Katherine is considered a big town in this part of the world and you'll certainly feel like you've arrived somewhere after the long trip up the highway. Its namesake river is the first permanent running water on the road north from Alice Springs. In the Wet the river swells dramatically and has been responsible for some devastating floods − the worst in memory was Australia Day 1998, when rising waters inundated the surrounding countryside and left a mark up to 2m high on Katherine's buildings.
Katherine is probably best known for the Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park to the east, and the town makes an obvious base, with plenty of accommodation and some decent restaurants. It also has quite a few attractions of its own, including a thriving Indigenous arts community, thermal springs and a few museums.
The Katherine area is the traditional home of the Jawoyn and Dagoman Aboriginal people. Following land claims they have received the title to large parcels of land, including Nitmiluk National Park. You'll see a lot of Aborigines around town, in from outlying communities for a few days to meet friends and hang out. No one seems too bothered by the disconcerting mix of country and retro pop that pipes into the main street from loudspeakers day and night.