Day 9 of the Around Australia Ride was a designated rest stop in Mataranka. There was talk the night before of group doing a run up to Katherine to see Katherine Gorge. I liked the idea of a rest day, and another 300kms on the bike plus a day in the heat didn’t sound too restful. But then again I was so close to one of the more picturesque things I might see on this trip, and I can probably rest another time, so what the hell I was convinced to go (in no small part by my wife).
The camera crew was keen to get a reasonable size group to go as they were going to hire a helicopter and get some footage of us riding to the gorge. We mustered in Katherine around 10:30am and after waiting for a short while there was a helicopter in the distant sky. Now I have seen a little bit of the footage from the chopper and I have to say it does look pretty cool. It also felt pretty cool to be riding in the group knowing that we were being filmed from the air.
By the time everything was done we reached the gorge at 11am and were told because we were in the low (tourist) season there was only a 9am and 1pm boat so we had a couple of hours to kill. Chris was keen for a chopper ride herself and found additional takers in me and Allan. This was to be my first time in a helicopter and I was really looking forward to it.
Now if you thought a 1600cc V-Twin cruiser has got the shakes you should try out one of these little babies. Once we were strapped in and the headgear put on we were treated to the rotors spinning up to speed and within a few short moments we were rattling and shaking into the air. Our flight was only to be a short 8 minute run but once the pilot learnt what we were doing around Australia, and that we had THE Allan McGuirk on board, we were promptly given an upgrade and received twice the flight time.
Katherine Gorge, or rather Nitmiluk by its aboriginal name, looks quite small from the air. The landscape aound it is rather vast, very brown, with trees and scrub, some hills and escarpments about the place and then the gorge itself which really isn’t much more than a gouge on the landscape. However it was an impressive sight and we were told the waters from the gorge flow right the way through to Darwin.
Even though the flight time was doubled it was over all too quickly and we were back at the tourist centre waiting for 1pm to roll around. Down at the water’s edge Chris and I were surprised at the sight of Matt and a few others continuously diving into the river and staying under for some time. Seems Matt had come back from a very hot walk and had jumped into the river without thinking of his prescription glasses on his belt, which he promptly lost. Give it up, Matt you have more chance of being eaten by a freshwater crocodile than you do of finding them.
1pm came around and soon after we were putt-putting up the gorge with our guide giving us some history of the place. The Jawoyn people, traditional owners of Nitmiluk launched a land claim in 1978 and in 1989 the land was handed back to them. The Jawoyn subsequently leased the land back to the Northern Territory to be jointly managed and made available to all. The gorge is made up of a number of small gorges that are separated by natural barriers of rock and scrub. On our tour which was only two gorges we had a boat change halfway along. During the wet season the 13 gorges are accessible by single craft and the tour boats are sometimes replaced with speedboats.
Going through the gorge the walls were sheer and high above us. The walls are actually sandstone and despite the outward colour, which is a result of oxidisation, just under the surface they are surprisingly white. Life abounds everywhere down there with birds, fish and crocodiles all in residence. We didn’t see any freshwater crocodiles or “freshies” and were told when the occasional “salty” gets up stream they trap it and take it off to one of the crocodile parks. The freshies are rather passive, with the salties being the aggressive type. I think I may have pulled my feet I from the water at that point but I needn’t have worried.
The gorge is most definitly a beautiful place to visit and I can see myself coming back in the future and checking out some of the walking trails. A person could really get lost in themselves out here and when the tour guide cut the engines to the boat and just let it drift the sound of the birds and lapping water was so very calming. The boat ride was better than the chopper, but I don’t regret the chopper for a moment. The contrast between the insignificance of the gorge from the air, compared to the beauty and wonder of being actually in it was significant. Yes, I am glad I chose to spend my rest day visiting Nitmiluk and I will have to come back again.
Oh, and for the record, once we got back from the boat trip, which was two hours, Matt decided one last time to go swimming for his glasses again with a few others. And they were found! Unbelievable. I can’t remember who found them to give them the credit, but honestly you wouldn’t read about it (although you are) as the water was quite cloudy and murky. Still, Matt did get to wear the “tutu of shame” as a result. More on that later.