We continue our journey in the Northern Territory’s wonderful Katherine region.
While sleeping in a swag beneath the stars on the banks of the Katherine River is a fantastic experience, there’s nothing like a touch of luxury to counter life in the wild.
After our three day camping trip, we found just what the doctor ordered on the other side of town on the road to Katherine Gorge.
Arnhem Eco Escape is all that we dusty and dishevelled adventurers needed to relax and experience NT high-end accommodation at its best.
The eco-house, on high ground overlooking pristine tree and scrub country, offers sweeping views out to the low ranges that surround the Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge in the east.
Arriving in the late afternoon, we felt we’d stepped into an oasis of calm and tranquillity. The air was a balmy 30 degrees and soft, golden light bathed the terrain.
We plonked down our gear, had a quick look around the compound, threw our grubby kit in the washing machine and slid into the outdoor plunge pool, the cool water blissful after a hot day on the river.
The eco-house is totally off-grid and is solar powered, sitting in splendid isolation on 240 acres backing on to Nitmiluk National Park. It also boasts 1km of deep river frontage.
The complex sleeps six in three bright and breezy bedrooms, strategically positioned for privacy, and two open-air bathrooms with fabulous views of the surrounds.
The slick and sophisticated open plan kitchen and living areas offer all the comforts and mod cons.
Each building is surrounded by decking, providing a number of communal areas to hang out with fellow guests or family.
The well-configured complex takes full advantage of the Territory climate, which is pretty much always warm or hot. Indeed, in door, out door living is the only way up north.
A highlight of the property is the unique central observation tower. We scrambled up the steps to the top level just as the sun was setting and watched day turn to night over that beautiful, ancient landscape. The moon rose and the sky became a vast canopy of glittering Milky Way stars.
The house has all modern facilities, especially in the kitchen. We’d picked up some supplies in Katherine after leaving the river and, feeling completely relaxed and contented in our swank outback digs, kicked back with good food and a glass of wine – a beaut way to end the day.
You couldn’t ask for a better base for exploring the region.
There is barramundi fishing on the river, an amazing variety of wildlife, including Gouldian finches that visit the garden, black cockatoos, jabirus, brolgas and many more bird species.
(Apparently guests can even charter a helicopter to this Airbnb’s back yard!)
Nitmiluk National Park and the world-famous Katherine Gorge is just 10km down the road.
Before visiting the Gorge the next morning we were lucky enough to get a personal invite to breakfast and to view some of the local bird life up close at a nearby property.
Had we been staying at the eco house a little longer I’m sure we’d have seen many of the local birds sooner or later, but the offer was too good.
We had told our river guide Mick Jerram (apart from being a skilled outdoorsman, he’s also a bird expert) that we would love to see some Gouldian finches.
These vibrant little birds are so colourful, they look like they have been painted in bright acrylics. They have become threatened in the Territory, but are still easily seen if you know where to look.
So we drove out to Mick’s place just after sunrise. He’d set up some deck chairs with binocs in the yard, turned on a gentle sprinkler and put a little platform beneath it for the birds to alight. The coffee was on the billy and our cereal bowls were waiting.
It was a wonderful experience. If some species are becoming rare in the NT, then they must all be living over at Mick’s place!
We saw Gouldian finches, star finches, crested shrike tits, hooded parrots, northern rosellas, purple-crown fairy wrens, honey eaters, bee-eaters, wattlebirds and many more species in about an hour of extraordinary bird watching.
Mick is the founder and organiser of the Katherine Bird Festival, a new event held in early spring, and one that is already attracting the attention of birders and twitchers from around the world.
“Katherine is an important birding and biodiversity area mainly due to the Gouldian finch,” he says.
“Linking science with wildlife observation, the festival is making the most of one of the world’s best bird watching spots.”
Mick enthusiastically encourages people to come to the Katherine area for its wonderful flora and fauna – particularly its birds. You can learn more about Mick and his many activities at his website – www.mickjerram.com
Next we headed over to the Nitmiluk National Park and took a boat tour along the extraordinary Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, about 15 kms from the Arnhem Eco house.
This majestic sandstone country is unrivalled anywhere in Australia for its striking geological formations. The spectacular rock faces, outcrops and cliffs are never the same, glowing warm red to purple in the ever-changing light.
Nitmiluk National Park covers a vast area, including 13 impressive gorges, carved from the ancient sandstone country, which stretches all around as far as the eye can see.
There are various ways to explore the terrain and a number of well-organised tours on foot, by canoe, boat or helicopter.
We took the Two-Gorge tour on the Nitmiluk Gorge Cruise – at $190 per couple for just two hours, not the bargain of the century – but were not disappointed. We headed up one gorge, walked 400 metres across rocks to change boats, and continued along the next.
Our onboard commentator spoke of the flora, fauna, geology and the deep significance of the area to the local indigenous people.
It was an excellent way to see areas of the gorge that are inaccessible to vehicles and is truly one of the most beautiful places in all Australia.
Kakadu was calling, but on the way up the Sturt Highway we also called in at the beautiful Edith Falls, also situated nearby in the national park.
Here we trekked to the isolated Upper Falls where we plunged in pristine rock pools and swam beneath the cool, crashing waterfall.
With only a handful of people at this idyllic spot; it seemed as though we had stumbled upon the Lost World itself.
Afterwards, it was the obligatory ice cream at the café, then on the road again into the heart of Kakadu.
Our amazing trip in canoes down the Katherine River, cruising the Nitmiluk Gorge, splashing about ancient rock pools, meeting the wonderful people of Katherine and luxuriating at the Arnhem Eco Escape will long be remembered by us both as one of our finest Australian adventures.
For more information or to book the Arnhem Eco Escape please go to https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/30540936
Our story about our canoeing down the Katherine River can be found here on the site at http://www.thestarfish.com.au/canoeing-the-captivating-katherine-river/