Water near Biddlecombe Falls

It’s 6am and I’m perched next to a waterfall on towering, creamy yellow rocks, high above a verdant river valley, watching the sun creep over cliffs opposite and spread across the terrain.  I wash the stickiness of the warm night off in a crystal clear pool, lingering in the cool lazy waters for a minute before preparing for the day’s walk.

It’s day 4 of a trek along the Jatbula Trail, a 58km hiking route linking Katherine Gorge with Edith falls in the Northern Territory. It winds through diverse habitats, from sparsely vegetated cliff tops and rocky escarpments to lush, marshy valleys filled with pandanus palms, ending each afternoon in campsites next to picturesque rivers, waterholes and waterfalls.

Spending four nights on the trail is the best way to enjoy it, allowing time for a leisurely pace during the mornings then relaxing afternoons at the four main camping areas, Biddlecombe Cascades, Crystal Falls, 17 Mile Falls, and Sandy Camp. The walking is not challenging, but the heat can be punishing for hikers unaccustomed to it, and keeping hydrated is a constant priority.

Crystal Falls

Five tips for getting the most out of the trail

1. Book early! Because the trail is only walkable in the dry season, spots fill up fast. If you miss out and happen to be in the area anyway, it’s worth checking on the morning of the day you’d like to depart. At the moment there is no incentive for hikers to turn up so they get a lot of no-shows.

2. At each campsite, explore the surrounding areas. You might find some rock art, secluded pools or spectacular waterfalls just a few hundred metres away.

3. Use a good insect repellent. Trying to sleep in a warm tent with excruciating insect bites is not fun.

4. When setting up camp, check the ground for excess leaf litter, and move away from those areas. Large bats inhabit trees around some of the campsites and are very active during the night, dropping branches, nuts and fruit, excreting, and flapping about noisily, rendering sleep almost impossible.

5. When we passed through, Sandy Camp had no toilet, so the constant traffic has left the more secluded areas away from the water packed with little surprises for the unwary explorer. If you do have to go, avoid digging up a landmine by looking for spots where people have been kind enough to mark their territory with sticks.

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