More Than I Signed Up For

Sat. 22nd June 2019

Looking down on Katherine RiverNitmiluk Park is based around the gorges of Katherine River – of which there are nine. The options for seeing some of them (it would be a 2-3 day hike to see all of them) boil down to helicopter, boat or walk. Because we enjoyed our flight over the Bungle Bungles so much, we didn’t want to take a helicopter flight here. We debated walk or boat for some time, and even considered adding kayaking to the boat option to get a more individual experience. In the end, the boat timings didn’t quite work for us and, from the water, you only get one perspective on the gorges.

One of the options we didn't takeThe deal was sealed when Janet said “I have a plan. It is a 12km 4.5hr return walk to Butterfly Gorge – essentially the start of the 3rd gorge”. Well that sounded good, so I signed up. And, in doing so, showed the merit in the old US Cold War maxim of “trust but verify”. So, I’ve nobody to blame but myself that in the end, it was more like 12 miles than 12km. Oops! Don’t get me wrong, we had a great day, but by the end, our legs definitely knew about it.

The route we actually walked - with the miles markedWe did try to get it right. We called into the information centre before we left to check we had the best map – we did and it was confusing but we were told that the trails were marked with coloured arrows, so we couldn’t go wrong. The walks are laid out like a series of irregularly squashed ovals, connecting with each other where they intersect and gradually working their way down the sequence of gorges. With hindsight, we think our mistake was that they excluded the first 4.8km loop from the 12km calculation.

Flying fox doing a poor job hiding from the sunPerhaps we got distracted by the rather noisy colony of flying foxes hanging around in a tree next to the information centre. It was certainly a surprise to see them by such a busy and sunny spot. Still, very considerate of them to pose for us. The first part of the walk is by the river and past the boat jetty. We stop and have a nose and tell ourselves that it is much more our thing to be independent and that we’re likely to see so much more.

Definitely not all on a flat pathThe path then winds up the side of the gorge – a mix of path, clamber and stairs culminating at a lookout giving great views of the river below and the cliffs on the far side. Very good, but if the rest of the walk is like the last 500m,we won’t be walking 12km! Fortunately, the next couple of km are on top of the plateau and so mostly level and for a large part on gravel. This gets us to the first intersection, and we should have picked up on the clue as it was marked ‘Start of Southern Walks’.

Photographer at workHaving headed inland, we take the gorge-bound route on the next loop figuring that on our return we’ll be happy to take the shorter and, hopefully, flatter inland route. The terrain changes from trees to shrubs and the whilst still periodically marked (green rather than yellow markers now) the path is more uneven and we have to bear in mind the “don’t gawp and walk” rule.

And the end resultWe’re cracking on now, making good progress, and so decide to take a detour marked ‘Southern Rockhole’ (entirely on the basis that our one page information / map sheet shows a picture of a waterfall). What starts as a gently descending path quickly turns into a steeper scramble over rocks and round boulders. It’s supposedly only 500m off the main path but we have no way of measuring distance. Eventually, we get to a rockpool with a sliver of a waterfall tumbling into it. We suspect that this isn’t the bottom, but we like the photos we take here, and time is pressing on.

Some of the obstacles to be negotiatedAfter the scramble back up, the next milestones at Pat’s Lookout and Jedda’s Rock are close by, easy to get to and, most importantly, provide spectacular views of the second gorge. You definitely wouldn’t get this view from a boat. As we head back inland, the path becomes rocky again and steep in places. Of course, it is at one such point that we meet a group coming the other way and have to find a passing point in the narrow path. They’ve come from Butterfly Gorge, though, and tell us that it is lovely.

Still happy we didn't go for this optionThe path to Butterfly Gorge is a side-track off the next intersection of loops. After a brief pause to top up water bottles, we decide we have the time and the energy to walk the 1.4km down to the river. Once again, the scenery changes dramatically as the path slopes gently (mostly) down the gorge. We’re now in a monsoon rain forest – presumably wet half the year and dry the other half – whatever, the trees now tower above us and the vegetation either side of the path is thick. As we get lower, the stream we’d been following suddenly opens out and we’re at the mouth of an inlet off Katherine River.

Our view whilst we had our lunchThe narrow banks don’t give us a huge amount of space, but we find a spot to sit, eat our sandwich and contemplate the walk and the stunning scenery. As a reminder of what we could have been doing a clutch of canoeists go paddling by. Even though they’re heading up-river and so are going to get further into the gorges than us, we wouldn’t swap the views we’ve seen for those (we imagine) they’ve seen. (Although, we don’t see a huge number of the advertised butterflies!)

Lots of things to distract usWe’re now at the point of our walk furthest from our room but, very fortunately, the route back is significantly shorter and on flatter & better paths than those on the way out due to the asymmetric positioning of the intersections between the loops. Better yet, at these intersections there are water butts and we’re glad of the opportunity to refill our bottles. We must have been refreshed and revitalised because our 10th & 11th miles of the day are our fastest yet, as we knock them off at around 20mins each.

Also glad we didn't take the boatNot too much further now and we’re back at the ‘resort’ by mid-afternoon. Our legs know they’ve been busy and we’re both well over double our step target for the day. We aren’t done yet though. Neither of us can face eating at the resort bistro again and would prefer to have the half hour drive back into Katherine to get some food we can cook ourselves tonight. And so, we end the day, in our little hutch of a chalet, with microwaved lamb shank and mashed potato. As Janet explained yesterday, it was a mistake to stay here rather than in town.

However, we’ve enjoyed our day once again. Today as over the last 8 weeks (as over the last 37 years) we’ve made far more good decisions than bad. It’s all been a great adventure. And in the most positive way, it’s so much more than I signed up for.

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