The Jatbula Trail follows the escarpment in Arnhem Land from Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) to Leliyn (Edith Falls). It is a wonderful walk for a group of family and friends, traversing varied terrain with sandstone savannah, woodlands, rocky areas and riverine valleys. Each camp is at a lovely waterhole and as the distances are not large and the terrain relatively flat, camp can be reached by lunchtime offering plenty of time to swim, explore, relax and play.
The Jatbula Trail
The Jatbula Trail takes a horseshoe route of approx 60km along the escarpment from Nitmiluk to Leliyn. You will encounter river crossings, mud, burnt areas (up to a third of the park is burnt each year), rocks, softer sandy paths, and riverine stretches with paw potholes from water buffalo.
We saw and heard many birds, lizards and skinks, tadpoles, fish, aquatic insects, termites and green leaf eating ants. Plant life included a wide variety of grasses, salmon gum, pandanus, eucalyptus alba, sundews, grevillea, banksia and many others I can’t name.
Jatbula Trail Campsites
Each campsite is different – grassland, riverside, rocks or sand. We did a 4 night trip, electing to skip the day trippers at Sweetwater Camp, which is only 4.3km from the finish line. Camp facilities include toilets and an emergency call device. There are lovely spots to view the sunset at each campsite. The pools on the escarpment are safe from saltwater crocodiles, as they can’t climb up there.
The walk itself is cheap, if you do it self-guided. Pack weight can be kept light as the weather is warm and the Dry season means no rain so you can sleep under a simple mozzie “tent”. Clothing you need to carry is minimal as you can swim daily and rinse your day wear, but nights can be cool. Take lightweight sandals suitable for camp and exploring the river systems. The walk can be done over 4 or 5 nights.
Guides can be hired from a number of companies. However the trail is well marked with triangular blue signs and is easy to follow if you prefer to keep it simple and cheap with a self-guided trip.
Transport options from Darwin to Katherine include bus and hired car, with Adelaide River Inn making a nice meal break. Geckos provides transfers from Katherine to Nitmiluk (start) and pickups from Leliyn (end). A ferry across the Katherine River needs to be booked for the start. The Katherine Gorge Dawn Cruise is a nice treat before you start the walk.
The 1st of July is Cracker Night in the Northern Territory, celebrating the anniversary of self government, so if you time things right, you can buy fireworks and start or end your walk with a Bang!
We carried a light Jetboil stove. As you can’t take gas canisters on a plane, we stopped by the wonderful Darwin institution, NT General Store, to purchase canisters before heading for Katherine (2 canisters was enough). Our menu included the usual snack options, warm drinks, cereal for breakfast, wraps or biscuits and fillings such as tuna for lunches, and mostly dehydrated meals for dinner. We stocked up at the excellent Woolworths in Katherine with some fresh food (fruit, avocado, tomato, cucumber etc) for the first couple of days on the trail.
You can expect to carry a pack of about 15-18kg, depending on your gear and food choices. The strong, fit teenagers on our trip also carried essential foods such as buckets of M&Ms and jars of Nutella.
I used WalkMeter on my iPhone to track the walk. Wondering how I kept my phone charged on a 5 day walk?
Jatbula Day 1: Enjoy the Dawn Cruise and one last coffee before the ferry crossing of the Katherine River and starting the walk up 17 Mile Creek valley. First stop is Northern Rockhole, then it’s upwards onto the escarpment to camp at Biddlecombe Cascades. Explore the river as there are a number of options to swim. Climb the small hill behind the campsite to enjoy sunset on the escarpment overlooking the valley below. Approx 8.5km.
Jabula Day 2: Cross the river and head up a lovely rocky valley (with some rock art en route) towards the 2nd night’s camp at Crystal Falls. Enjoy a lovely swim in the long pool heading up river. Crystal Falls is downriver – beware as the drop off to the falls is quite scary! Approx 11km.
Jatbula Day 3: Wet feet on this river crossing, then its on towards the secret dell of the Amphitheatre and its rock art. Leave your packs at the top of the stairs down into the Ampitheatre, but take down your lunch or morning tea. Its a short 3.5km from there to the impressive 17 Mile Falls. There are pools at camp, as well as a very pleasant swim in a long pool if you explore up river from camp. Approx 11km (unless like us you somehow miss the very clearly marked turnoff to the Amphitheatre and log an extra km or two by walking too far and then doubling back!).
Jatbula Day 4: A long day (early start), a vegetation change and lots of mud as you reach the Edith River. At the end of the walk, the picturesque pool and sandy beach of the next camp is a complete contrast to the rocky falls of the night before. Watch out for the tree climbing green ants with their leaf nests above your head! Approx 17km.
Jatbula Day 5: Sandy Camp (early start) walking down the Edith River valley to Sweetwater Camp. Stop near the sign “No Walkers Beyond This Point” to avoid the day trippers and enjoy a break and swim. Then it’s the last leg on to Leliyn (Edith Falls) for another swim and an ice cream at the Kiosk. Take the route to the Upper Pools when you approach Edith Falls, and follow the Leliyn Loop track down to the end, this is more scenic than taking the shorter signposted exit to the car park which misses out on the falls and pools. Approx 17km.
A great family trip – highly recommended!