Kayaking through Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk National Park) in the Northern Territory has been on my bucket list pretty much since I moved here. I wanted to explore them for myself after having seen umpteen amazing Instagram photos of the place. They really are as beautiful as they look on the pics – if not better! Me and Little Chrissy had attempted to do the trip for the past year but something always cropped up and the timing wasn’t suitable. So a few weeks ago, with Chris’s younger brother, Michael, in tow…we set off on the 3 and a bit hour drive to Katherine. And I was excited!
We made sure we were fully prepared for this camping trip since we notoriously forget something(s) every.single.time. And the day before, I had quit my soul sucking job so I was feeling more than just excited. So overly excited in fact, that not long after offering to drive if Chris got tired (probably 5 minutes after), I was on the [camping] ciders – don’t worry, it was 11am and perfectly acceptable. Obviously, in true Moses style, I was tipsy after my second (okay, my first) bottle.
From Darwin, it doesn’t take long before you run out of signal. So from then on, our journey consisted of my 10 or so songs that I have had on my phone since 1966 (a lesson we never seem to learn for long drives – I really need to download some music), several toilet stops (often at the side of the road) and non-stop nothingness. The Stuart Highway really is BORING. Thankfully, I was drunk and felt merrily happy the whole way.
We finally got to Nitmiluk National Park around 4pm – just in time for the check-in desk closing. We got our passes and info – to be at the boat for 7.30am the next morning – and headed for a camping spot in the grounds.
Nitmiluk camping area is pleasantly pleasant – toilets, showers and laundry facilities are available for a nightly cost of $15 per person. This seems to be the standard camping price anywhere in the NT this year. Anyway, we picked our spot and I joyfully watched the boys set up camp and simultaneously played with a wallaby. He was well cute! And in my tipsy haze I ended up calling him Baba (sad, I know).
We headed to the pool (which is actually really nice) and there the boys played with a ball – throwing it back and forward – for ages! Wow. Despite having just spent over $100 on food, we couldn’t resist eating at the campsite ‘poolside bistro’. I must say, I was very impressed! I got completely carbed up and was ready for bed.
The next morning once we got to the jetty; checked in, got our paddles and life jackets blah blah.. We noticed that we had way more stuff than anyone else! Shock. We had opted to do the ‘Under The Stars’ tour – where we would paddle to Gorge 6 and stay the night before coming back the following day (thank God I didn’t choose 9 – the final gorge). We had our tents, sleeping bags, a big bulky esky (which is cool box for my English pals), a 5 litre box of water and our own bags containing more unnecessary shit. What a bunch of divs.
Normally the kayakers would leave from the first gorge (where the jetty was located) but because of recent saltwater crocodile sightings, we had to get a boat to the second. So 50 eager kayakers all got on this boat, crammed in, paddles on the floor vertically in between our legs and took off – seeing a freshy on the way. Fresh water crocs are fine though…they don’t want to eat you!
We had so much shit man! I was already sick of it as we lugged it over the rocks between gorges 1 and 2 to get to the kayaks. Me and Chris shared a double and Michael got a single. Between the 2 kayaks, we managed to squeeze in everything and paddled off down Gorge 2. Yes, it really was just as beautiful as those Insta snaps.
We were paddling against the current and I’m not sure how long it took before my arms were tired (not that long at all to be honest) and I tried to stealthily get away with not paddling. Chris noticed of course (oopsies). So I got out my camera to take some pics and do what I do best. I did paddle some times though *sarcastic winky face*.
We’d heard about the difficulty of getting over the rocks in between the gorges and particularly later on in the dry season but we really didn’t expect it to be the way it was. It was difficult to say the least! Some of the day trip canoeists didn’t even bother trying to get theirs over to the third gorge and we had to get through to the sixth!! Unfortunately (well, fortunately for me), I proved to just be in the way and not much use at all in carrying the kayak over the rocks. Some parts were really slippy then others were really high! They say they want you to carry the kayaks and not drag them but sorry, I didn’t see anyone ‘carrying’ their kayaks over that dodgy terrain (yes, I still love that word). So whilst the boys worked together to get the kayaks from one end to another, I swanned across the rocks like Peter Pan making myself useful by carrying a paddle.
To our annoyance, there seemed to be more rocks to climb over than water to paddle through. It was very hard work (for them)!
A few hours later, we made it to gorge 5 – by far the best gorge (in my opinion)! It’s the narrowest gorge, yet the tallest. Or at least it felt that way anyway. We were so in awe of the beauty of it that we stopped paddling half way down it and decided to have a snack while floating there. No noise. No people. Just us and our apples. It was nice.
I really love and appreciate being out in nature and feeling so small and insignificant in comparison. We really are only a teeny tiny blip on earth.
By the time we got to the sixth gorge, I was wrecked! And burnt. It had taken a total of 6 hours from leaving the jetty to get there. Including all of our stops; rests, snacks, picture taking etc… The camping area was a small sandy beach up a 4ish meter hill – which proved to be very challenging to walk up. Especially when the sand was as hot as the sun itself. It consisted of a sign and a composting toilet at the top. Which I never used so can’t report back on. I’m a nature wee type of girl; AKA a girl who hates the idea of what could be lurking in those toilets!
We emptied our belongings out of the kayaks and everything was absolutely drenched!! Like dripping wet! Chris (‘the bush man’) made a washing line across some trees with string he happened to have in his bag (bush ready) and our sleeping bags dripped dry in the sun for a few hours and luckily dried out completely. Our bag of water was also no more – it had split! But (also) luckily, we could drink the gorge water. I know, I was skitzy about this at first but I’m still here to tell the tale with no post gorge water illnesses to speak of.
The gorge was absolutely silent. Apart from the sound of the wings of a crow that was the size of a small aircraft; that kept flying down when ever it thought we weren’t watching to try and pinch some of our food! We honestly didn’t have to be watching when it’s wings sounded like a helicopter coming into land. You really aren’t stealthy you little shit! It was so peaceful there that I had a little afternoon nap in the shade. Aaaaahhh… Lush.
We made tea on our little stove of egg and chip butties (nana style – PROPER chips)…simple, yet so god damn satisfying. We even brought Lurpak in the esky too (which had completely melted). Can you imagine how good it tasted after 6 hours of strenuous physical graft? That’s the thing I love most about camping… Cooking. And eating. Outdoors. Some of my favourite things (especially eating).
It gets dark pretty early in the NT – something I am used to now. 6.30ish during the dry season. So we laid out the sleeping bags on the sand and talked whilst staring up at the stars. FYI, if you haven’t experienced the stars in the Australian outback, then you really need to! Next thing I know, I’m waking up in the middle of the night beside Chris (outside and not in the tent) with the moon glaring down on us! It was so bright that I could see everything! The gorge looked lush reflecting in the still water below and I took a few minutes in my sleepy state to take it all in. It was quite a surreal feeling. One of those ‘wow, look where I am’ feelings.
I couldn’t get back to sleep under the light of the moon, so I snook off into my tent for what felt like the worst sleep of my life (I do like to exaggerate if you hadn’t noticed already). FYI, sand is not comfortable to sleep on. At all! I thought I could dig myself little spots to fit into nicely but in reality, sand is just really hard and then the lumps you made for your “comfy” position, don’t make very comfy for your next. I should have brought a bottle of wine with me! Blackout juice.
None of us were feeling all to refreshed the next morning but we had a laugh at our own expense. Seriously man, sleeping on the sand is shit x1000! We had our bacon breaky (why does bacon always taste better when you’re camping?) and then packed up our belongings back into the kayaks. Everything would become drenched again in a matter of minutes! We left gorge 6 around 8am to get back to the boat at the second gorge at 12pm. 4 hours to get there. Easy.
For some reason, the way back felt so much easier! Fair enough, we were paddling with the current but even getting over the rocks was much easier (well it looked it anyway from where I was standing – lolz). AND….I paddled!! The whole way this time!! It was like we were an Olympic kayaking duo. I was feeling good! I was feeling strong!! Unstoppable!! And we made it to Gorge 2 in good time for the boat (even with some photo stops along the way – at Gorge 5…again).
So, lessons learned for the next time (if we ever do it again) and tips to anyone thinking of doing the ‘Under the Stars’ trip:
1) I did this but book way in advance! Those kayaks get booked out really quick! As there was only 3 of us, we had to get a double and a single. To save money, try going in a pair as our double cost $83 per person, while the single was $140!!! CRIKEY!!! *Australian accent*
2) Don’t take too much stuff. That thing you think you won’t be able to go without for a night…well you really can do! Leave it on dry land. Don’t even bother taking different clothes. What’s the point? I didn’t even get changed. (What a scruff, I know).
3) Go earlier on in the dry season when the water levels will be that little bit higher, meaning less rocks to drag (*cough* sorry, I mean CARRY) the kayak over.
4) Buy those ugly wet shoe things! They really do help!
5) Sack off the cold foods and the big esky! Take dry food instead and stick it in a bag up the front of the kayak.
6) Take a dry bag. You will want to take pictures! Keep your valuables locked in a dry bag because everything really does end up soaking wet!
7) Be prepared for serious physical graft. Every time I excitedly go kayaking, I forget how bloody hard it was the previous time. I am noticeably more hench after that trip though. ‘Laurie Triceps’. Plan your trip and camping spot depending on how hard you want to go.
8) Take a mat to sleep on. The sand is not comfy. At all.
9) Wear a high factor waterproof sun protection and a hat! This one isn’t rocket science really but you’re literally exposed to sun the whole day and it is HOT! The front of your legs will get a lashing.
10) Don’t stress about taking water. Like me (if I don’t have water with me at all times, I seriously skitz)! Take a bottle and drink the gorge water. No need for bulky eskys.
And ultimately…Enjoy it!! How many times in your life are you going to kayak through some unreal gorges and stay the night under the stars?
All pics taken with Olympus OMD EM10 Mark ii