Located just over a three-hour drive south of Darwin, Katherine is a small town with a big list of attractions. Surrounded by hot springs, world-famous national parks and several art galleries, here’s a guide to the best things to do in Katherine.
Nitmiluk National Park is known as the home of Katherine Gorge. The best ways to experience the gorge include a canoe adventure or on the unforgettable Nabilil Dreaming sunset dinner cruise. If you want to spend your time at Nitmiluk in the water, check out the swimming holes at Leliyn (Edith Falls), and the Northern and Southern Rockholes. Finally, if you’re up for a challenge, head off on the world famous Jatbula Trail, a 62-kilometre (38.5-mile) trek through Nitmiluk National Park.
Located about an hour from Katherine, Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park is coincidentally home to a beautiful remote gorge. There’s a walking track you can follow along the creek, which leads to a large pool and a sandy beach. Permits must be obtained if visitors want to rock climb or abseil within Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park. The traditional owners of the land are the Wagiman Aboriginal people, and their ancient Aboriginal rock art can still be seen on the gorge walls.
Get a glimpse of life at an outback Australia cattle station at the Katherine Outback Experience. There are 1.5 and 2.5-hour shows, which include horse-starting and working dog demonstrations, as well as Australian country music performances and humorous bush tales. The experience features Tom Curtain, a two-time Golden Guitar-winning musician and a horsemen extraordinaire. The Katherine Outback Experience is an authentic and entertaining look at life in the Australian outback.
The Cutta Cutta Caves were formed millions of years ago. They’re the only tropical limestone cave system in Australia. Visitors can head 15 metres below the surface on a guided tour of the caves. Here you’ll spot stalactites, stalagmites and five different bat species. The Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park is also home to the Tropical Woodland Walk, where you can learn more about native flora and fauna. There are approximately 170 bird species within the Nature Park, including parrots and endangered finches.
At Top Didj and Art Gallery, the Cultural Experience includes two hours with a local Aboriginal artist, who will teach you about indigenous culture. There’s hands-on activities involved, including making fire from sticks, throwing boomerangs and painting your own Aboriginal artwork. There’s also the Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Culture Centre, which hosts amazing exhibitions, performances, cultural celebrations and workshops. Finally, MiMi Aboriginal Art & Craft is an Aboriginal owned and operated non-profit arts centre in Katherine. It represents artists from the expansive Katherine region.
Elsey National Park is well-known as the setting of the renowned Australian novel, We of the Never Never. Nowadays, it’s known as being home to hot springs. Mataranka Thermal Pool is the most popular spring-fed pool, which sits at 34°C year-round. Then there’s the less crowded Bitter Springs, which is surrounded by cabbage palms and tropical woodlands. Rainbow Springs is another large thermal swimming hole. If you want to cool off instead in Elsey National Park, visit Stevie’s Hole along the Waterhouse River. For a hot spring located closer to town, visit Katherine Hot Springs.
Dine under the stars at Marksie’s Stockman’s Camp Tucker
Voted the number one dining option in the Northern Territory on TripAdvisor, a visit to Katherine isn’t complete without dinner under the stars at Marksie’s Stockman’s Camp Tucker. You get to enjoy a three-course gourmet meal while listening to hilarious bush tales from Marksie himself. All food is authentically cooked in a camp oven and includes a meat taster plate, tomato and onion pie, coal-roasted vegetables, damper, scones and billy tea. The team uses 14 different bush tucker herbs, spices and food, including lemon myrtle and mountain forest berries.
Katherine Museum’s main purpose is to collect and preserve the region’s cultural heritage and artefacts. It’s housed in the former WWII regional air terminal. Some of the interesting things on display at Katherine Museum include telecommunication objects from the Overland Telegraph, which date back to 1872. There’s also a planetarium made by a Russian peanut farmer, Aboriginal artefacts, and the De Havilland Gypsy Moth plane used by the first flying doctor, Dr Clyde Fenton.
For a small place in the middle of nowhere, Katherine sure hosts a lot of annual festivals every dry season. There’s The Katherine Show and Rodeo, as well as the Katherine Races. In nearby Barunga, the annual Barunga Festival celebrates the ‘very best of remote Australian indigenous community life: music, sport and culture’. For local artists, there’s the annual Katherine Junk Festival as well, which focuses on amazing junk sculptures.
Geoff Routley is the man behind the NT Rare Rocks. He has been collecting rare rocks and gemstones from across Australia for more than 30 years. As Visit Katherine says: ‘He can take an ordinary looking rock, cut and polish it, and bring out the natural beauty that no one would normally know existed inside.’ His collection includes chalky zebra stone, Lightning Ridge opals and malachite rock from Rum Jungle in Batchelor. Routley asks that you phone before visiting during the dry season.