Amazing rock formations rose sharply from the water's edge as I paddled with my six-year-old daughter Harriet along the Northern Territory’s beautiful Nitmiluk Gorge.
It is a memory I will never forget, and that's what the Northern Territory is about, getting out amongst nature, pushing your comfort zone and leaving lasting experiences, for both you and the kids.
We started our journey exploring the sights and scenery around Katherine, a 317km drive from Darwin. The awe-inspiring Nitmiluk Gorge was a 30-minute trip from Katherine. The scale of the rugged beauty of the gorge is awe-inspiring.
Halfway along our guided cruise, we parked our canoes and jumped into the water. Splashing and laughing within this cavernous landscape will be something we can hold onto forever. Not to mention that we can claim we swam with crocodiles!
Our family was travelling in a motorhome for this journey and when having a barbecue back at camp later and talking about our day in the gorge, we laughed at the stories of adults on the canoe adventure evacuating the gorge when we thought we felt a croc – only to leave the kids in as bait! Thankfully, Harriet found the whole thing pretty funny, too.
To say the NT is a pretty destination is a complete understatement. The vastness was quite different to anything I had witnessed before – the landscapes and colours painting an amazing backdrop to the Kakadu Highway.
It was a terrific opportunity for our girls to see a completely different part of Australia, including wild animals, and learn a lot about Australia’s Indigenous history.
Enroute to Katherine from Darwin we experienced one of the highlights of our trip – the Guluyambi Cultural Cruise on the East Alligator River in the Kakadu National Park, touted as one of Australia’s last true wilderness areas.
Our guide, Hilton, proudly shared his lineage with us and the connection to the elders who had graced this land for thousands of years. It was fascinating to learn, and begin to understand, the deeper connection he had with the land itself.
As we made our way along the croc-infested waterways, our youngest daughter Georgie and I played ‘spot the croc’ – but there were almost too many to count, as they nestled up against the man-made road which was the only land-based access across to Arnhem Land. Here you can see ancient Indigenous rock artworks painted in kangaroo blood on the walls. Kakadu’s vast and varying landscapes also includes some pretty incredible wetlands. We jumped onto another nearby cruise along the Yellow Water Billabong and, while we saw some more crocs, the scale of this wetland area was amazing. From rare birds to water buffalo to lily ponds, the cruise offered an array of sensory experiences to keep everyone entertained and engaged.
For dinner that night we tested a bit of what we had seen during the day – crocodile and buffalo sausages. It's an acquired taste!
KATHERINE OUTBACK EXPERIENCE
Travelling with kids can be a challenge when it comes to keeping their attention but the drive to Katherine from Kakadu was relatively easy with several moments of raw "wow". The NT definitely knows how to put on a show. And there’s no better way to get a feel for the true outback lifestyle than with the Katherine Outback Experience.
We joined property owners Tom and Annabelle at their working farm renowned for breaking in horses and training working dogs. An interactive demonstration, it provides an insight into the workings of the animals who are such an important part of everyday life at a cattle station. When Tom stood on the back of the horse with his guitar, he had our girls eating out the palm of his hand. Soon after, the girls had horses and sheep eating out of theirs. Combined with some good tunes and a dog race which the kids were able to jump in and be a part of, it made for a beautiful evening with the gorgeous backdrop of an outback sunset.
THE KATHERINE SCHOOL OF THE AIR
The Katherine School of the Air is something all parents should put on their to-do list. It was unlike anything I had been to. We were able to sit in and watch what is the largest school, by size, in the Southern Hemisphere.
The history of the school, which services the remote communities all across the NT and northern WA, provided amazing stories and our children were enthralled at seeing kids interact via video conference with their teachers who are literally thousands of kilometres away. It’s thanks to this school so many children living in remote areas can get a quality education. Another Katherine highlight was the Top Didj Cultural Experience. The story of our teacher and the way he grew up on the land before making his way into "western society" later in life showed us how different life still is in the remote parts of Australia. His artistry was impressive and he taught us the skill of raark. This is not the traditional dot painting style so synonymous with indigenous art, rather a line-style crafted using the natural colours of the region. In my office proudly sits the output of our efforts – five raark paintings from three generations of the family which is a permanent reminder of our time in the NT.
Top Didj had some other great experiences, too. The baby wallabies who greeted the kids were a hit, the artwork amazing and the opportunity to throw a hunting spear started as a great kids’ activity and ended in a competitive process with the adults.
LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
It’s fair to say we did not want to leave Katherine and, as we headed north to Darwin to fly home, we said it was unlikely we would see anything similar the rest of the trip. How wrong we were. Litchfield National Park was as green as Kakadu was red and as lush as Katherine was vast. Litchfield National Park offered us all a last chance to immerse ourselves (literally) in the great scenic beauty of the NT. Wangi Falls was a waterhole surrounded by rock formations and a trickling waterfall (we were there at the end of the dry season) and it was a great place for the family to relax and beat the heat of the day. Buley Rockholes was a huge hit with the kids. Water rushed down the rockholes and they had a ball splashing in and sliding down into the lower waterholes.
Our family always considered NT to be one those ‘not right now’ destinations. We thought we would see others first, but add it to our seemingly ever-growing bucket lists for when the kids were older.
But, after our recent visit, we are so glad we took the plunge and experienced all that the NT has to offer.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #573. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!