About 30km north-east of Katherine is Nitmiluk National park, an oasis in the outback. The traditional land of the Jawoyn people, Nitmiluk National park is home to the famous Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, and now thanks to a $5-million’ Turbocharging tourism’ package from the government, brand spanking new mountain bike trails.
The network, which was completed about two months ago, is 20km of singletrack on a plateau overlooking the Kimberly River and the breathtaking Nitmiluk (Kimberly) Gorge. The trails are technically open to ride, but there is an official opening for the MTB community on the cards; however, the date is still yet to be confirmed.
“The landscape is just spectacular; it just feels ancient and almost otherworldly — if you saw a dinosaur down there, you wouldn’t be surprised,” says Katherine Multisport Club President Cam Jusdson.
Tolga, QLD based Ground Creations was engaged to build the network and worked in collaboration with the Jawoyn Traditional Owners, who played an integral role in the design and construction.
“They (the Jawoyn) worked with us from day one and supplied a workforce of up to five or six guys to work with our crew,” says Ground Creations Director Evan Rohde. The concept was to train them up in the basics of trail construction and maintenance, so over the long term they would have some control over the longevity of the network.”
“They have a great sense of pride and ownership in their land; mountain bike trails a bit of a foreign concept at the beginning, but they were a great group of guys to work with, and it worked out very well in the end,” he continues.
Phase one of construction started back in November 2019, continuing through the wet-season in NT, up until April when everything shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the initial lockdown had passed, the Ground Creations crews were back on site to embark on the second phase, which Rohde says was one of the most challenging sections of trail he’s ever cut.
“There is a big rocky plateau with chasms dropping down into the gorge system, so it’s a lot of rock with a little bit of dirt mixed in — usually when your building trails, there’s plenty of dirt with a bit of rock mixed in,” Rohde laughs. “We came up with a few strategies, and that paid off in the end and got the track ridable.”
This section of trail, in particular, starts at what’s called Pat’s lookout and tip-toes down the edge of the gorge down the river system.
“You feel like you’re riding on the edge of a 100m cliff face (that drops) down into the river; it’s something completely different — absolutely spectacular,” Rhodes says. “This (trail) takes you to a place on the river that is one of the major junctions for the ferry tours, and you can go swimming there, or there is canoeing, or you could hop on a boat.”
Through the wet and the dry
In the Northern Territory, they don’t really phrase things as spring, summer, autumn or winter; the locals seem to put things in terms of the dry season and wet season. With the delay due to Covid, Ground Creations had the pleasure of building through two wet seasons; however, this unfortunate timing provided insight into how things would drain and how the soil responds to a deluge.
“During the first wet season, we had a couple of massive downpours in a short amount of time, and some of the trails sustained damage. But, this gave us the opportunities to come up with better strategies to improve drainage and toughen up those faces,” he says.
Most of the geology around Nitmiluk National park is ancient sandstone, and as a result, the soil is pretty sandy, so it doesn’t turn into peanut butter when saturated. Using clever rock work, the Ground Creations crews were able to promote drainage and make the trails ridable in the wet.
On the inverse, in the dry season, it’s hot, and there is little protection from the sun, and Jusdson notes in the middle of the day, it will be well above 30-degrees, so best to enjoy early morning or late afternoon into evening riding.
The new trails at Nitmiluk National Park are green and blue-rated, with only about 100m of elevation to work with, so it’s not the place to go with your double crown DH bike in search of shuttle runs.
“The trails themselves are a great adventure. It takes you through a landscape that’s absolutely spectacular, and obviously, the Katherine Gorge is the highlight of the area,” says Rohde.
Jusdson continues, “It’s a real mixture of run flowing sections, little creek crossings and there are some real technical sections over huge rock slabs.”
Wherever possible, the trail builders have used the rocks and the natural landscape as part of the trail — it’s not from the same mould as anything else.”
The local beta
Nitmiluk National Park is situated about 30km from Katherine, roughly three hours in the car from Darwin, and 11-hours from Alice Springs.
Jusdson stresses that if you go out to Nitmiluk National Park, come prepared with plenty of water, and be aware that it will get hot and steamy. Make sure you have a map, and stay away from the spear grass because people get lost in it on a semi-regular basis.
He also says while Katherin itself can look a little rough around the edges, it’s a wonderful little place once you get below the surface.
Jusdson’s top recommendations for a caffeine hit are the Black Russian or the Cafe at the National Park Visitor Center. In the dry seasons, he says to check out the Katherine Hot Springs, which are thermal pools fed by the Tindall Aquifer. Being that they are in the Northern Territory, they aren’t actually that ‘hot’ with the water being similar temperature to the air. Right next door to the hot springs is a place called Pop Rocket; Jusdon says the fish tacos and milkshakes are tough to beat.
Keen to find out more? Head click here for more info on the trails at Nitmiluk and the greater Northern Territory
Photos courtesy of Tourism NT/Travis Deane