Katherine Gorge Canoe Hire
Canoeing In Katherine Gorge National Park

Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park in the Northern Territory was one of the things right on top of my to-do list for that very first Australian Outback trip.

It should be on yours too!

If it means skipping something else because your time is limited let me tell you, the overnight canoe trip in Katherine Gorge is worth it!

Katherine Gorge

Why A Katherine Gorge Canoe Trip Is
The Best Way To See The Gorge

I've visited the Katherine Gorge many times. (I've lived up here for over 15 years now...) I love the whole national park, it's ruggedness, the spectacular views, the challenging walks, the little waterfalls and rock pools that not many people find (see hiking in Katherine Gorge National Park).

But nothing has changed my opinion of that overnight canoe trip. There is no better way to see Katherine Gorge:

  • The popular Katherine Gorge boat cruises can only enter the first two, maybe three gorges. There are thirteen all up! And the sections further up are a lot more scenic than the first few.
  • You have all day (or several), not only a few hours, and nobody is telling you what to do when.
  • Katherine Gorge has become very popular. The first few sections of the gorge can get very crowded during the main tourist season. Get beyond that an you'll have it pretty much all to yourself.
  • Nitmiluk National Park is located in the far north of Australia, that means outside the main season it gets very hot! Any hikes in Katherine Gorge National Park, even short ones, become very demanding. Not everybody likes that... But if you are in a canoe you just slide over the side for a swim to cool down. Bliss.
  • It doesn't cost you an arm and a leg! If you wanted to see a similarly remote, pristine, untouched wilderness area anywhere else up here, you'd have to pay for a tour, or have a good four wheel drive and heaps of gear, and experience, and, and, and...

Return to top

Canoeing In Katherine Gorge

So what can I tell you about my canoe trip in Katherine Gorge itself?

The canoe ramp is crowded in the morning.

Arriving at the canoe ramp I was initially shocked about the sheer number of people.

75 canoes all leaving at the same time in the same direction seems a bit much, this was not what I had expected. Add the Katherine Gorge tour boats and all the people on them...

Anyway, we got in line, were handed our canoe, paddles and two splash proof containers to fill with our things. We managed to climb in without too much trouble, and after doing a couple of circles we even managed to take off in upstream direction... roughly.

Canoeing in the first parts of the Katherine Gorge

The first thing we learned was that paddling is hard work.

Luckily there are many beautiful places along Katherine Gorge to stop for a break, small beaches, rocks to climb and jump from and similar. You don't look too stupid if you have a break every 15 minutes...

After a couple of hours we started to get used to the motion, we learned to work together rather than against each other and it seemed to take less effort to make the darn thing move forward.

I explained on the page about the climate and weather at Katherine Gorge how the individual sections of the gorge are separated by rock bars (or difficult to negotiate rapids just after the wet season...)

Well, no sooner had we learned how to paddle that we now had to work out how to get our canoe across these boulders. Late in the dry season the dry parts can stretch for quite a bit.

Parked canoes

Canoes are great on the water but they are cumbersome things on land... Don't try to carry it, just drag it!

In the second gorge you will for the first time encounter the towering cliffs that you see on so many Katherine Gorge photos.

More paddling and dragging, interrupted by short dips to get all wet again, and we finally reach the end of the third gorge, a big stretch of dry rocks... and many parked canoes.

The third gorge is as far as most peole can go on a canoe day trip. You'll have lunch and a swim here, but then you have to turn around to make it back in time... you need to be back at the Kathrine Gorge canoe ramp by 4.45 pm.

Not us, though. We are all set up to spend a night under the stars. Some swearing and cursing together with more dragging and voila, we are back in the water on the other side.

What a change! This is where it gets really good. The water is still, like a mirror, and once you get around the next bend you can't hear the other people any more. No tour boat engines either.

A turtle isn't fazed by our presence.

Instead you'll hear and see water monitors (a lizard) sunning themselves on rock ledges, long-necked turtles, (curious creatures they are...), maybe even a little freshwater crocodile if you are lucky. Birds are flitting through the air, darting after the insects you hear humming, the ebb and swell of the cicadas' songs as a background to it all, iridescent dragon flies hovering over the water, butterflies...

The fifth gorge.

And all the time the scenery gets better and better. The second gorge is nice, but the fifth is just spectacular.

Narrower, taller, it takes your breath away. And we didn't see another soul...

The first campsite is at Smitt's Rock at the end of the forth/beginning of the fifth gorge. Smitt's Rock is a very scenic spot and there is a lovely beach to camp on.

The little beach campsite at Smitt's Rock.

I mentioned in the Katherine Gorge National Park hiking section that you can come down here from the walking trail above.

That means you can also climb up to the rim of the gorge from here to get some spectacular views and photos.

Another campsite is at the eighth gorge. But that one is not at the river itself. You'd have to carry your stuff up to the top of the rim, and follow the marked track from there to a little pool and waterfall that also has a beautiful white beach to camp on.

That eighth gorge is one of my my favourite places. The Katherine Gorge looks particularly imposing from up here, it makes you feel so small. And that gorgeous waterfall and beach in this extremely rugged country, so far from everything... As if you were alone in the world...

But I need to warn you, unless you are very fit and good at paddling you probably won't make it in one day...

Return to top

Canoeing in Katherine Gorge
What you need to know

  • You can hire single or double canoes, for half a day, a full day or overnight.

    You will also have to pay a refundable cash deposit.

    Overnight permits must be booked in advance because their number is limited.

  • You can camp at the main Katherine Gorge campground. If you don't have transport you need to grab a taxi from Katherine to Katherine Gorge, the shuttle bus isn't operating any more. (Same for people who prefer accommodation in town to camping). More info on all that (including contact details for inquiries and bookings) is here: Nitmiluk National Park Visitor Information
  • Katherine Gorge canoe trips can only be done during the dry season (May to October approximately, depends on the weather). The waters in Katherine Gorge go wild during the wet...
  • The number of canoes allowed in Katherine Gorge is limited. If you come during the peak tourist season (mid June to mid August) make sure you book ahead.
  • If you do this canoe trip during the peak tourist season it is unlikely that you will have even the later sections of Katherine Gorge entirely to yourself.
  • For general enquiries contact the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre:
    Telephone: (08) 8972 1253
    Fax: (08) 8971 0715

I have travelled up and down and around Australia many times. For people who only have limited time to spend here this Katherine Gorge canoe trip is one of best things you can do on your holiday.

Not far from Darwin, not far off the main highway, easy to get to without your own transport, no big costs involved. And still you get to experience what makes the Australian Outback so special: remoteness, untouched nature, spectacular scenery, wildlife... Your canoe allows you to leave the noise of the tourism industry behind.

And that's what this Australian Outback Travel Guide is all about...

the Outback Pocket Guide

Travelling the Northern Territory?

the Top End Travel Guide

The free Outback Pocket Guide
is a great introduction to travel in the region.

The full Top End Travel Guide
shows you how to make the most of your adventure in Australia's tropical north.

Destination Red Centre

NEW! Destination Red Centre is the latest addition in this popular series. Monica Coleman takes you through Australia's red Outback heart, offering all the detail and insider tips that you have come to know and love about our guides. With special emphasis on Aboriginal communities and culture.

A must have if you travel to or from Alice Springs/Uluru.

Return to top

Read about other ways to explore Katherine Gorge National Park

All images on this page courtesy of the Northern Territory Tourist Commission. © NTTC

Read about other National Parks in Australia

Australian National Parks Site Map

Return from Katherine Gorge canoe trips to Outback Australia Travel Guide home page