DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
Located 240 kilometres east of Darwin in Australia’s tropical north, Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest terrestrial national park. Kakadu covers almost 20,000 square kilometres and is a place of enormous ecological and biological diversity.
Kakadu National Park embraces coastal estuaries at its top end; floodplains, billabongs and lowlands in the middle and rocky-ridge and stone country in the south. The Park is home to rare and endemic plants and animals, including more than one-third of Australia’s bird species and one-quarter of its freshwater and estuarine fish species.
Kakadu’s traditional owners, Bininj Mungguy, have lived on this country for more than 50,000 years and today, the World Heritage-listed park is protected by a board of management, which has an Aboriginal majority.
The extraordinary natural beauty and ancient cultural heritage of this land was recognised internationally in 1981 when Kakadu was first inscribed on the World Heritage list. Further land was added to the listing in 1987 and 1992. In 2011, the Koongarra land, which had previously been excluded from the listing because of its potential uranium resources, was added to the Kakadu World Heritage Area.
Most of the roads in Kakadu are bitumen, so you have to look for places where you can exercise your 4WD skills. However, it’s important to suppress your desire to get of road too soon, because much of the spectacular stuff in Kakadu is at the end of bitumen or easy gravel drives.
Our suggested route is straight to the Bowali Visitor Centre and then at least an overnight camp at Merl, near Ubirr. An evening walk up to the famous sunset location at Ubirr is an absolute
must, as is wildfire viewing and wetlands bushwalking further south at Nourlangie Rock.
From Ubirr, head south via Jabiru (fuel and supplies) to Nourlangie Rock, Cooinda (for the Yellow Waters cruise) and then double back slightly to Twin Falls and Jim Jim Falls.
It’s important not to miss a
dawn cruise at Yellow Waters. Bird, animal and croc life in the early morning is busy and no-one should go away disappointed with their photos and video clips.
A graded gravel road leads most of the way to Jim Jim Falls, but from Garnmarr it’s 4WD only. The track into Twin Falls gets some maintenance, but it’s still good 4WD fun. Trailers aren’t allowed, so we set ours up at the friendly camp at Garnamarr.
There’s a slightly scary deep-water ford in Jim Jim Creek on the way, but marker posts guide your way through the shallowest bits.
Back a few years you used to leave your vehicle at the Twin Falls car park and swim to the Falls, resting along the way by clambering onto the fallen rocks that dot the gorge waterway; now there’s a little flat-bottomed punt with outboard motor, seats and an Aboriginal guide, so the experience is more informed and less arduous.
The boat berths close to the Falls but there’s still a rocky walk to the beach at the base of the Falls, Jim Jim Falls has a large swimming hole at the end of another hot walk, so a dip is most welcome.
The drive to Maguk is well graded, but the run alongside the South Alligator River, on the way to Gunlom, has its rocky, dusty moments. There are swimming spots are Maguk and Gunlom.
There’s camping at: Merl, Cooinda, Jim Jim Billabong,
Maguk, Gunlom, Gungurul, Sandy Billabong, Muirella Park, Burdulba, Garnmarr, Kambolgie, Black Jungle Springs and Mardugal.
Useful contacts : Bowali Visitor Centre (08) 8938 1120 and
If you can time it right, get to Ubirr for the once-a-year freak tide that makes the East Alligator River run ‘backwards’.
Normally, the river flows quite strongly downstream, cascading over the ford and nearby rocks, but as the tide flows upstream the water velocity drops noticeably and eventually stops altogether.
By this time several large, dominant crocodiles position themselves upstream of the ford. As the incoming tide overcomes the natural River flow the water begins streaming upstream and the crocs take up position facing the tide, with their front legs angled outwards like outriggers and their massive jaws slightly agape.
You can see the mullet carried in by the tide desperately trying to avoid the living traps waiting for them, while the crocs use their outstretched feet like funnels, directing the fish towards their open jaws.
Within an hour the flow stops and the satiated crocs quietly slide away. Interestingly, only big crocs join in the feast and juveniles are left to forage as best they can, away from the main action.
Check out our Yellow Waters cruise video: