Katherine Gorge Cruise and Walk

Trip Start Feb 26, 2013
Trip End Apr 15, 2013

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Where I stayed
Shady Lanes Tourist Center
What I did
Katherine Gorge
Flying foxes roosting
Baruwei Walk

Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Tuesday, March 19, 2013

This morning I had to be up around 7 am,  but I actually awoke well before then and had a leisurely breakfast before my drive to the Katherine Gorge-Nitmiluk National Park visitor center.  There is a small interpretive center, a cafe, and a souvenir shop in the visitor center and I must have asked the young man at the desk who also took payments at the souvenir shop at least 4 or 5 questions:  Where is the boat cruise ramp, can I drink tap water, can I buy one of the nearly dried paintings by the guest artist?? 

As it turned out, I managed to get to the boat ramp well before 9 am, or the so-called 8:45 boarding time.  I was there in sufficient time to check-out the squealing, squeaking noises in the trees along the riverbank - no, not crocs, not birds, but flying foxes, i.e., fruit bats!!!   I looked up at one point and saw everyone else gathering on the dock.  Oops, time to leave.

Since this is the wet season - although a pretty lame wet season since the water isn't nearly as high as usual, we only do two gorges here at Katherine Gorge instead of three.  Or probably it isn't because of the wet season, but the dryness factor.  Not sure.  In any case, the first gorge was pleasant but not as scenic as the second.  We had to get off the first boat, walk 400 meters and get on the second boat.  That part was kind of fun actually because you could see the scoured rocks close up.  There are marvelous rocks here!

Our guide Richard explained various features of interest, mostly different water levels to show where the water is during a regular wet season and the dry season.  He pointed out a fairly tall tree and said that the water levels were usually half way up the tree.  Some trees and shrubs would be submerged for the whole of the wet season.  One couple saw a small croc just before we got on the boat (which was maybe half full.  This is not the regular tourist season, for sure.).  Richard noted that fresh water crocs tend to be timid, smaller, with pointier snouts.  The saltwater crocs can be up to 6-7 meters in length, have wider snouts, and are very dangerous.  Even though there are warnings everywhere and swimming is prohibited, some places are closed as well.  Yet, Richard said only 4 saltwater crocs have managed to get this far up the river in the last 19 years.  There are natural and man-made barriers to prevent them for the most part.  In the safety instructions that he gave us, he said that the exits...were off the sides of the boat.  Ha, ha.

In the second gorge there were lots of great cliff sides:  one very large, flattish one was portrayed in Australia's first major film about an Aboriginal boy who fell in love with a girl in the wrong clan so they were prohibited from marrying.  To avoid punishment and separation, they jumped off the cliff.  Actually, the boy jumped and took the girl along with him.  Richard said it was a sad ending but the film gave insight into Aboriginal moieties (a word I don't often hear in conversation) and kinship system.  He showed us some fault lines, identified the rock as sandstone with iron and other colorings.  He showed us some of the sub-gorges where there would be waterfalls .... if there were more water.  I have forgotten now, but there was something about the 70 mile river and where it flowed into the gorge, I think.  After we turned around at the end of the second gorge, we saw several more boats - filled with passengers.  I thought there were only 3 trips out today - there must be another cruise line.

On the way back, in the first gorge, Richard told us to look at various trees:  the paperbark or malaleuca is the source of bark to be made into all sorts of things, and the leaves which smell of eucalyptus have medicinal properties and can be used as an antiseptic; the pandanus is used for weaving various things; the mangrove trees were the ones that gave off a sap that is used to paralyze fish by cutting off their oxygen (the part I missed on the other boat cruise), then the young boys flap around in the water, restoring the oxygen and the fish come back to life - the ones not taken to be eaten.  There was also a large palm that the Aboriginal people call a cabbage palm and they cut off the tops to use - I missed how though.  I was happy to know that the majority of trees are still the same paperbarks as in Kakadu and now I have the source of the fish paralyzing poison.  Oh, I knew there was another one, but I don't remember the name of it - it has fruits the size of golf balls that need to be soaked in water to be edible, otherwise they are as hard as golf balls.  I know I saw one of these trees yesterday I think.

After the cruise was over, I went back to the visitor center to look for some food and ended up with another $5 ice cream bar.  Good, but worth that much....hmmm, I am not so sure, but it did have caramel too.  I checked out the gift shop and would have bought a painting that the guest painter - Long John - had just finished - a fruit bat - wonderful!!   When I inquired, however, I was told that the new paintings have to be sent somewhere and registered and authenticated, so, no, I couldn't buy it.  So sad.  I bought 2 postcards.  I filled up my water bottle with tap water.

The woman at the visitor center had mentioned the short hike - the Baruwei Walk - to the overlook so I thought I would try it.  I didn't mention that I had my zoom lens on for most of my Katherine Gorge cruise and I didn't see a single bird.  There may have been some, but I didn't see them and Richard told us that there aren't as many to be seen here as in Kakadu.  So it was a bit hard to capture those vistas with the SLR.  Of course, the Lumix batteries - two of them - died during the cruise so I gave up on it.  Oh, oh - I should be charging batteries now!!

Somehow I lost the blog site and a few paragraphs so I had better save more often.  Hmmm, I wonder if I can recreate those paragraphs.  I think I got almost everything.

So I walked up to the Baruwei lookout.  As I neared the top and the lookout, I went to take a photo and found that my sd card was full.  Not to worry.  I could delete some photos since they had all been uploaded onto the computer.  I checked again.  No luck, so I deleted more photos.  Tried again.  Still no luck - I looked at the screen - battery dead.  Perhaps if I hadn't deleted all those photos I might have had enough juice for one or two pics at the top to capture the Katherine River stretching out in both directions.  Too bad.  No more batteries.  I had lightened my pack to the mere essentials - so I thought - water, car keys, sunscreen, hat, SLR with one lens.  No more batteries. So I would have to remember that lovely vista from the top and all the other little interesting things - flowers, rocks, etc.

I spoiled the solitude of the young man at the lookout, so I enjoyed the view and the breezes and moved on along the trail.  I think I did not bring enough water since I had almost finished it all by the time I was 400-500 meters beyond the lookout.  The top was burned at some point and you could still smell the burnt odor as well as see the effects.  There was grass and a lot of flowers blooming that I hadn't seen before.  Perhaps, the result of the burning.  Other than that, it was not that exciting, and it was HOT.  Very hot.  AND there were those awful FLIES - the ones that buzz around your head and torpedo your face while aiming for your nostrils or mouth.  They could easily drive me stark, raving mad!!  I endured the entire 3.8 km.  After I reached the chlorination station with all the warning signs, I wasn't sure that I was actually on the trail any longer.  Then it kept going up, and farther around in the opposite direction of the visitor center.  How long can 3.8 km be???  Just as I began to try to plan how I would save myself from expiring from heat exhaustion or dehydration, the path began to descend and wind around in the right direction.  I even got to experience sections shaded by cliffs and trees, with water trickling down the side of one rock face.

I ended up at the far end of the center and was confused as to where I was.  I had re-parked the car to be nearer the trail head, but now I found that this end of the trail was farther away and I still had to go to the visitor center first and then walk the 400 km to the boat launch before locating the parking lot.  This all required another fair bit of walking around.  So eventually I made it - it was good in that I refilled my water bottle at the visitor center before getting back to the car.  I then got a new battery and went in search of the flying foxes.  They were still in their trees - screaming and fighting.  Unfortunately, they didn't like my hanging around and would fly away to more distant trees.  They also were quite well concealed by all the tree branches and leaves so my photos are pretty lame, but I was happy just to hang out with them for awhile.  On my trip to Queensland, Australia with Wolf, we had tried several times to follow various people's recommendations to the trees where the flying foxes purportedly roosted during the day and never quite succeeded, so this was a dream come true...

After this highlight, I decided I had had enough for today and went back to my studio on stilts to relax.  I ate a bit, read a bit, napped a bit and then swam a bit.  Shortly after I got out of the pool, it started to rain.  It is now 8 pm and I have an hour or so of internet time before I get cut off.  I had bought a card for a full day of internet usage.  After the internet, I will probably go to bed fairly early since I think I need a good rest after today!

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