The Katherine calling at Cicada Lodge

Jennifer Pinkerton uncovers a new breed of luxury deep in the wilds of the Northern Territory.

As we glide along Gorge Road, 20 minutes outside the township of Katherine, the sky darkens from pale blue to indigo and a huge moon appears before us. It’s blood orange and, to be honest, a little eerie. A blanket of bats floats past and the surrounding landscape starts to rise up. Scrubby bush, littered with ochre boulders and termite mounds, morphs into lofty escarpments. We’ve reached the Nitmiluk National Park entrance and, a few minutes later, we’re at Cicada Lodge, our home for the next two nights.

Despite the spooky backdrop, there’s nothing spooky about Cicada –or the park for that matter. Owned by the Jawoyn Association Aboriginal Corporation, the area’s traditional owners who received joint park management rights in 1989, Cicada is a luxury eco-lodge set among a native garden that teems with wattle, bottlebrush and banksias. Just beyond sit the towering walls of Nitmiluk Gorge, and beneath these, the Katherine River.

We meet our host, Steven, in the entrance-cum-dining room before he leads us to one of 18 discrete units. Cicada can host 36 guests at any time, and our suite feels a bit like a one-bedroom house. A small, walled balcony kisses the bush. A king-sized leather bedhead divides the room, seamlessly creating a separate space for working (no thanks!) or preparing java from a coffee pod machine. The glass-walled bathroom features an enormous rain shower and stone-finished amenities, while lamps cloaked with butterfly print fabric adorn the room – a nod to the lodge’s natural surrounds.

With time against us, all we can manage this evening is a quick dip in the pool, which borders the bush, sits just outside the restaurant and, at night, glows a neon shade of blue. Leaving the unit’s cocoon, I step out in my best 1950s swimming costume and brave the balmy air. I am attempting backstroke when Steven appears bearing welcome drinks and canapes: a bounty that includes flutes of champagne, olives, bruschetta and barramundi ceviche. My cool-down is secured and shortly afterwards I drift to sleep while night birds trill beyond the room, communing with the oversized moon in the distance.

Night turns to day and we wake early, hike the first gorge and marvel at the low clouds covering the river. Back at the lodge, a delicate breakfast awaits. Bircher muesli in tumbler glasses, a croissant and savoury platter, plus a colourful bouquet of tropical fruit. Later we spruce up for a morning cruise along Nitmiluk’s first and second gorges.

Sunrise | Jennifer Pinkerton

Strolling the path towards the jetty, what I first assume to be large dark berries hanging from trees, reveal themselves to instead be colonies of red flying foxes, a protected species in the Northern Territory. Our cruise guide, Casey, explains this is the largest population of bats seen in the park in 25 years.

Our boat slowly slips away from the jetty. On either side of the water, lush foliage sits in vertical rows and more creatures make their presence known. On the riverbanks, two wallabies hop by; sulphur-crested cockatoos soar in the sky; and archerfish zig-zag through the waters below.

After an afternoon spent canoeing, exploring the gorge at a slower pace, we re-board the boat for a dinner cruise. As the sun sinks, hundreds of bats leave their tree branches and travel beyond us, up the gorge. We explore the second gorge on foot and receive commentary on Nitmiluk’s history, culture and ecology before sitting down for our three-course candle-lit dinner. Tables are formed by pairing couples and lone rangers, and we find it refreshing, after having the day to ourselves, to tune in to others’ travel tales. Enfolded between the immense walls of the gorge, sculpted into cube-like patterns by passing time and water, the evening blends into night. As our champagne drains away, the last trail of bats silently drifts above and another huge moon ascends, it dawns on us, as it does on our new friends, that this – peace and immense, abundant nature – are among the greatest luxuries of all.



Rates start from A$495 per room (based on twin share) and are inclusive of welcome drink on arrival, canapes and drinks on the pool deck at sunset, daily gourmet breakfast and complimentary WiFi.

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