The Northern Territory’s Jatbula Trail encompasses stunning scenery, refreshing waterfalls and Jawoyn rock art.

Story By Don Fuchs

The Jatbula Trail connects Katherine Gorge, at the south-west of Nitmiluk National Park, with Edith Falls in the west of the reserve. In a long arc the track loops around the Seventeen Mile Valley, always near the edge of the escarpment of the Arnhem Land Plateau, and then follows the riverina corridor of the Edith River. It can only be walked in one direction, from Katherine Gorge to Edith Falls. The 58-kilometre walk is divided into five sections and most walkers take five days to complete the trek. The track follows a route that was used by the Jawoyn people, the traditional owners of the area. Four campsites with Emergency Communication Devices and composting toilets (except at Sandy Camp Pool) have been set up for walkers. They are all in beautiful locations and have a common theme: water! “At the end of the day you’re near some sort of water feature and you can cool down and rest in a beautiful setting,” Kristen Appel, chief district ranger at Nitmiluk National Park, says.
The Jatbula Trail is not an easy walk, as the ranger makes clear. In a pre-walk briefing, Kristen launches gently into the topic: “The actual walk is a bit of up and down; there are creek crossings but the trail itself is reasonably safe and easy to get across.” Then she goes further. “It is only when you start adding on the fact that you are in a remote area for a long time and the weather conditions of the area,” she says. “That’s the equaliser. And people who don’t take into consideration dehydration and fatigue and heat and really pace themselves – we find they are the ones we are pulling out of the walk.” The trail is marked with blue triangles that can be difficult to spot at times.
The walk includes some of the best remote waterholes the Territory has to offer. The first one is Biddlecombe Cascades, a spring-fed creek that tumbles over the edge of the sandstone escarpment, forming cascades, pools and waterfalls. Insects buzz and red rosettes of sundew cling to moist cracks in the rocks. This idyllic spot lies only about 8km from one of the busiest places in any national park in the Northern Territory: Katherine Gorge, the showpiece of Nitmiluk National Park. Most visitors head there for a boat trip into the gorges, or may opt for a more energetic version and hire canoes. Only a tiny fraction, approximately 500 walkers a year, crosses the Katherine River below the mouth of the first gorge in a dingy to start the five-day walking adventure.

This story excerpt is from Issue #70

Outback Magazine: April/May 2010