I would highly recommend any bushwalkers persist through the booking woes and walk the Jatbula Trail. Every campsite is paradise. It has been on my wish list for a long time and when we knew we were heading up the centre I tried to book. Only 15 walkers are allowed to depart each day and when I tried in April it was full until September. When I looked at the websites of the guided walks I found they only had one or two people booked when they had up to eight spaces. There seems to be an unfair advantage for the guided companies as against individual walkers, especially ones who don’t jump on when bookings open. However they have devised a fallback system where you put your name on a reserve list and they let you know when there are vacancies. We were pleased to be offered spaces when we had been on the road for a couple of weeks. It meant we had to leave Alice Springs sooner than we would have otherwise but we didn’t want to miss out.
We caught the boat across the Katherine River early on the morning of June 6 and pushed our way through the tall spear grass. When we were unsure of the route we looked for the trusty blue triangles and we needed to search a few times in the trip. The Northern Rockhole was the first attraction but we were advised not to swim as they weren’t 99.5% sure it was free of crocodiles. We then had the biggest climb of the whole trip as we ascended to the escarpment but it was done very gently on a four wheel drive track. Soon we were at camp where we quickly met the other walkers as we set up tents and then made for the water. Pools above and below the Biddlecombe Cascades were suitable and refreshing. Another couple of walkers arrived in camp late having left at 1.00pm and walking in the heat of the day after taking up a vacancy at very short notice. The eating of dinner with a view was popular.
Due to temperatures in the high 20’s to low 30’s we were advised to start early so we were up before the sun and walking by 7 each day which meant we were in camp by lunchtime. The 2nd day meandered amongst the rocks and we spotted some of the rock art. Another pool was admired but we waited to camp for our swim. We had to cross the wide Crystal creek to see the impressive falls and used it as a rehearsal for the next day with packs. Luckily an easier crossing place was found and one of our new friends helped us across. We all bonded over shared stories and experiences.
More easy walking across the plateau dodging termite mounds and following blue triangles. A highlight of the walk is to visit the Amphitheatre, an enclosed gorge with rock paintings. It was made easy with a staircase leading us down. A view across to 17 Mile Ck Falls and we knew that camp was near. We spent the afternoon exploring up and down the creek and invading the Gecko (guided group) camp. We had the best views over the falls and down the valley watching the sun set and the full moon rising.
The next day was the big 17km day and we were all up super early with some of us leaving by torchlight. The problem with that is we found ourselves following the triangles to the helipad. Clouds had come over in the night and provided a glorious sunrise. They also hung around and blocked the sun making for a much cooler day. We enjoyed the walking as we left the plateau and walked through greener countryside as we approached Edith River. We were surprised when we arrived at the crossing at 10.30. Some had an early lunch and we continued on downstream. We finished walking through boggy grass but it was only half way up the boots and never bottomless holes like Tasmania. We had to cross the river above Sandy Pool on a rock bar which quickly became notorious claiming three of the walkers slipping while crossing. A huge pool beckoned for swimming while the rock pools at the crossing were also popular.
Our group that started as five groups of walkers and had become a group of 11 was starting to break up the next day as two had to leave and miss the last camp. More grass, scrub and bogs led us to Sweetwater Pool, another huge pool by rocks. We had to share it with day walkers and people who had walked in to stay the night. We were farewelled with an amazing sunset and then a very easy last day before final goodbyes at Edith Falls.