Katherine Gorge may have the movie star status on the “must -visit” list of the Northern territory,  but the pure beauty of Bitter Springs was our favourite.

Katherine Gorge is at the heart of the Nitmiluk National Park in the Northern Territory. The Katherine River that has slowly etched away the sandstone of the gorge over millennia, has carved a still and silent series of thirteen deep  pools, rapids and waterfalls.


On a clear blue day in Katherine Gorge

Glowing red sandstone walls

There are only two seasons in the Top End of Australia – the Wet and the Dry. In the Dry the water recedes, leaving the gorges separated by specially cut walkways or rocky scrambles and you swap boats as you cross over into the next pool.

If you are lucky you may even see some harmless freshwater crocs (freshies) on the sandy shores or the Ospreys take flight above you.

Croc keep out notice


About to take flight

In the Wet, it’s a whole other story. As the waters level dramatically rise, suddenly the 70meter high gorge walls don’t seem so towering after all and the freshies are joined by their not so friendly salty croc cousins. At the end of the Wet traps are set to lure away the salties and only after they’ve all been cleared out, the all clear is given for people to swim in the gorges again.

Croc cage

The gorges date back 23 million years. For the local Jawoyn people they have great ceremonial and traditional significance. In Jawoyn, Nitmiluk means “place of the cicada dreaming”.

Aboriginal rock painting

Aboriginal art on the rocks above

We woke early from our dreaming to take the early morning boat ride through the first five gorges and it was well worth the dawn call.

Sunrise in Katherine Gorge


The glow and glare of the rising sun

With all this beauty it is hardly surprising that the gorge was used as the location for the 1955 movie “Jedda”.  It was the first Australian movie shot in colour and the first to have Aboriginal actors in leading roles and told the Romeo and Juliet tale of star-crossed lovers,  whose fate was sealed at the top of the gorge now known as Jedda’s Leap – so I guess you know how that turned out!

Jedda’s Leap

Another look at Jedda’s Leap

The still, dark pools of Katherine Gorge contrast with the entirely transparent, flowing waters of Bitter Springs.

Beautiful Bitter Springs

It’s name doesn’t do justice to the perfect peace that you experience drifting through the warm, spring-fed thermal current.

The spring, which rises near Mataranka in the Elsey National Park, flows through green foliage along a sandy river bed and the waters are so clear they are almost invisible. The trick of the eye is a little disconcerting when you don’t know if what you are looking at is something on the river bed or a shadow of something above.

Photographers reflection

The water is so clear you look straight through it

The 100m of tree-lined river is really a hot spring. But rather than sit and soak, as many do in the nearby Mataranka Springs, at Bitter Springs the current gently carries you along its length, as you watch your perfect shadow below.

The tree-lined river drifts through rock walls on pure white sand

We took our snorkel gear and turned a lovely relaxing experience into an other-worldy, silent drift through light and space – it was beautiful. Our photos are a poor reflection of the beauty and tranquility of these two stretches of outstanding natural beauty, but we hope you enjoy them, including some extra shots in the slideshow.