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Butterfly Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park

Butterfly Gorge Walk

Nitmiluk National Park

Directions - Located in the southern section of Nitmiluk National Park, from the centre of Katherine head north on Giles Street as it becomes Gorge Road and follow this for 28km. There is only one main road to the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre and it is well signed so you can't miss it. There is plenty of parking but it does fill up during the peak period around July school holidays. The walk starts from outside the Visitor Centre where you will find a large information board detailing the Southern Walks in Nitmiluk. 

The Hike - With the main focus of our most recent visit to the Northern Territory being an extended stay in Katherine, I was looking forward to exploring the many trails located in the southern section of Nitmiluk National Park. Having studied the maps before coming out here, I knew there was a network of trails out here that you could make into a choose your own adventure style of hike.

There were some official walks listed and for ease of putting them on the website, I mostly followed the recommendations by the NT Parks Department. Surprisingly, most of the walks are of a pretty good length with the shortest being the Baruwei Loop that I would over the course of this hike, end up doing in full. Having explored the Leliyn Falls Trail the previous day with Caris and her aunt, I would be tackling the longer walks on my own. Unfortunately Caris' Uncle Hal had to leave Darwin before we arrived due to health reasons and I'm sure he would have loved to have walked this with me, as we did in Exmouth with the Badjirrajirra Trail. With the morning time scheduled in to do this before a boat trip through Katherine Gorge in the afternoon, I drove the half hour from our accommodation in Katherine to the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre. With it being the middle of the dry season, this was about as cold as it was going to get an initially I had my jacket on.


Reaching the entrance to the park just after sunrise, I gathered my gear, left my jacket in the car and made my way from the car park to the Visitor Centre to start the walk. Unsure if I would have the time to do the Baruwei Walk as a separate hike and wanting to get some early morning views of the Katherine River, I decided to head out to Southern Walks junction via the Baruwei Loop that takes you up to some impressive views overlooking the river. The walk from the Visitor Centre to the Boat Jetty is along pavement and while not terribly appealing from a visual point of view, did contain a few chirping birds. Reaching the jetty area, I headed down to the water for a glimpse of the river before finding the Baruwei Loop as it starts ascending. As you start climbing, you squeeze between a few large boulders and it looks like someone has stuck smaller rocks into some mortar.

This is a naturally occurring phenomenon where rocks and pebbles from the ancient river delta were covered over and then squashed over time. Continuing to ascend via a series of metal staircases and boardwalks, soon the views looking across the river to the impressive rock structures start to come into view. With the golden glow of the early morning light, this was a real treat that highlighted what a special place Nitmiluk is. Reaching the first of two lookouts, the views really opened up so you could see the Katherine River below and the expanse of the national park looking north (also where the Jatbula Trail heads). Wanting more, I hurried up to the main Baruwei Lookout and was blown away with the quality of the views. The still morning provided a calmness and I could just soak in the vistas of the river, the jagged rocks and the sun streaming through Katherine Gorge to the east. So far, so good but this was just the first part of the walk and I was excited to head further inland and eventually reach Butterfly Gorge.


Prying myself away from the excellent views, the trail continues up a gentle uphill towards the big water tanks I had seen from the Visitor Centre, the fascinating geology of the rocks gives way to the savanna woodlands that will become familiar over the next few days. Driving out from Darwin, I was surprised at how lush the landscape looked around Katherine but I think this is mainly because in WA, all of the woodlands inland from the coast have been cleared for farming so it appears as if not much grows past a certain point. With the morning air still relatively cool compared to the 30C it would reach later on in the day, I enjoyed meandering around as the trail follows vehicle tracks and intersects with mountain bike trails. This was a little bit unexpected as the NT is not really considered a MTB destination but they seem to have put in a bit of money and effort into the trails. I'm not sure if it was just timing but I didn't see any riders out on my two extended hikes here so hopefully they are well used.