Katherine to Normanton – The Land
This section of The Savannah Way certainly has its share of geological wonder. Spectacular gorges, sweeping cattle country, saltflats and picturesque rivers can be found between Katherine and Normanton.
The Katherine River and its tributaries are great canoeing or cruising spots, either through the grand sandstone gorges or peaceful tree-lined streams. Katherine Gorge is a slice through the Arnhem Land Plateau’s escarpment, a sandstone face also seen in Kakadu.
Around the highway the native grasses of Katherine’s cattle pastures include golden beard grass, bunched spear grass and kangaroo grass. Darwin Stringybark and Darwin Woolybutt trees dominate the tree layer here.
Cutta Cutta Caves are a limestone karst system, with guided tours by rangers providing a good insight into the region’s formation.
The changing soil types along the Roper Bar route to Cape Crawford support a range of plant communities. Note the thin lancewood and other acacias on the thin soils at the escarpment edge, and more robust bloodwoods and box eucalypts on the lower loam soils. The low lying plains north of Nathan River Ranger Station feature the lemon scented teatree (crush the leaves for aroma!).
Towards Borroloola the broken, eroded escarpment country provides “Lost Cities” and other features created by differential erosion. Travelling north these give way to coastal plains. These are often sand based grasslands with long fruited bloodwood, desert bloodwood and Darwin box. The northern cypress pine also occurs on rocky outcrops protected from fire. It’s easy to see how the landscape is formed by flood driven sediments washing north into the Gulf.
Lawn Hill gorge provides a great contrast – spectacular sandstone gorges with perennial freshwater pools fed by springs from a limestone plateau to the west. Fascinating tufa formations form calcium pools at the base of the Island Stack among massive paperbark trees. Walk onto the surrounding sandstone plateaux for open snappy gum and Spinifex landscapes.
Burketown is the divide between the Albert River’s tidal mudflats to the north and the “Plains of Promise’s” golden beard grass, curly bluegrass and Mitchell grass looking south. The salt pans offer great photo opportunities.
The Leichhardt, Flinders and Bynoe Rivers provide sustenance for tough melaleuca, river red gum, coolibah and Leichhardt trees closer to Normanton.
Further information on some of the natural resource management issues can be found on the Northern Territory Natural Resource Management website.