Katherine, Where The Outback Meets The Tropics
Katherine is located at the junction of the Victoria and Stuart Highways. So if you’re travelling east from the Kimberleys, Katherine will be the first major town you encounter.
We left Lake Argyle and headed east towards the Northern Territory on the Victoria Highway.
Once on this road, we realised how incredibly busy the Top End is in the dry season. The number of people travelling is mind-blowing. Every rest stop, roadhouse and town was packed with caravans, camper trailers and motorhomes.
I pity the poor truck drivers trying to overtake Grey Nomads towing enormous caravans at 80km/h. I wonder what it will be like in the future. Accommodation is hard to get even now. The region is truly in danger of being loved to death.
Victoria Highway is really scenic. Just over the border into the Northern Territory, is the entrance to Keep River National Park. Further on, the highway enters Judbarra / Gregory National Park as you approach the settlement of Timber Creek.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore either of these National Parks. Next time!
You’ll see the Victoria River on your left. This river turns into a raging torrent during the wet season and is of course full of saltwater crocodiles. Bear this in mind if you decide to check out the old Victoria River crossing, just outside of Timber Creek.
Timber Creek was established when Victoria Downs and Wave Hill cattle stations to the south needed a reliable way to get supplies. Surprisingly, it became a port town with supplies being shipped up Victoria River.
No More Boabs
As you head towards Katherine, the familiar boab trees thin out then disappear. The country gradually morphs into dry tropical savannah country and the mountains become hills.
Katherine itself is quite flat, but turns into sandstone gorge country east of the town. Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge is a highlight in this area.
In Katherine we stayed at a caravan park called Low Level, just out of town. It’s called Low Level because it’s beside the old low level crossing over the Katherine River.
The van park is big, has lots of open space and green grass! We enjoyed our time there, meeting lots of fellow travellers and enjoying the shady trees.
The low level crossing was built during World War II and was the original route of the Stuart Highway. It’s hard to imagine how different this scene is during the wet season.
The Katherine River picks up a huge volume of water from Arnhem Land, which passes through Nitmiluk Gorge then Katherine and finally into the Daly River. Not only does this bridge disappear, but so do the trees you see in the photos!
My father travelled the Stuart Highway in 1950, as part of a surveying team. They were surveying the Stuart Highway, as it had not yet been surveyed. Fortunately Dad and his mate Trev had their photo taken on the low level crossing. As you can see, it hasn’t really changed much.
The Town And Surrounds
The town itself has everything you’ll need and is actually quite busy in the peak tourist season. Being at the intersection of the Victoria and Stuart Highways, I suppose this is to be expected.
Katherine services surrounding cattle stations, the nearby RAAF Base Tindal and of course tourism. The Katherine Hot Springs are in town, just up the river from the low level crossing. This is a popular place to soothe weary muscles after long days in the car.
About 110km south along the Stuart Highway, you’ll discover the beauty of Mataranka Thermal Springs. This place is truly magnificent and is a must-see destination.
Finally, the Manyallaluk community conduct excellent Dreaming Place tours. This is about 100km north-east of Katherine. Spend a day there and learn about Aboriginal heritage.
Update: The Dreaming Place tours are no longer running. Contact the Katherine Visitor Centre for other options in the region.
Katherine was a pleasant surprise. To be honest, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. However it’s one of those places with a friendly feel to it… and lots to see in and around the area.
Katherine is on Jawoyn Country.
TourRadar offer a range of outback tours which include Katherine in their itineraries.
Next time: A quick lap around Litchfield National Park… part of it anyway.
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