JAT BULAT RAIL, NORTHERN TERRITORY
IF THE LARAPINTA TRAIL is the perfect NT Red Centre experience, then the Jatbula Trail more than qualifies as its Top End equivalent; the walk is moderate in level but takes you through some of the most vibrant and engaging terrain in this country. It can be walked independently (you need to book well ahead for park camping/passes) or you can jump on board a guided adventure with tour operators such as World Expeditions.
The Jatbula is located in Nitmiluk National Park and winds north (you can only walk it in this one direction) from Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge), which is well worth a few days exploration, to Leliyn (Edith Falls). The route takes you on a walking adventure along the western edges of the Arnhem Land Escarpment, experiencing savannah grasslands, rocky quartzite cliffs, creek-crossings, and exploring monsoon forests, with each day ending at the perfect campsite: right beside a cooling waterfall. This is Jawoyn country, and you’ll spot brilliant rock art in a caves and rocky overhangs and outcrops as you trek an average of 10km each day (the longest stretch is 16km on Day 3, from 17 Mile Falls to Sandy Camp Pool) between campsites.
The first few days are spectacular as walkers traverse what is known as “stone country” before entering some pockets of monsoonal rainforest that are characteristic of the region. After a few days you’ll follow a gentler track as you walk beside the pretty Edith River to Sandy Camp Pool, where you’ll camp for the night, and then through paperbark forests and past more waterholes to Sweetwater Pool.
The hike is brilliant and can be done at a nice leisurely pace, but start early each morning so you can take full advantage of the campsites’ locations right next to waterholes where you can swim and cool off during the afternoons. The trekking season is July to September up here, so as well as warm days and cool-ish nights, you should see plenty of stars in the clear NT skies.
In addition to the brilliant overall walking experience, the fantastic campsites and the rich indigenous history, the Jatbula’s start- and endpoints are ideal if you’d like to further explore Nitmiluk National Park.