Sitting on the fringe of the Never Never is Katherine, the third largest town in the Northern Territory. About a three hour drive south of Darwin, it’s sometimes forgotten on a Top End road trip itinerary, but there are so many amazing places to explore out here, it’s definitely not a place to just brush through.
There are so many unique things to see and do in Katherine, you could easily extend your planned trip by a few days to explore everything this unique region has to offer. To explore the very best attractions, here are some of the best things to do in Katherine.
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When to visit Katherine
Home to some pretty extreme weather and temperatures, Katherine is best visited during winter, between the months of around June and October. During this time temperatures are a little bit lower (although they’re still VERY hot), meaning that more of the walks, activities and attractions are open to visitors. During extreme weather days many walks and sights in Nitmiluk National Park are closed for safety reasons, so you don’t want to risk not being able to visit anywhere during your visit.
June to August is the most popular time to visit Katherine. It is recommended that if you’re visiting during this time that you pre-book your tours and activities to avoid missing out.
Best things to do in Katherine
If you need any help or advice start your visit at the Katherine Visitors Information Centre, found on the corner of Lindsay Street and the Stuart Highway (next to ABC Radio).
Canoe through Katherine Gorge
This was such an amazing and magical experience, and we’re normally not the biggest fans of canoes.
The Malappar Traveller canoe trip in Nitmiluk Gorge is the most beautiful way to experience Katherine Gorge. The tour goes for about 5 hours, beginning with a boat ride from the first gorge into the second gorge, where you pick up your canoe.
We couldn’t find much information about the canoe trip before we did it, so to help you plan your visit we would recommend:
- Wear your bathers because you’re allowed to swim in the second gorge, and the water is so beautiful and with the high temperatures in Katherine you’ll definitely want to get in (even if you have canoed past a freshwater crocodile on the way in)
- Bring some snacks or lunch, the trip goes from 9am until 2pm so you’ll definitely want to bring a few snacks for the trip
- You should also bring: a towel, hat, sunscreen and lots of water
This was such an amazing way to experience the gorge, absolutely so peaceful and serene as we slowly made our way through the two gorges we were able to explore. The tour gives you plenty of time to explore, swim and enjoy the environment, so you don’t have to rush or really power canoe at all.
A double canoe cost us $75 per person, with single canoes also available for $85. To find out more and book your experience, check out the Nitmiluk Tours website.
Explore Nitmiluk National Park
Start you visit at the Visitors Centre, that can be found roughly half way in between the campground and the jetty. There are lots of different hikes that can be done around Katherine Gorge, ranging in levels of difficulty and distance. If you’re going to attempt any of the longer and more difficult hikes, make sure you check the temperatures for the day, with many of the harder walks being closed on days of extreme heat. It’s always best to embark on your hike as early as possible to avoid heat exhaustion.
Enjoy a cultural experience at Top Digj
To learn more about the Aboriginal culture from around Katherine, head to the Top Didj Cultural Experience. The experience was designed to establish a more positive experience and relationship with the Aboriginal people in the Katherine region, and includes the Top Didj Art Gallery which shares pieces from the Jawoyn, Dalabon and Mali Aborigines who have lived in the region for thousands of years.
The cultural experience is roughly a two and a half hour activity, where you can chat to and learn from Top End Aboriginal artist Manuel Pamkal, learn about different Aboriginal painting styles, weapons and spear throwing techniques and how Manuel and the Aboriginal people live off the land. You will also get the chance to interact with some of the local wildlife, as there are always baby wallabies around who need a cuddle.
The Top Didj cultural experience runs twice a day between May and October, at 9:30am and 2:30pm, and costs $80 for a ticket per adult. Between November and April the gallery is open by appointment only. Bookings are essential no matter what time of the year you’re visiting.
Top Didj || 363 Gorge Road, Landsdowne Katherine || Ph: 0414 888 786
Take a dip in the Katherine Hot Springs
Right in the heart of town, Katherine has it’s very own springs. It’s the best way to cool down, with perfectly clear water and a few different pools so everyone can really spread out. The water in the springs is just so refreshing, it’s the perfect way to escape the high temperatures of the Top End.
Katherine Hot Springs || Riverbank Drive, Katherine South || Ph: (08) 8972 5500
Enjoy dinner under the stars
For a unique dinner under the stars, head to Marksie’s Stockman’s Camp for Tucker Night. Located on the grounds of the Top Didj Cultural Experience on Gorge Road, this is a true bush tucker experience, with everyone seated around the campfire, serving stews and dampers flavoured with all kinds of native bush fruits, foods and herbs. At the moment they’re only open 1-2 nights a week (Thursdays and Saturdays) until mid-October when the season ends for the year.
Details: The Tucker Night season generally runs from July to October. At the moment it’s only open on Thursdays and Saturdays, but hopefully next season they’ll be able to add some extra days. Dinner costs $65 per adult, and bookings are absolutely essential at least 24 hours in advance. BYO alcohol.
Marksie’s Camp Tucker || Gorge Road, Katherine || Book here: marksiescamptucker.com.au
Visit the Katherine Outback Experience
Learn more about farming in the Northern Territory with Tom Curtain’s outback experience show. We got to experience the show as an excursion from The Ghan, and it was such a unique way to spend the afternoon in Katherine. The show is pretty much a live demonstration of life on the farm, as they break in horses, sing country songs standing up on horseback and train more than a dozen dogs all at once.
After the show some refreshments are served, while you have the chance to cuddle up to some of the puppies that have been born on the farm. They are so tiny and cute, definitely a place you need to go if you are travelling and missing your own fur babies at home. Tickets cost $55 per adult for the 1.5 hour show, with extended shows also available on some days of the week. Check the website for show times as they change daily.
To find out more and book your experience, head to katherineoutbackexperience.com.au.
Katherine Outback Experience || 115 Collins Road, Uralla || Ph: 1300 818 612
Climb to the top of Edith Falls
Another highlight of Nitmiluk National Park is Edith (Leliyn) Falls. It’s about 45 minutes north of Katherine, with a sealed road all the way along, even once you turn off the Stuart Highway. Only 150 metres you’ll find a beautiful refreshing plunge pool, perfect for cooling off from the high temperatures of the Katherine region.
Follow the 1.2 kilometres walk to the upper pool of Edith Falls, where you can enjoy the beautiful cool water in a relaxing setting. There is another waterfall up here and it just a really beautiful spot. You can follow the loop trail around another 1.4 kilometres back to the plunge pool to do the walk in a loop, or just head back down the way you came up. There’s also a much longer 9 kilometre return walk to get to the Sweetwater Pool if you’re looking for a spot all to yourself.
There is a campground at Edith Falls, as well as a small kiosk that has Telstra phone service and a paid wifi option. The campground offers all grassy unpowered sites and there are no pre-bookings at the site. It’s first come, first served and you just need to pay at the kiosk. Get there early if you’re visiting during the peak season, as it can often completely book out.
Take a trip down to Mataranka
About an hour south of Katherine is the tiny town of Mataranka, who consider themselves the heart of the Never Never. And Mataranks is home to some absolutely amazing natural hot springs within Elsey National Park, with some of the clearest, clearest water you have ever seen! There are two different spots to stop in Mataranka:
Bitter Springs: the natural springs in the area, Bitter Springs are absolutely beautiful. Surrounded by talk palms, natural greenery and offering some perfect water that sits around 34 degrees. This tropical little oasis is not to be missed on any adventure through the Never Never.
Bitter Springs has it’s own campground, which is only about 500 metres away from the springs, super easy walking distance. Bring a noodle or a floatie if you have one and you can float around the waterways slowly, enjoying the natural current. It’s such a lovely spot.
Mataranka Thermal Pool: The Mataranka thermal pool is a bit more man made, with more of a structured pool built into the spring. It sits around 32 degrees all the time and is just absolutely beautiful to swim in. Visit early in the morning to see the sun peaking through the palms that surround the spring, such a lovely time of day.
You can also stay at the Mataranka Homestead which sits right alongside the thermal pool, and they are pet friendly! The homestead is also home to lots of pretty peacocks running around, so a great spot for some wildlife photos.
Mataranka Homestead || 642 Homestead Road, Mataranka || Ph: (08) 8975 4544
Where to stay in Katherine
We went through Katherine a couple of times during our time in the Top End, so we were able to stay both in the heart of Katherine, as well as out at Nitmiluk National Park.
During our first time through Katherine we based ourselves at the Nitmiluk Campground, which is about 40 minutes out of Katherine, but only a short 10 minute walk to the Katherine Gorge jetty. It’s the perfect place to base yourself if you’re planning to spend a lot of time exploring Katherine Gorge and Nitmiluk National Park.
There are powered and unpowered sites at the campground, as well as cabins and a luxury lodge. For the 2020 dry season, powered sites cost $56 per site for two adults, while unpowered sites cost $23 per person. There are discounts on both if you’re visiting during the wet season from the 1st of November until the 31st of March.
Important to note: The powered sites at Nitmiluk Campground wouldn’t run our air-conditioner, which was extremely frustrating in 39°C weather. It kept shutting off all the power if we turned the air-conditioner on. We could only run the fan at very low power. Keep this in mind if you’re visiting during hot weather.
Riverview Tourist Village
On our second time through Katherine we stayed in town at the Riverview Tourist Village. They are only a very short drive from the main street of Katherine, and are a short walk away from the Katherine Hot Springs, so the location can’t be beaten.
We also stored our caravan here when we went out to Arnhem Land. They charged us just $10 per day, which we were very happy with and kept an eye on our van while we were gone. Really appreciated how easy they made the storage process, highly recommend for anyone going to super remote locations and don’t want to take their vans.
Riverview Tourist Village || 100 Victoria Highway, Katherine || Ph: (08) 8972 1011