4 Day Self-Drive Itinerary For Kakadu National Park
If you know anything about me it’s that I love a good road trip adventure. Nothing really beats jumping in the car with some friends to go exploring for a few days. I was lucky enough to have such a trip in the Northern Territory from Darwin to Kakadu National Park.
If you haven’t seen it already, I wrote about the highlights of my fantastic few days in Kakadu National Park. If you’re looking for a more nuts and bolts guide to planning a trip to Kakadu National Park then you’ve come to the right place. In this blog post I’m sharing my four day Kakadu itinerary.
Your Kakadu itinerary can be swapped around and driven in reverse. Also, think about whether a trip to Katherine Gorge and Edith Falls can be feasibly added to your itinerary, as Nitmiluk National Park is only 149 kilometres to the south of Kakadu.
On the first morning in Darwin I met up with my travel buddies for the adventure ahead. We hit the supermarket to do our grocery shop and made sure we included a lot of water. We left Darwin via the Stuart Highway, driving past the town of Bachelor and the gateway to Litchfield National Park.
We entered the national park via the southern entrance. Almost immediately we left the bitumen, or sealed road, behind and began driving along the corrugated red dirt side roads of Kakadu. In a 4wd vehicle these roads aren’t too much of an issue. My advice is to check the driving conditions and a map of the park before you set out to decide where is best for your car.
Our first destination was Gunlom Falls. We pitched our tents in the campsite by the waterfall and set off to explore the area. There is a steep climb to the top of the falls, which although pretty tiring in the heat was totally worth the views. From up the top you could survey the South Alligator River winding its way across the landscape. Gunlom is a very special place because at the time of year I visited (September) the water level was low enough that you could enjoy the pools at the top of the falls. Here you could relax in your very own natural infinity pool on the lip of the waterfall and feel like you were a million miles from anywhere.
After an early breakfast we packed up camp and begun the day with a refreshing dip in the plunge pool at the base of Gunlom Falls. At this time in the morning we had the place to ourselves. I loved how tropical the area felt with the lush vegetation and the cool green of the water.
Maguk Falls was our next stop, which was one of my favourite places in the park. The access to Maguk was down an unsealed track. From the car park you began a 1 kilometre walk up the river, scrambling across rocks and along the edge of the water. You are rewarded by a beautifully enclosed plunge pool with Maguk Falls right at the end. The pool was deep and cold and a wonderfully refreshing swim after the hot walk.
We fuelled up the car in the petrol station at Cooinda Lodge (Gagudju). Here there is an information centre, caravan park with camping, scenic flight access and a little shop/café. It’s quite well situated in roughly the middle of the park so a good spot to refill the car and pick up any drinks or snacks you might want.
Afterwards we visited the Warradjan Aboriginal Centre. This was a superb little gallery that details the aboriginal history of the land and the impact that white settlement had on the area. This is well worth a visit and helps to put the land you are standing on into perspective and appreciate the ongoing impact of tourism on the local indigenous community.
To get our legs working and heart pumping again we walked up to the top of Mirrai lookout. From up here you can read the interpretation boards whilst looking out at the 360 degree vista that spans out across the valley around you.
We set up camp at Djarradjin (Muirella Park) and wandered across to the nearby Bubba wetlands for sunset. I think this was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had witnessed in ages. The colours of the sky that evening were stunning and reflected back at you from the wetlands at your feet. The chorus of roosting birds and the chirp of insects was the only sound to be heard and it was such a peaceful moment.
We completed our exploration of the wetlands at Bubba with an early morning walk. It was a nice change to walk through the bush and see landscape that was almost farm like, with ducks and other water birds contentedly swimming around nearby.
We followed this up by driving to Burrungkuy (Nourlangie). Here you can find some of the park’s most significant aboriginal rock art, dating back thousands of years. There are guided ranger talks in this area that go into greater depth of information, but if you miss them then the interpretation signs are full of detail. There are several short walks around this area that are well worth taking the time to explore.
Jabiru is Kakadu’s main town. Here you can buy most supplies and there is a bakery, supermarket and petrol station plus other amenities. We set up our camp at Kakadu Lodge Camp in town before continuing our drive up to Cahill’s Crossing (Oenpelli) in the far north of the park. Where the road fords across the East Alligator River here, crocodiles linger in the water waiting for fish to become trapped by the changing tides. If you’re lucky you can see several large saltwater crocodiles lounging around in the water. Make sure you stay well back from the water’s edge!
Following our crocodile hunt we drove to Ubirr for sunset. The rock formations here are also great places for spotting ancient aboriginal art, so it’s worth giving yourself time to explore here before the sun starts to dip low in the sky. Walk up to the plateau of Ubirr and survey the whole valley floor below you as the sky gives itself up to a rainbow of gorgeous tones.
After a morning swim in the large pool at Kakadu Lodge Camp we left Jabiru to begin our way back to Darwin. Firstly we called in to the Bowali Visitor Centre at the Northern Entrance to the national park. Here there was a café to buy a much needed coffee, an interesting exhibition about Kakadu, its wildlife and conservation projects, plus a gift shop for your last minute pressie options.
We exited the park on the Arnhem highway. Soon after we called in to Mamukala wetlands. This place is home to a staggering variety of water birds. You can view the birds from a covered shelter (called a hide) so as not to disturb them. As I was sitting there I also heard the screech of a wedge tailed kite and noticed a pair of them flying in and out of their nest in a nearby tree.
Further along the Arnhem Highway was the brilliant Bark Hut Inn. This is a roadhouse – a pub / petrol station – that is made entirely of wood. Stepping in the doorway was like being transported into a saloon, with giant beams crossing the ceiling and license plates and local memorabilia strewn across the walls. A fun place to stop and fuel up the car, plus buy an ice cream and wander around.
What I Missed From My Kakadu Itinerary
If you’ve heard anything about Kakadu National Park already you may be thinking that I’ve missed out the best part. Yes, that’s right, I didn’t go to Jim Jim Falls. This is because there had been heavy rains a few weeks before, which had closed the access road. The weather, particularly rain, can affect your trip to Kakadu so it’s worth bearing that in mind before you plan your trip.
When To Go
The winter months run from roughly April to October in the Northern Territory. Daytime temperatures will still be warm to hot but the humidity will be gone and the rainy season will have passed. Summer here are the wet, humid months when large parts of the area become inaccessible due to flooding and crocodiles may be more prevalent.
Will I Need A 4WD?
A lot of Kakadu National Park is accessible for 2WD vehicles. The main highway is a sealed road with many of the access roads to sites also suitable. On arrival at the park head to the Bowali Visitor Centre to pick up a park map that will indicate which roads are unsealed. You can also check the road status online before heading to the park to help plan your journey.
Where To Stay
There are several camping options available to you in Kakadu. If you are driving a self-contained camper van, or do not mind very limited facilities, there are several free campsites across the park. The next stages up are un-managed campgrounds and managed campgrounds, both accessible with a small fee, where you will benefit from better facilities such as toilets and shower blocks.
How To Get To Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park is a 133 kilometre drive from Darwin via the Arnhem Highway to the northern entrance. Kakadu covers nearly 20,000 square kilometres, making it one of Australia’s largest national parks. Distances between sites in the park can be long so allow plenty of time for driving.
Darwin is the perfect place to base yourself for adventures in the Northern Territory. Take a look at my post on all the things you can do in the tropical little city of Darwin before hitting the national parks.
Hints and Tips
- Tap water may not be suitable for drinking in the national park so please carry enough water to last your entire trip.
- Visitors are required to purchase a pass before entering the park. Your pass can be purchased online before arriving to the park or at Bowali Visitor Centre and other locations across Kakadu.
- Alcohol is prohibited across much of the national park, however you can drink alcohol if you are in a commercial tour group camp site or in Jabiru, Cooinda and some campgrounds.
- Estuarine (saltwater) crocodiles inhabit Kakadu waters and deaths and severe injuries have occurred within the park. Obey crocodile warning signs and keep away from the water’s edge.
- We bought all of our food before entering Kakadu National Park and used our camping facilities to make breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you find yourself running out of supplies then Jabiru is the best place to do your food shop.
If you need any more convincing to visit the Northern Territory then take a peek at the reasons why I believe this part of Australia should be on everyone’s bucket list.
If you’re planning a road trip in Australia, get inspired by taking a peek at:
Have you visited Kakadu National Park before? What recommendations do you have? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!
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