We left Daly Waters semi early to head to Mataranka hot springs. The hotsprings were more like warmish springs – apparently a constant temperature of 97degrees I think. We walked to the main swimming/dipping area which was ‘humanized’ with steps and concrete supports so that too much erosion did not occur. It was quite nice, but rather crowded and not as hot as I had hoped for. We decided to push on to Katherine and did not bother taking the longer trip into the other area you could swim in a more natural setting. The actual restaurant/bar area was quite interesting as you could see where the flood waters rise up to – half way up the walls! We are certainly in monsoon land now, no longer in the dry outback of the red centre!
After driving to Katherine, we spent the rest of the day at an internet cafe and making plans for the next day. Despite the lateness, and much to the tourist bureau staffs surprise, we managed to get 2 canoes rented for the whole next day.
We had the canoes from 8am till 4pm. Katherine Gorge consists of a series of 13 gorges. With the full day rental, you are able to make it to the end of the 3rd gorge comfortably. To go any further in requires doing overnight camping in the gorge. Unfortunately, the ‘canoes’ were not so much canoes as plastic surfboards with seats. They were closer to kayaks, but had no rudder and no keel. They were almost impossible to steer, but very stable… Mike and Pat were sterning and both had their work cut out for them. Other than the ‘crappy’ boats, the actual trip was fantastic.
The gorge rises all around you. At times it bends and is wider with interesting shoreline and birds and butterflies, at other points it narrows down and you are surrounded by perpendicular walls on both sides. There are often small water falls and caves along the walls also. Being on a small boat in the bottom enhances the experience. There are many areas along the shore which are natural sandy beaches (the sandstone rocks erode into nice sand) – but they are off limits since this is where the freshwater crocodiles lay their eggs.
At the end of the first gorge, you leave your canoe and swap it for another one rather than portage. (that’s when we managed to get the really awful boat!) At the end of the 2nd gorge, the ½ day renters turn around, and the full day renters haul their boats over to the 3rd gorge. As is the norm, there were a lot less people doing the longer haul – and we were much more secluded once into the 3rd gorge.
Near the end of the 3rd gorge is a hike into a fantastic waterfall. We hiked into Lily Ponds where we had lunch and a swim. It must be a bit wetter this year than usual, since the waterfall was still flowing and according to our map, it usually flows from January to June. We all agreed that this area should be called the Garden of Eden rather than that at the base of King’s Canyon – it was breathtakingly beautiful and remote. As we finished our lunch, some others joined us, but it was still quite secluded. The water was quite cool (early summer in Lake Minicock type temperature), but refreshing. Standing under the waterfalls you were able to see a complete circular rainbow surrounding you.
Next we paddled to the end of the 3rd gorge where the ‘vortex holes’ formed a natural barrier to the 4th gorge. The water is fairly low at this time of year, so the rapids above the vortex holes were also quite shallow – forcing those on the longer trips to portage a fair distance. It must be even more impressive to go deeper into the gorges where there are even fewer people! But for us, we puttered around the rocks for a bit then made our way back with the canoes.
It was quite a memorable day, and enjoyable to work our upper bodies rather than just our legs as we do when hiking!