We spent three days in Kakadu National Park. It wasn’t nearly enough.
First, Kakadu is BIG. The park covers almost 20,000 square kms, and so the drives between some sites are long.
We based ourselves at Jabiru, Kakadu’s main commercial centre, near the eastern side of the park. While this was handy for sites like Ubirr and the Bowali Visitor Centre, it meant a lot of driving to and from sites in the southern ends of the park – e.g. 177 kms each way to the jaw-dropping Gunlom waterfall and rock pools.
Next time we visit, we intend to stage our stays through the park, hubbing out of some of the many available campgrounds, exploring the treasures of each area before moving to another area and doing it all again.
And we’d allow ourselves at least a week or more to really explore the many cultural sites and rock art, billabongs, lookouts, hikes, and ranger-guided activities.
The other factor to consider in planning a trip to Kakadu is the time of year. There’s probably no ‘wrong’ time to come, as the landscape is constantly changing in line with the seasons. But, in late May, after a bumper (and slightly later) wet season, many access roads were still blocked by (croc-infested) high water, which meant that many billabongs and even the Yellow Water boardwalk were also closed. On the plus side, much of the landscape was green and brimming with birdlife.
Despite the closures, we managed to squeeze a lot of key sites, swims, walks and lookouts into our three days.
We were amazed to be able to see first hand so many beautiful and well-preserved examples of traditional rock art, especially at Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) and Ubirr. Some of the art dates back 20,000 years, although most that we saw is probably between 2,000 and 8,000 years old.
The World Heritage listed rock art sites at Burrungkuy (Noarlungie) and Ubirr also provided lookouts with vantage points to survey the striking ever-changing landscape.
The breathtaking view from Nadab Lookout at Ubirr extends over floodplains towards the East Alligator River and Arnhem Land.
We chose the sunrise cruise to view the spectacular Yellow Water billabong, and were rewarded with the sight and sounds of thousands of birds coming to life to welcome the new day.
Our cruise was enhanced by the non-stop banter of our knowledgeable boat skipper and guide, traditional owner Reuben – starting with his water safety demonstration in how to use the life jackets. “Regulations say we have to tell you this stuff, but it’s not going to help you out here … You fall in the water, the crocs will get you. If you do make it to that land over there, well, it’s not land – it’s floodplain, full of deadly snakes, aggressive water buffalo, cranky wild pigs …”. You get the idea!
And, of course, there were the crocs – all shapes and sizes. We were also very fortunate to see a crocodile nest, where females have been known to lay up to 70 eggs.
There was so much birdlife to see. We were fascinated by the comb-crested jacana – also known as the ‘Jesus Bird’, as it looks like it walks on water! (It doesn’t – it walks ever so gently across lily pads.) The female disappears after laying the eggs, leaving Dad alone to do the child-rearing. If he senses danger, he can sweep them all up and hide them under his wings. Look closely at the first pic below, at all the little legs beneath Dad!
Crocodile warnings were everywhere throughout Kakadu, where the adage is along the lines of “if there’s water, suspect crocs”. While many of the swimming spots are checked and cleared of crocs at the beginning of the season, signs warn to be vigilant. We watched a young couple scour the banks of the Nourlangie Creek (pic below) for some time – complete with binoculars – before they even unloaded their fishing boat from it’s trailer. We got the impression that they were experienced anglers in these parts, who had done this many times before!
We took the long 177 km each-way drive to Gunlom, and were rewarded with a beautiful plunge pool and waterfall.
We undertook the rocky climb up to the Gunlom lookout, at the top of the waterfalls. The first part was relatively easy – paths and steps. But these are relatively new, as they are building paths to make the climb more accessible. Sadly, they haven’t yet finished – the top part of the climb put us back into mountain goat territory!
But the rocky walk up to the top was worth every moment! It led to a stunning natural infinity pool with spectacular views!
After the long hot climb back down from the Gunlom lookout we headed back on the 177 km drive, with a detour into the Cooinda Resort to reward ourselves with a swim in their luxuriously inviting pool.
Ah, Kakadu. You’ve won us over. We’ll be back!