Katherine Gorge Tours: Take a scenic Nitmiluk cruise – that’s the Aboriginal name for Katherine Gorge. Getting up early meant we got to see the rock faces of Katherine gorge transform in colour as we glided peacefully along the waters. This was not the only thing which day 4 of our Adventure Tours trip had to offer…
(Missed Day 1 to 3 of our Kakadu tours from Darwin series? Click here:
Day 1: Litchfield National Park & Mary River.
Day 2&3 Kakadu National Park)
Day 4: Katherine Gorge Tours & Aboriginal Cultural Experience
The scenic cruise is an additional itinerary item that does cost extra, but you’d be nuts not to do it. A “breakfast” cruise at Katherine Gorge. At certain parts of the year there is also a kayaking option. When we went they hadn’t finished rounding up all those snappy little crocs, who wouldn’t mind making a tourist their breakfast. So kayaking wasn’t an option.
The reason I write “breakfast” is because you don’t get a whole lot when it comes to breakfast, a few tiny muffins and some fruit, but it’s well worth it for the views. Plus, our kick-ass Adventure Tours guide Rick, made up for it by making a bacon and egg fry up later for lunch instead – our bellies were very pleased!
The ancient sandstone gorge system consists of 13 different gorges. It’s not possible to easily access all of these by boat. In fact, especially during the dry season when the water level is low, you have to transfer boats part way through the cruise. This gives you a great opportunity to jump on land and take some photos though.
The high water level in the wet season makes it easy for saltwater crocodiles to access the area. They are cleared at the start of the dry season by the park rangers. But it does mean it is too dangerous to kayak until that process is complete. It’s better to visit in July if you want to Kayak.
The effects of the high water can be seen on the trees close to the dry season water level – which can be 10 meters lower than during the floods.
We also saw hundreds of flying foxes gather around the Katherine Gorge Cruise terminal. The trees were full of these noisy creatures!
Katherine Gorge Tours – Nitmiluk Aboriginal Cultural Experience
After the cruise we headed off to a local aboriginal cultural centre to learn about the local indigenous people. Cultural centres sometime seem boring when all you do is read information off a plaque.
But this experience was much more hands on. We met Manual, a local Aboriginal man who was born in the area and actually grew up there having never met a foreigner until he was in his teens. He lived off the land with his family and learned all the traditional ways – art, hunting and making fire. All of which he was going to show us how to do!
After telling the story of his childhood he asked us to participate in making fire using two sticks. Not surprisingly, we all sucked at this! Tommo even got a blister on his hand after just a couple of minutes of trying. Though he did get a little smoke to appear.
Manual stepped in and had flames billowing within seconds. I don’t think we’d survive long in the bush!
We then got a chance to create our own Aboriginal art. Unlike the stencil art we did on The Tiwi Islands, this would be completely from scratch. We were handed a blank canvas and paint – a bit daunting!
Animals feature strongly in this type of art. To the untrained eye, the animal art of the region may look very similar. In fact, each tribal area has a different pattern. The amount of lines that are used to criss cross each animal painting has a specific significance. Paint the wrong number of lines and you’ll be painting the work of another tribe!
Whether this was an early form of copyright, I don’t know. But Manual instructed us to become part of his tribe using a 4 line system.
Finally before we could have lunch, we’d have to catch it! Traditionally spears could be used to hunt any large animal. But today we’d be hunting red kangaroo… Well, not really. We’d be having bacon and eggs for lunch. But we would be doing target practice on a kangaroo cut out.
Once again, not a single one of the group hit the kangaroo. We really would be useless in the wilds of Nitmiluk. Tommo managed to pick up the distance record though, overshooting the kangaroo by quite a few meters.
At lunch, we had a guest also looking for a feed! The centre has a few wallabies living with them. Also, wild ones are all over the place throughout the whole Kakadu and Nitmiluk area. We saw quite a few during the tour. The wild ones will never let you this close though.
After lunch, we made our long way back to Darwin – with plenty of time to get a nap on the bus.
There is one complaint that many people have about these Kakadu & Katherine Gorge tours – that there is too much driving. Rick our guide had the best response to this “There isn’t too much driving – there is the exact amount of driving required to see all of the attractions on the itinerary” – Great Point Rick!
Australia is a BIG country and if you want to see it properly, you have to be prepared to do a bit of solid driving. We recommend downloading a few of your favourite podcasts and do some learning, or some laughing. Listen to anything to make your trip more productive, and the long drives will pass in hardly any time at all!
Katherine Gorge Tours & Kakadu Tours from Darwin: The Verdict
Long days and early starts are necessary every single day in order to get through all the attractions in 4 days. So, it was great that we didn’t have to do the driving, and could get some sleep between stops. There is also a 5 Day option that would be slightly more relaxed.
We experienced 4 very unique regions of the Northern Territory –
- The Waterfalls & Termite mounds of Litchfield National Park (Day 1)
- The Crocodiles, wildlife and wetlands of Mary River (Day 1)
- The epic greenery of Kakadu and cave paintings of Ubirr Rock (Day 2 & 3)
- The incredible ancient sandstone of Katherine Gorge (Day 4)
And, along the way we learned a lot about Aboriginal culture, the history of the rock art and saw tons of different indigenous creatures that you would never see in the wild in the modern cities of Australia.
Our trip was with Adventure Tours. It was well thought out, organised and our guide Rick had been running tours in the area for over 20 years. The main benefit of any tour, over going independent, is having it “done for you”. But the added benefit of going with a tour in and around Kakadu is definitely the safety factor. But I felt we also learned a lot from Rick and he was incredibly knowledgeable whenever we asked questions.
You simply absorb more from the personal interaction of learning from a guide, than you do from reading it from a book.
The obvious downside of a group tour is the luck of the draw aspect of who else will be on your tour. All our companions were easy to be around, but we were the only members of the group under 50. My understanding from Rick is that it is incredibly uncommon to have an older age distribution like this. But, it did reduce the “adventure” elements that would have been present in the tour if we’d all been young and fit and ready to take the wilderness at a faster pace.
That said, It was an easy going tour with a much appreciated touch of comfort with the slightly better accommodation options for the “Original” tour grade. Some of the other adventure tours focus more on a rough and ready outback experience where you may be sleeping under the stars in swag bags (Australian sleeping bags). These might have a younger demographic, but getting mauled by mosquitos in my swag every night does not sound like a fun trip.
We had such an incredible 4 days, we would certainly travel with Adventure Tours again. I truly believe it was a richer experience for being guided, rather than independent. Plus, once you factor in car rental, park fees, attraction fees, fuel, accommodation and all the food that was included, it is good value too.
You can learn more about the tour and decide for yourself:
For Australian Readers CLICK HERE
For US Readers CLICK HERE
Phew – what a massive 4 days! It’s a busy itinerary but totally worth it if you want to really travel outback Australia. Obviously you might note that to really visit the Aussie outback you need to also stop off at that famous red rock Uluru. We didn’t have enough time on this trip to choose an itinerary that included Uluru, but Adventure Tours also offers trips to see Uluru. And you should absolutely see it! We visited back in 2012 and it was amazing!!!
Uluru Tours for American Readers
Uluru Tours for Australian Readers
The Aussie outback is a must visit if you are planning to travel to Australia – hell even if you currently live in Australia you need to take the time to explore this remarkable area of the world.
Your arrival back to Darwin is in the evening, so it is recommended to book flights for the following day. Or of course, stick around and check out some other experiences in Darwin and the Tiwi Islands.
After a massive 4 days out exploring the Aussie Outback, sleeping in tented accommodation, long hours in a bus going from place to place, we think everyone deserves a bit of luxury. There is nothing nicer for your weary body than knowing at the end you have a nice comfy bed to relax in once the trip is over.
This is exactly why we booked a night at Oaks Elan Darwin after our trip. Our Adventure Tours guide dropped us off right on the door step and we went straight up to our 1 bedroom apartment. The bed was certainly a sight for sore eyes, but what really grabbed our attention was the view!
Oaks Elan Darwin has to have one of the best views in Darwin, and there is nothing more relaxing than sitting on your private balcony, enjoying a glass of wine and a home cooked meal. Yes that’s right home cooked. The 1 bedroom apartment comes with a kitchenette, which means you can indulge in a few dishes that you might have been missing while out bush. There is also a washing machine and drier in the bathroom, so you can clean all of your dirty, stinky clothes. Even washing detergent is supplied – they’ve really thought of everything.
Darwin is stinking hot no matter what time of year you visit, so choosing a hotel with a pool is a must. Having somewhere to cool off will just make the days so much easier to bare – and Oaks have a great pool. Surprisingly it doesn’t warm up too much during the day. I personally like pools a little warmer, but I’m a big “wuss burger” (as Tommo likes to call me) and am pretty fussy when it comes to water temperature. I’m sure most people will think I’m nuts and that it’s perfectly refreshing.
Clean, comfortable and easy walking distance to shops and attractions.This really was the perfect hotel to book after a long tiring tour. Staying at Oaks Elan was just like a little piece of home away from home.
To check availability for this hotel CLICK HERE
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Disclaimer: We received our tour with Adventure Tours and stay at Oaks Elan complimentary – all opinions remain our own. This article contains affiliate links thanks for supporting our blog by using them.