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Canoe Katherine – totally gorge-ous NT canoe trips

Famous for plunging gorges, deep waterholes and dramatic landscapes, Nitmiluk National Park makes for a phenomenal backdrop to a NT canoe trip. Grab a paddle and explore the rivers by floating on them.

For older families and stronger paddlers, the mighty Katherine River is definitely best seen by boat. The ancient spirit of the orange cliffs and deep, green rivers comes alive. Nitmiluk National Park, south-east of Darwin, contains the thirteen gorges of Katherine. Its name in local Jawoyn language translates to ‘place of cicada dreaming.’ There is no doubt that flora and fauna steal the show. 

Read more: Northern Territory adventures you need to try

Yellow kayak's at Katherine Gorge, Australia
Yellow kayaks at Katherine Gorge, Australia. Credit: Shutterstock

Where to go

Most people will choose to take a scenic cruise to the first two or three gorges which are the most famous and therefore the most crowded in peak season. Paddles in hand, a day trip is enough time for a confident and experienced paddler to see all three. However, an overnight expedition means you’ll have time enough to see more of the gorges away a little more peacefully. In particular, the second gorge comes highly recommended. Make sure you set off early and hire your craft for long enough to reach it.

Smitt’s Rock, at the fifth gorge in the series, is a popular campsite. There’s another off-river camp ground along a short track from the eighth gorge, with stunning waterfalls and a beach. If you intend to venture out for more than a day, you will need an overnight permit.

Nitmiluk National Park
Plenty of river to go round in Nitmiluk National Park and the Katherine gorges! Credit: Shutterstock

When to go

This famous NT canoe trip should only be attempted in dry season, between May and October. During the wet the rivers can flood easily and become dangerous. In the dry season, there’s still plenty of water but there will be short sections of river that are low so you’ll need to haul your canoe over rocks.

June and August is peak tourist season. The gorges get seriously busy, so book canoes and cruises ahead of time.  Expect loads of people at the entrance and canoe ramp most of the year.

It’s best to go with a tour group at any time of year.  Experienced guides know the lay of the land, will keep groups safe and can show you hidden beaches and climbing rocks. Crocodiles populate lakes and rivers in the Northern Territory – it is very important that you stay aware and alert. Guides can be handy when it comes to avoiding the prehistoric reptiles. Check out Nitmiluk Tours and the range of gorge experiences they offer.

Look at those greens and reds – have your camera at the ready! Credit: Shutterstock

Where to go outside Nitmiluk

A couple of hundred kilometres north-west, in Darwin Harbour, you’ll find another worthy NT canoe trip. In fact, if your family is a little less experienced and doesn’t want to brave the gorges, hiring a sea kayak and all the appropriate equipment can be an easier alternative. Be wary of the presence of crocodiles here too. They appear seasonally. A quick check at an information centre will let you know for sure if any have been spotted of late.

Redbank Gorge is a stunning alternative to Nitmiluk/Katherine. Credit: Shutterstock

If you’re not so keen on a NT canoe trip, why not try tubing or floating instead? Redbank Gorge is the perfect destination. The photo-famous Mount Sonder rises from the earth about two hours west of Alice Springs in the West MacDonnell Ranges. At its base lies the life-giving waterhole of Redbank Gorge, steeped in dreamtime story for the local Western Arrernte people and a haven for birds, animals and visitors looking to escape the dusty heat of the Northern Territory.

The waters of the gorge are in fact known for their icy temperatures. Gas BBQs, picnic tables, pit toilets and a decent walk up Mt. Sonder (part of the Larapinta Trail) add to the ambiance of this beautiful and sacred destination.


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