Taking a helicopter flight over Nitmiluk Gorge isn’t exactly cheap but it is well worth the extra spend. Soaring high above the Katherine River provides an entirely new perspective on this spectacular part of the Northern Territory. Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge is a dramatic dissected sandstone landscape split by broad valleys and is home to numerous, significant cultural sites. It was handed back to the local Jawoyn people in 1989 and is jointly managed with the Parks and Wildlife Service of the Northern Territory. The deep gorge carved through the ancient sandstone by the Katherine River is the National Park’s central attraction and there is no better way to see it than by helicopter.
We arrive at the Nitmiluk Tours helicopter base a few minutes prior to our scheduled flight time. If you’re staying at the gorge, the base is a 5 minute drive away. Allow 20 minutes if you are coming from Katherine. The helicopter isn’t there and the tiny office is locked up but we soon hear the unmistakable sound of an R44 approaching. It touches down gently and once the rotor blades stop spinning, two passengers emerge from the bright blue machine grinning from ear to ear. It looks like we’re in for a good flight.
After a quick yet thorough safety briefing my husband asks if we can have the doors off. The pilot is happy to oblige and we take off a few minutes later with the wind in our hair. It’s true that flying in a helicopter with no doors isn’t for everyone but if you are game to give it a try, I can guarantee you won’t regret it. Sharp turns can take a bit of getting used to but nothing beats the freedom of an unobstructed view and, of course, the photographic opportunities are superb. Just hang on tight to your camera.
We start at a low altitude flying over the gorge where we can see the water tumbling over the rocks. It’s the end of the wet season and there is still quite a bit of water around. Later in the season after the crocodiles have been cleared from the gorge, people will be able to go swimming in the crystal clear pools below.
The National Park covers 2900 square kilometres and was returned to the Jawoyn people in 1989. They negotiated the establishment of the Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park Lease with the Northern Territory Government so everyone could enjoy this beautiful part of Australia. Jawoyn people have been heavily involved in the management of Nitmiluk National Park ever since. This has enabled them to maintain their culture and look after the land and its wildlife in accordance with Jawoyn traditional law. Their knowledge has proved invaluable when it comes to the effective management of the park.
Our tour finishes with a spectacular bird’s eye view of the Northern Rockhole waterfall. This is the most stunning part of the tour and also the most ‘exciting’ with the doors off. The pilot warns us he is going to do a steep turn so we can enjoy an unobstructed view of the waterfall and get some good shots. Although it feels like we are about to topple right out of the open door there is no denying that the view is superb. It’s worth pointing out that the photo below was taken with an iPhone. When the scenery is this good it is almost impossible to take a bad shot.
Disclosure: The writer and her family travelled as guests of Northern Territory Tourism for this flight.
If you’re passing through Darwin on your way to Katherine, check out our suggestions for where to dine in darwin. If you would prefer a tour that also includes dinner, the Sail Darwin Sunset Cruise could be for you.