The small town of KATHERINE, 317km south of Darwin, is a worthwhile stopover, primarily for a sidetrip to the dramatic Nitmiluk Gorge (formerly Katherine Gorge) or to strike out along the epic Victoria Highway to Western Australia. The fast-flowing Katherine River, which runs through the gorge and town, must have been a sight for explorer John McDouall Stuart’s sore eyes as he struggled north in 1862. Having got this far, he named the river after a benefactor’s daughter, and within ten years the completion of the Overland Telegraph Line (OTL) encouraged European settlement, as drovers and prospectors converged on the first reliable water north of the Davenport Ranges. In 1926 a narrow-gauge railway line linked Katherine with Darwin and the town was established on the present site.
Katherine is essentially a “one-street” town, though in January 1998 when the river rose to 22m and broke its banks that street found itself under 2m of water – a crocodile was even spotted cruising lazily past the semi-submerged Woolworths.
The Stuart Highway becomes Katherine Terrace, the main street, as it passes through town. Along it lie most of the shops and services, while sprinkled around town are several excellent Aboriginal art and craft galleries. The town can be a good place to pick up casual work at the surrounding stations and market gardens (most readily during the main Nov–Dec mango season).