School holidays ideas & tips – katherine and top end

Katherine Outback Experience
Breanna Cook of Katherine Outback Experience working with a young horse.

School Holiday Ideas in Katherine and the Top End

The school holidays are here! We’re super excited here at the Katherine Outback Experience as we love having families come visit us, and we’ve got a lot of things coming up just for them (including a brand new litter of puppies just in time)!

But don’t stop there! There is so much to do around Katherine and the Top End, and we want to make sure you know all about it! We’ve pulled together a collection of fun ideas for kids and families to check out these school holidays. This follows on from our former blog post about the best ‘Things To Do In Katherine” so we thought we would branch a little further afield up and down the track to some lesser known attractions and ideas!

Bitter Springs – Mataranka

Enjoy a relaxinging swim at Bitter Springs, Mataranka. Credit Touirsm NT/ Mitch Cox.

Bitter Springs is hands down one of our favourite little getaways with the kids in school holidays! Just an hour drive south of Katherine, it is a perfect place to relax, unwind and unplug to enjoy some quality time with the kids as the current meanders you through the crystal blue waters and pandas overhanging the waters edge.

Discovered by surveyors for the Overland Telegraph Line in the latter part of the nineteenth century, Bitter Springs are located approximately two kilometres from Mataranka in the Katherine region. 

A visitor swimming underwater at Bitter Springs. Relax in the hot springs and visit heritage sites at the Elsey National Park, the setting for the Australian novel We of the Never Never. Credit: Tourism NT/ Carmen Hunter

Set amongst palms and tropical woodlands in the Elsey National Park, these spring-fed thermal pools are the perfect place to get back to nature. They are a bit deeper than the Mataranka Homestead springs which means they are better suited for the older energetic kids (our 8 and 10 year olds love them as do we!). If you are lucky you may even see some fish and turtles!

Be sure to take a noodle or floaty as it’s hard-work staying afloat in fresh water. Flippers, goggles and snorkels are also great for the kids so they can see what lies beneath the crystal blue waters. We also recommend packing a picnic to enjoy between swims.

There is a short concrete loop walk available at Bitter Springs making it easy to get from the end of the spring and back to the beginning point to jump in again (and no need to worry about carrying shoes in the water with you).

  • Hours: Open daily
  • Cost: Free
  • Amenities: BBQs, picnic area, public toilet, swimming, good access
  • Location: 2 kilometres from the Mataranka town site

Lake Copperfield

Lake Copperfield is a beautiful deep reserve, surrounded by hills that offers a cool and refreshing respite from the long spring holiday days. Located just six kilometres southwest of Pine Creek, it is a fantastic place to spend the day with the whole family. Have a swim and a picnic. Bring the kayak or tinny and have a paddle. Or just sit back in the shade with a good book.

Lake Copperfield – Image courtesy of TripAdvisor taken June 2019.

Because it’s a local water reservoir, motorised boating is not allowed, so you can be sure of an idyllic and peaceful escape.

  • Hours: Open daily, sunrise to sunset
  • Cost: Free
  • Amenities: BBQs, picnic area, public toilet, swimming and non-motorised boating permitted
  • Location: 5 kilometres south of Pine Creek
  • Phone: 08 8976 1391

Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park

Visitors exploring Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park. Photo credit: Tourism NT/Shaana McNaught

Formed millions of years ago, the Cutta Cutta Caves are an incredible experience which kids absolutely adore. Stepping down into their depths is literally stepping back in time. You can see stalactites and stalagmites and other limestone formations, as well as five different species of bats.

There are guided one-hour tours from 9am through to 3pm. Take one and find out about how the caves were formed, what fossils have been discovered and where the rare ghost bat and leaf-nosed bat sleep during the day.

The nature reserve is great for bushwalking, birdwatching and immersing yourself in the beautiful bushland, so be sure to take advantage of some of the great walking trails, including the Tropical Woodland walk, which takes about 10-20 minutes to walk.

  • Hours: 8.30am to 4.30pm, May to October; 8.30am to 11.30am, November; closed December through April
  • Cost: Adults $25, children $15, infants free
  • Location: 27 kilometres south of Katherine along the Stuart Highway
  • Amenities: Kiosk, water, public toilets, cave tours, walking tracks
  • Phone: 1300 145 743

Email: [email protected]

Pine Creek Railway Station and Railway Museum

Pine Creek Railway Station. Image courtesy of Katherine Visitor Information Centre

This lovely little railway station and museum is the site of the former Northern Australia Railway built in 1889 during the gold rush. The museum is captivating for kids and adults alike and the train shed is home to original Beyer Peacock locomotives that the kids can climb in and on, even going inside the driver’s compartment and the carriages. Start in the railway waiting rooms and imagine you’re about to take a trip to seek your fortune in gold!

For the bargain price of $2 it is a magical trip back in time sure to inspire the imaginations of your whole family.

  • Hours: Open daily from 8am to 4pm
  • Cost: $2
  • Address: 217a Main Terrace, Pine Creek
  • Phone: 08 8976 1391


Nathan ‘Whippy’ Griggs – Mataranka Homestead

Nathan Whippy Griggs – World Record Holding Whip Cracker

There are so many reasons to take the family out to Mataranka Homestead. It’s a stunning bush location, with gracious hosts and, by all accounts, a fantastic bush band and relaxing hot springs . But a certain highlight is of course Nathan ‘Whippy’ Griggs!

The Mataranka Homestead thermal pool sits surrounded by eucalypts and palm trees, on the edge of the Roper River. The folks at the Homestead have made a set of stairs to make getting into the thermal waters easy for the kids, but everyone will want to experience the crystal clear, rejuvenating (and warm!) waters of the thermal pool.

Of course, you’ll want to stay for Whippy’s show. After all, he is Australia’s number one whip cracking entertainer. In fact, he is a five time whip cracking world record holder, four times for fastest records and one for the longest whip. It is a not to be missed experience that the kids will love.

The Homestead has self-contained cabins, a motel and camp sites available. With several options for dining, including Jeannie’s Kitchen and The Garden Bistro, plus Malukas Bar open until late for the adults, a daily showing of We of the Never Never, swimming, fishing and bushwalking, there’s no reason not to stop for one or two nights, or even longer. Perfect for the school holidays!

  • Hours: thermal pools open daily; Whippy’s show, five nights a week during the high season
  • Cost: thermal pools, free; Whippy’s show, by donation; all other costs, varied
  • Amenities: accommodation, dining options, entertainment, bar, shop, ablution blocks, laundry, water services, airstrip, thermal pools, bin areas, pet friendly, walking tracks, daily movie, wildlife, fishing
  • Address: Homestead Road, Mataranka
  • Phone: 08 8975 4544

Email: [email protected]

Never Never Museum

Never Never Museum – Courtesy of Roper Golf Regional Council

While you’re in Mataranka, be sure to take your kids over to the Never Never Museum. Its range of historic artefacts and interpretive displays will impress the whole family and bring both Aboriginal and European history to life.

The museum is self-guided and has some great exhibits about the North Australian Railway, the Overland Telegraph and World War II.

  • Hours: 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday
  • Location: Behind the Roper Gulf Regional Council, main street, Mataranka


Local Katherine Programs

A visitor picnicking along Nitmiluk. Nitmiluk National Park covers a vast area of escarpment country, including 13 gorges along the Katherine River carved from the ancient sandstone country. Credit Tourism NT/ Kyle Taylor

There’s a lot going on right in Katherine too these school holidays. The YMCA hosts a colour run and a water play day, the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission offer a spotlight tour of Nitmiluk National Park for the wildlife lovers and the public library has events for the kids like ‘make your own book’ workshops. Here are some we think the kids will love!

Katherine Town Council also does a great job putting together events and activities for the kids during the school holidays. Follow them on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss out on any of those! Some of these events you will need to book for as they do sell out within hours!

Check out the full What’s On program here. Or click here to Download the program.

Katherine Outback Experience

Annabel Curtain with puppies during a Katherine Outback Experience show

And of course, no visit to Katherine would be complete without seeing our show at Katherine Outback Experience. Kids and adults alike love to see what life on the land is all about, watch our real horse-starting and working dog demonstrations and enjoy the live music and storytelling. Don’t let the kids miss patting and feeding the station animals, including  Buffalo Bill, Cecil the Mule and Mugshot the goat.

  • Show times: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and selected Saturdays (highly recommend booking ahead as shows do get cancelled if minimum numbers are not achieved. Tuesday and Wednesday shows are guaranteed)
  • Cost: Various show times and options; starting from $25 per child, to $60 per adult. Children 5 years and under are free.
  • Address: 115 Collins Road, Uralla, Katherine
  • Phone: 0428 301 580

Website to book tickets:

There are so many other great things to do in Katherine and its surrounds, we just couldn’t cover everything here – things like, the Katherine Hot Springs, the Katherine Museum, Edith (Leliyn) Falls, Top Didj Aboriginal Cultural Experience and Marksie’s Stockman’s Camp Tucker Night, just to start. We wrote about all of those here so have a look for even more great ideas for the school holidays.

Katherine and the Top End have so much on offer for kids and families in general, that whatever you choose, you’re sure to have an incredible school holiday experience!

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