This morning was quieter on The Ghan with no organised sunrise activity. The feature of the day was a four hour stop in Katherine that offered opportunities for excursions. Then it was on to Darwin and the end of our trip.
Breakfast on The Ghan was available between 6:30 and 8:30 am. After an early night, we were awake soon after 6:00 am but waited until closer to 7:00 am before wandering to breakfast in the dining car. Majella opted for muesli with yoghurt; I had yoghurt with fruit followed by the full breakfast with poached eggs. As usual the food and service were excellent.
Our arrival into Katherine was on schedule at 9:00 am and we had soon walked half the length of the train to be herded into coaches and heading out on our excursions. There were 3 full coaches heading to the Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge and we wondered how that crowd would be accommodated.
There was some waiting in line required at the gorge landing but there were multiple boats, each capable to seating a coach load, and we were soon heading up the gorge. The gorge is actually a series of gorges filled with water at depths up to 30 or 40 metres but with short sets of rapids between the gorges. The level rises 6 or 7 metres in the wet season when it flows at 30 kph or so. We were told that in the wet season the trip we were doing might take 40 minutes upstream in a powerboat and about 5 minutes to return. That would be an adrenalin-filled ride.
Our cruise was much more leisurely than that, though probably not without navigational challenges. The gorges wind with a series of almost 90 degree bends dictated by the eroded fissures in the rock that form the gorge. There are cliffs up to 60 m high on both sides with occasional ledges or sandy beaches at water level. Here and there we saw large rocks appear above the water and occasional changes in the appearance of the surface that hinted at other rocks just out of sight. Steering a boat with 60+ passengers would require knowledge of the safe channels and some skill.
The young woman in charge of our boat managed the necessary multitasking very well. She manoeuvred the boat safely and without discomfort to her passengers while providing informative commentary about the geology, ecology, and indigenous history and dealing with unpredictable queries from passengers.
At the top of the first gorge we moored and disembarked to walk a few hundred metres to the second gorge. Along the short walk there was some rock painting which we admired before moving on, mostly on well made path but occasionally on bare rock which was not wet but polished enough to require good tread on shoes.
We boarded another similar boat to explore the first part of the second gorge. Again we wound around a series of almost 90 degree bends as far as a bend below the most photographed view up the river. That bend, at 40 m, is the deepest point in the gorge system, carved out by swirling rocks carried down during the annual wet seasons.
From there we retraced our path downstream and, via the coaches, back to the waiting train. By 1:00 pm The Ghan was heading north again and we were sitting down to our last meal on the train. We ate buffalo curry followed by what was described as mango parfait but seemed more like cheesecake.
The afternoon passed slowly as we relaxed and watched the world go by. We arrived in Darwin around 5:00 pm, ahead of schedule, said our goodbyes, and took our taxi to the airport hotel where we had booked for a quick getaway tomorrow. Dinner in the hotel restaurant was curried goat on the bone in a north Indian style with rice and chick pea salad delivered in Indian lunch carriers. It was tasty but a little spicy for Majella’s taste.
Today was the last day of this trip. Our original plan was to stay tonight in Darwin and leave on a 7:00 am flight to Toowoomba via Townsville so that the day would be consumed by travel. A month or so ago we were advised that flight was cancelled but we managed to get on an afternoon flight that will get us home tomorrow evening. That left too little time to see anything of Darwin beyond the airport hotel in which we are staying so we will simply relax. Before we leave, we will meet up with Rhonda Hagan, a friend from Toowoomba who is now working in Darwin. She has arranged to come to our hotel for morning coffee.