I hope that Darwin won’t take offence to what I am about to say, but I was looking for ways to leave the city almost as soon as I got there.
That may sound a little odd, because I had a really great time in Darwin and found it to be a beautiful, tropical city. However, what excited me the most about visiting was the understanding that Darwin was the gateway to a whole range of stunning national parks in the area. I’d heard about the beauty of Litchfield National Park and the wonders of Katherine Gorge and Edith Falls in Nitmiluk National Park.
And I’d been reading a lot about the fantastic Kakadu National Park and how it was supposed to be perfect for a long weekend. So, I made plans for a three night/four day road trip to see what there was to offer.
And I’m so glad I did because Kakadu National Park was crammed with sensational sites to keep me busy from dawn until dusk. It’s very difficult to condense such a place down to a few paragraphs and photos, but I’m excited to share these highlights with you.
Kakadu National Park
At 20,000 square kilometres, Kakadu is the largest national park in Australia. It has been inhabited by aboriginal people for 50,000 years and over half of the park is still sacred aboriginal land. Its terrain encompasses wetlands, ancient geological formations, rivers and forest. Kakadu National Park has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its cultural and natural heritage.
I set up my tent in the campsite at the base of Gunlom Falls before heading off to explore. At the base of the falls there is a beautiful plunge pool that you can swim in, however, I started out by climbing up to the lookout at the top. I visited towards the end of the dry season, which meant the water level had subsided and revealed several tantalising pools of water nestled in the rocks.
Up here you can take in the view of the South Alligator River floodplain whilst in your own private, naturally formed infinity pool. Time this so you climb the slightly lung-busting hill towards the end of the afternoon and you can enjoy the pool whilst also experiencing a breath-taking sunset.
Nothing motivates you more on a walk in high temperature than the promise of a swim at the end of it. Pop on your boots and wear your swimmers under your shorts for the 1km walk along the river.
Clamber over the rocks at the water’s edge and soon you’ll find yourself at the heavenly Maguk Falls spilling over the distant edge of a massive plunge pool. Swimming here is a wonderfully refreshing experience.
Sunset at Ubirr
Ubirr is a place of significant aboriginal art and it is well worth taking the time to explore the area. Paintings here date back tens of thousands of years. Most people aim to head to Ubirr towards the end of the afternoon because it is well-known for its perfect sunset viewing area.
I’m always a sucker for a sunset and I love the feeling of peace that envelops me as I watch the colours of the sky change. Throw in a beautiful view and it becomes a memory that stays with you for years.
Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) Aboriginal Art
I found Nourlangie to be an incredibly moving place to visit. Here you can view rock paintings that date back thousands of years and represent a culture that is so intrinsically linked with the land you currently stand on. Time your visit to benefit from one of the park ranger’s talks on the history and culture of the area or walk yourself through this area.
Nothing screams Northern Territory more than a few fearsome saltwater crocodiles lurking at the water’s edge. There is an excellent place for croc spotting in Kakadu National Park called Cahills Crossing. Check out the tide times to ensure you are there at prime viewing time. Be prepared to settle in and your patience will be rewarded by some ferocious critters floating past to take advantage of the high tide bringing in a new supply of fish to the area.
Jim Jim Falls
Whilst I wasn’t able to visit Jim Jim Falls due to an inaccessible road, many argue that this waterfall is the highlight of Kakadu. My trip to the park was not lessened by not being able to visit, but I would encourage you to make time for this if you have a 4WD vehicle and the track is open.
Kakadu National Park is accessible from Darwin in around three hours along the Arnheim Highway. It is 257km east of Darwin, which is the capital city of the Northern Territory, also known as the ‘Top End.’
Plan your trip to coincide with the cooler temperatures of the winter (April-October). Not only will the heat be less intense, the monsoon season runs during the summer months and quite a lot of the park may be inaccessible.
Hints And Tips
- Depending on your budget there are different campsites available across the national park. For a small price per person you can stay at a site with basic facilities, shower block and toilets, plus drinking water in some areas. If you have all the gear you need there are free camping spots marked on the park’s map.
- Take plenty of water, sunscreen and mosquito repellent with you plus clothing that will protect you from the sun.
- Ensure you swim in safe spots only and heed signs regarding crocodiles; you don’t want to find that you are sharing your water hole with unexpected inhabitants!
- Drive to the conditions. Most of the roads in Kakadu National Park are unsealed so be mindful if you are driving a rental car whether you are insured on unsealed roads. There are several areas of the park that are inaccessible to 2WD cars.
- Pick up a parks pass online before you head out there or at one of the visitor’s centres on the outskirts of the park.
Whilst my memory card is filled to the brim with more stunning photographs, I have to say that Kakadu is the kind of place that seeing is believing. This would also fit with a general Aboriginal belief that the act of taking a photo leaves the photographer with nothing more than a meaningless image. To see with your own eyes and take away a memory of a place has a more everlasting impression.
Have I convinced you to put Kakadu National Park onto your Australia hit-list? Have you visited before and what was your favourite aspect? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
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