We would like to acknowledge the Jawoyn people and thank them for allowing us to follow this special and sacred songline that we recognise as the Jatbula Trail. We acknowledge elders, past, present and emerging and the troubles that our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still face today. We are so grateful to have been the first group to undertake the Jatbula trail for the 2023 season as well as the first group from community schools doing the trail. 

Congratulations to our students from Ngukurr and Kalkarindji WANTA Academy Programs for recently completing a 6 day hike along the Jatbula Trail in Nitmiluk National Park. The effort, resilience, compassion and strength shown from these students has inspired all of us staff who were able to join them for their journey. This was no easy feat as packs were heavy and days of wet feet can certainly take their toll, however to see smiling faces every night at each amazing campsite and swimming hole was certainly a memory we won’t forget. We hope that you take the strength, determination, kindness and teachings that you showed us during this trip with you into all parts of your life.

Day One 1st June 2023 8.3km Nitmiluk Gorge to Biddlecombe Cascades

On Thursday the 1st of June 2023 9 students from Ngukurr and Kalkirindji WANTA Academy Programs set off on a 6 day hike along the Jatbula Trail departing from Nitmiluk Gorge in the Northern Territory. With the hiking season opening on the 1st of June, we were lucky enough to be the first group of 15 of the 2023 season to experience this amazing trail.

The morning of Day One at Nitmiluk Caravan Park, backpacks full and ready for walking!

After spending the previous day traveling and packing packs with food, sleeping equipment, tents, clothing and more, the packs were feeling heavy as we stepped off the short boat ride that crossed the Katherine RIver with its Saltwater Crocodile inhabitants. The morning briefing from Amanda at the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre prepared us for an 8.3km walk on day one.

Ready to board the boat!

 Our first walk was shorter than most of the other days, but still challenged us as the heat set in quickly and the packs filled with all our food for the rest of the week were proving heavy. However, all thoughts of pain and struggle were forgotten when we reached our first swimming spot at the Northern Rockhole, with a spectacular waterfall and deep water with rock jumps, we made the most of the water before we set off to Biddlecombe Cascades, our first campsite.

Our first swim on the Jatbula Trail at Northern Rockhole!

With a stop for our first wrap lunch of the week, we finally made it to camp, set up, and spent most of the afternoon swimming in the cascades. We then enjoyed curry for our first meal and after an exhausting day went to bed!

Day Two 2nd June 2023 11km Biddlecombe Cascades to Crystal Falls

The second day of our journey took us on a journey climbing over rocks on steep tracks, grasslands with boggy tracks and holes made by buffalo. As well as our first of many creek and river crossings that sometimes required some technical branch and bark placing to make sure we didn’t fall in.

Team work makes the dream work! These legends creating a bridge and passing backpacks across to make it easier for the rest of the group.

The second day also gave us our first look at some Jowyn rock art on some amazing rock formations. Seeing the art and being all on our own on the trail made some of us reflect on how long the art has been there and how different this place would have been that long ago! 

Arriving earlier into our Camp at Crystal Falls meant that we had lunch at camp and got to spend even longer swimming, exploring and catching small fish and crayfish with our hands! We enjoyed our dinner, spoke about what the next day had in store around our make-shift fire and again went to bed nice and early.

Enjoying the simplicity of camp life and getting dinner ready!

Catching fish and crayfish with our hands!

Day Three 3rd June 2023 10.5km Crystal Falls to 17 Mile Falls

Whilst this day was shorter in kilometers than the day before, we faced our first big challenge straight as we left camp when we had our largest river crossing. Thankfully no one fell in! 

Always enjoying the epic views.

The trail brought us to The Amphitheatre which showcased some incredible Jowyn art that was accompanied by the constant flutter of butterflies. Being down in this rainforest environment, with just our group members, made it feel like we were the only people on earth!

We love lunch!

The trail continued on and we dragged our tired legs to camp where we were greeted with another spectacular swimming spot.

Swimming at 17 Mile Falls

After enjoying our hot chocolates some went to bed early ahead of a big next day, others spent their evening catching yabbies which were then cooked in a trangia pot and enjoyed with seasoning from the much appreciated spice kit brought along. 

Fun at camp!

Yabbies caught by hand at 17 Mile Falls!

No campfires allowed, a Nalgene will do!

Day Four, 4th June, 2023 17.5km 17 Mile Falls to Sandy Camp

Our largest walking day was finally upon us, a day that a few of us were dreading. We woke up with the moon and stars still out so that we could start walking early and beat the heat of the day. 

Breaks are the best!

The environment changed a lot as we began to drop down in elevation and head into the floodplain and tropical savannas that saw us walking through grass taller than us. We saw some pigs that weren’t very happy to see us, so we let them be. We enjoyed our lunch after we had crossed Edith River, and by lunch we had already done 11km! This day was also our muddiest, with much of the last few kilometers of the trail walking through boggy floodplains that weaved through recently burnt areas of bush. 

Another river crossing!

And another!

Camp was welcomed with open arms and muddy boots so we were all keen for a dip in the billabong. We were joined by some other slithery friends who were enjoying their time at Sandy Camp!

Day Five, 5th June, 2023, 11km Sandy Camp to Sweetwater Pool

Our second last day was an enjoyable walk, shorter than the day before and relatively flat. We woke up with the sun, got ourselves ready and hit the trail. 

We made it to Sweetwater Camp for lunch and enjoyed our last afternoon and evening swimming, jumping off rocks and taking plenty of epic videos. At Sweetwater Camp we were also slowly reintroduced back into civilisation as walkers that had come up from Edith Falls made their camp. It was nice to chat to them about our week and share our stories. We also got 

to see the Nitmiluk visitor center worker who had dropped us off on the boat to start the journey! 

We enjoyed the site of thousands of Black Flying Foxes that were heading off for the night and started to hear the calls of nearby dingoes that promptly sent us with all of our gear into our tents for our last sleep.

Day Six, 6th June 2023, 4.5km Sweetwater Pool to Leylin (Edith Falls)

Awaking on our last day was bittersweet, everyone happy to be heading home, but also not quite ready at the same time. We made sure to remember the good moments, as we headed towards the end, with some delightful swimming at Long Hole and Top Pool. 

We shared the track with many who were spending the day walking to their chosen swimming spot, looking slightly less fresh than them, but still with our smiling faces and saying g’day to everyone that walked past. We enjoyed our final swim and rock jumps putting on a show for everyone around us. Then with our wet clothes, we put our packs on for the last time and walked the last 600 meters, rather keenly, to Lelyin (Edith Falls) carpark where we were greeted by Prav and Ronni and some fabulous and much appreciated snacks and goodies. 

Just before our last 630 meters of walking!

After packing our gear up, reflecting on the nights slept on blow up mattresses and all the water drank from our bladders, in our nice clean clothes we hopped in the troopies and headed towards our final destination, Katherine McDonalds. One final hurrah for the group, we all enjoyed the meals that we had spoken about every day of the trail very quietly and then after many goodbyes we parted ways.

Thank you to everyone involved in getting this trip up and running. A massive thank you to Simon Blake, whilst he no longer works with us at WANTA, he is still a massive asset to us and without him we would not have had this incredible adventure. Thank you to Nitmiluk Visitor Centre for helping us achieve this goal of undertaking the Jatbula Trail and for allowing us to be the first group of the year. It was truly a special experience knowing that it had been so long since the last people walked this trail. Thank you to Wild Earth Australia for supplying us with fantastic gear that made the trip a whole lot easier, without sleeping mats, trangias, head torches, it would have been a very different trip. Again thank you to the Jawoyn people for allowing us to walk this beautiful trail. And thank you to our school teachers, Larissa and Nicole, and Assistant Teacher Solomon Tapau. Without you and the time that you had taken out of your own lives, we could not have been able to give our community students this amazing opportunity. If you ever have the chance to do the Jatbula Trail, do it! And remember our stories that we have shared with your journey along the trail.