Jatbula Trail

Safety briefings

Safety briefings take place at 8am and 3pm.

If you want to get the 7am ferry, you must attend the 3pm briefing the previous day.

If you're taking the 9am ferry, you can attend either session.

The Jatbula Trail is a 62km one-way walk departing from Nitmiluk Gorge and finishing at Leliyn, also known as Edith Falls.

The hike follows the western edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment over sandstone plateau and through woodlands, open forest, monsoon forest and riverine landscapes.

You will walk in the footsteps of generations of Jawoyn people who traditionally travelled through parts of this trail.

The trail is named after Jawoyn Traditional Owner, Peter Jatbula, who was instrumental in securing land rights for the Jawoyn people.

The trail can be completed in 5 days and 4 nights, or 6 days and 5 nights.

Day 1 Nitmiluk Gorge to Biddlecombe Cascades - 8.3km
Day 2 Biddlecombe to Crystal Falls - 11km
Day 3 Crystal Falls to 17 Mile Falls - 10km
Day 4 17 Mile Falls to Sandy Camp - 16.8km
Day 5 Sandy Camp to Sweetwater Pool - 11.1km
Day 6 Sweetwater Pool to Leliyn - 4.5km

The Jatbula Trail is a grade 4 track rated as moderate to difficult. Read about the walking track grading system.

You need to be reasonably fit with some bushwalking experience as it involves carrying heavy loads over rough ground.

Camping is only allowed for one night at each site along the trail.

Each camp site is set near a spring or cascade and is restricted to 15 people.

You can't skip to a camp site to complete the trail in less time.

Leliyn is not a campsite on the trail and separate fees will apply if you wish to camp there.

The Jatbula Trail is open to everyone in the walking season from June to September.

If the trail is ready during shoulder season (April to May), it may be opened before June.

During the cooler months, from June to August the temperatures range from 30°C during the day dropping to 10°C at night.

Conditions on the trail start to heat up in mid-August with temperatures rising to over 40°C from October to May, including:

  • high humidity
  • monsoonal rain and risk of flooding
  • increased vegetation that can hide trail markers.

If you wish to walk the Jatbula Trail out of season from October and March, you must be an experienced organisation or group.

The trail will not be maintained at this time, and there will be an increased risk of encountering dangerous animals like buffalo.

So, you must provide evidence of your ability to be self-efficient and stay safe in wet season conditions.

Individual applications for lone walkers during this time will not be approved.

Access to the trail is by ferry managed by Nitmiluk Tours. This is dependent on their availability and the water and weather conditions at the time.

How you book depends on what season.

Walking and shoulder season

The walking season (June to September) for:

  • 2022 is fully booked
  • 2023 will open for bookings at 9am on 6 February 2023.

The shoulder season (April to May) may also be available in 2023.

When spots are available, you can book through the online Northern Territory Parks Booking System.

Out of season

If you wish to walk out of season, you must be an experienced group or organisation.

To book, you must contact the Parks and Wildlife permits office and apply for permits for camping overnight outside a designated area.

Your walk will be more enjoyable if you plan well using the following resources:

You should also take a topographic map and compass, and at least 1 person in your group should have the skills to use these.

You can book transfers to the start of the trail, and when you want to be picked up and dropped off.

Getting to the trail

The walk is one way only and starts at Nitmiluk Gorge.

You can be picked up from the town of Katherine which is 27km from Nitmiluk Gorge.

You will then need to take a ferry from Nitmiluk Gorge to the start of the trail near 17 Mile Creek.

The ferry costs $15 per person.

It departs twice a day at 7am and 9am. All walkers must be at the boat ramp 15 minutes before with their permits ready.

To book your ferry, go to the Nitmiluk Tours website. You can also call 1300 146 743 or email reservations@nitmiluktours.com.au.

Getting from the trail

The trail finishes at Leliyn and you can be transferred to Katherine or to the Nitmiluk visitor centre.

  • Leliyn to Katherine is 63km or approximately 45-minutes drive
  • Leliyn to Nitmiluk Gorge is 90km or approximately 1-hour drive.

How to book your transport

To book ground transfers, contact Gecko Canoeing and Trekking by emailing gecko@nttours.com or calling 0427 067 154.

Remember to tell someone outside of your group of your travel plans in case of an emergency.

Cars and public parking

Public parking is available at both ends of the trail, but be sure to tell the parks desk or Leliyn kiosk your name, car details and return date.

There are a number of bus and airlines services that provide regular return travel between Darwin and Katherine.

You will be given a detailed safety briefing from national park staff before starting the walk.

Safety briefings take place at 8am and 3pm. If you want to get the 7am ferry, you must attend the 3pm briefing the previous day. If you're taking the 9am ferry, you can attend either session.

You should tell a reliable person of your plans before you go walking, including all of the following:

  • your intended campsites
  • departure and arrival dates
  • health issues
  • any other information that may help if you need to be rescued.

You should also take a satellite phone or a personal locator beacon, as you will not have mobile phone reception.

Drinking water and first aid

There are natural water sources all along the Jatbula Trail and each of the campsites is located near permanent fresh water.

You should still take care and purify your drinking water using UV treatment or a filtration device.

You should also take at least 3 litres of water with you when leaving your camp each day and continue to drink regularly during the walk.

If you are walking outside of the recommended walking season, you should drink even more water.

Your first aid kit should include rehydration sachets.

Find out how to stay safe in the heat.

Water safety

The Jatbula Trail's many waterholes, creeks and cascades are safe to swim in but you should:

  • be aware of fast flowing rapids, slippery rocks and submerged objects
  • never jump or dive into waterholes and creeks
  • not get too close to cliff edges or climb waterfalls.

Even a minor injury can be very serious when walking the trail. Medical help is usually only available by helicopter which would be at your own expense.

You must respect the environment and cultural heritage by doing the following:

  • take all rubbish and food scraps with you and put in bins at Leliyn
  • wipe off insect repellent and sunscreen before swimming - wet wipes are ideal for this
  • stay on marked tracks
  • do not touch rock art and respect sacred sites
  • do not light fires, cooking is restricted to gas cookers only.

Last updated: 26 October 2022

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