full then the springs are full. We went on a day when there were maybe another 10 parks and 5 bus spaces. There were plenty of people but plenty of room to swim and I think 3 levels of pools from which to choose, or start at the top and float or swim your way down. The water was cool and refreshing, and on a hot day with a gentle breeze, when you got out of the water it was very pleasant. Not that floating in it wasn’t great. Turquoise pool, draped at the edges with palms and trees, birds chirping and chattering or hooting at you until, on every brave or thirsty hombre dives into the pool, grabs a drink and dashes out again. I truly think I found paradise.
Take a hat, sunscreen and water. A noodle is definitely the fashion. Keep an eye on your gear and an eye out for hanging spiders.
On the notorious Gibb River Road, near the Kununurra end, is a place called El Questro. It is a resort and was once only accessible by a rough dirt track, that is now a bitumen road. However, places that lead off from here are via dirt roads, that may be corrugated if the grader hasn’t been through. Emma Gorge is one such place and it is a jewel worth risking the bumpy 2km track.
Once at the carpark, there is a magnificent information bay, with restaurant, accommodation, toilets and permits to visit the park. We had bought a park pass, that gives us access to WA parks for a month, as we thought it could be more convenient than having correct change, getting permits printed, etc., so we went directly to the start.
This was a mixture of terrain, with rocky bits, smooth path, climbing sections and a couple of creek crossings, where the water as very low. Birds and butterflies flit across your path and the sound of gurgling water comes from somewhere near, either seen as a brook, or hidden by reeds.
It is such a beautiful sight that greets you after about 40 minutes, I don’t know where to begin. The gorge rises ahead of you and up maybe 100m. The walls are orange and laced with ferns or marked with patterns of erosion.
Water cascades down from a point on the left and bounces off rock ledges to splash into the centre pool of water. The pool is maybe 40m in diameter and on the right a rock ledge hangs over the water, dripping onto those who venture there, and the water there is warm, as I think it is thermal.
The edges to the pool are sandy and you can see the bottom, which becomes rocky and pebbly. Towards the centre it is very dark and you cannot make out what is down there. The temperature is pretty cool, but not quite cold. As you float towards the rock lip, looking up, you see an oval of blue sky, lined with a garland of ferns and rocks. It is so tranquil and beautiful.
This is a long way from anywhere, any time. It is ancient and unspoilt and majestic, like everything in the Kimberley. See it, breathe it, feel it and carry some of its magic away with you.
But take water, hat and sunscreen so that you live to tell the tale.
Professing to be the oldest pub in the Northern Territory, the Daly Waters Pub gained some iconic status for travelers at least 40 years ago. Strewn across a line above the front bar is a wide selection of bras, with messages on them. Out the back are collections of thongs (the footwear) and hats and other paraphernalia, also with messages. But this hotel started life as a trading post and played a significant role in WWII.
Explorer, John McDouall Stuart, named the area Daly Waters in 1861, on one of his many expeditions from South to North. Ten years later, the overland telegraph made its way following the same path and connected Australia to the rest of the world. The Pearce family, in 1920, opened up a Drover’s Store, which forms part of the current pub. The indigenous people in the area helped to build the store, but are no longer in the area.
The Pearce family fed passengers and refuelled aircraft when the Daly Waters Airfield opened up to the England to Australia Air Race. The same airfield was the rear guard base in WWII when the Japanese bombed Darwin from Feb 1942 to Nov 1943.
Now, its quirky and a place to get a cool drink and a bite to eat, with great entertainment on offer most nights. When we were there, Lou Bradley and Phil were playing and they were well-received.
There is a park behind the pub, with amenities, and one across the road for unpowered sites. Cabins are also available if you’re looking to break the long drive from Alice to Katherine.
Quirky planes, helicopters and animals are also in residence.
You could be based at one of the accommodation options in town, or just passing through and see the’hot springs’ turnoff from Victoria Highway, which will take you about 100m to a carpark and reserve. There’s currently a popular coffee popup,too. From here, there’s a moderately steep, but short, zip zagging stairway to the springs.
They are unbelievable and warm and soothing. Very popular, we found that early in the morning around 7, maybe one other person was there and you could delight in the faint steam, the effervescence of the bubbles from the mini waterfall. Unmissable. People take noodles upon which to float, but we had no trouble floating or standing up.
Grab your towel and take the path back along the Springs up to the back of a caravan park, where another sign says ‘lower level nature reserve 1km’.
This is a very easy bitumen path that leads to the other crossing of Nitmiluk/Katherine River. It’s the original one and now has a lovely area for recreation. There were birds, lizard tracks, snake tracks, fish and who knows what else. Up the steep hill is another caravan park and public toilets.
You could possibly swim here, I didn’t see any warning signs, but as it’s crocodile territory, I’d be mighty cautious.
Head back to the Springs for another dip and you’ll feel like a new person.
Take your hat, water and sunscreen and keep an eye on your towel and gear.
We are travelling from the Winter of the South to the warmth of the Northern Territory and have landed in Darwin, the capital, only to experience a 3-day lockdown. I thought it was a great opportunity to recount some of the walks we have done and iconic stops we made, between the border and here. When we are free to move on, there are more walks awaiting, but they can be added at another rest stop.
#1 Baruwei Loop, Nitmiluk National Park
This walk is the shortest in the park, and you could just go to the lookout and back for an even shorter one. The direction we took, at the advice of the ranger, was back out through the entrance to the Visitor Centre, where all walks can begin, and along the flat, dry sandstone path, following the clearly marked yellow tags.
After about 1km the vegetation changes and the track commences an uphill gradient. It is moderately steep, with long flats and tyres(?) on the edges, to create what I find are pleasant steps. The path was well-shaded at about 10 in the morning and palms and grasses, called ‘transition woodland’ create a beautiful frame.
At the top of the 2km climb it flattens out and there is a turnoff to the other southern walks. My pre-reading led me to believe these were for the ‘well-prepared’ walkers, intending to spend the day(s) trekking. However, when we got back, I overheard a couple being directed this way to the Butterfly Gorge Walk where, at the destination, you can swim. It’s 4.5 km return, and we’d have started out earlier in the day to do that, but it would definitely be on our ‘next time’ list.
Onward we went and the vegetation changed again, with Kapok trees everywhere, in flower and fruit and plateau sandstone creating some interesting rock formations and gullies. Information boards appear at each change of environment, explaining the landforms, creatures, plants and importance to the Aboriginal custodians. Many of the plants have medicinal properties, such as spinifex.
Actually, I’d seen kapok flowers and fruit before and had forgotten their name, so when I got back I asked the ranger and she told me, along with the fact that the Jawoyn people used it to tell the seasons. When the flowers appear, the fresh water crocs start mating, the green fruit, which can be eaten, signifies that the crocs will be burying their eggs and when the fruit is brown and dry and starts opening to release white fibre, the young crocs are hatching and getting in the water. Brilliant, right?
The path is level or with a downward trend for about 1km and we passed water tanks where we caught a glimpse of the river, before heading down to the lookout. Nothing really captures the majesty and beauty of the Gorge. Having done the cruise before, I’d highly recommend that people do that to get the full extent of the variation and size of it, as well as a swim at the end in this timeless location. We could see a boat, below, and looked down the long valley.
To return to the Visitor Centre from here, there are many narrow, steep stairs. If you took this way as your approach, even if you returned, it would take some time due to the climb. An easy downhill way, though and we passed by about 300m of bat-laden trees, marveling at their attempts to fan themselves cool, while not choosing shady spots in the trees.
The Visitor Centre is gorgeous and a bird ( I think it was a blue-faced honey eater) fluttered around in the rafters while we sat on the deck, in the breeze, eating our fruit. You can book tours or do your own and there is plenty of information and some souvenirs, too.
The path is wide and relatively flat most of the way, until you get to the lookout. The walk took us the predicted 2 hours and we were not hurrying or brisk.
Absolutely carry water, wear a hat and apply sunscreen. Have an experience.