This post comes a few weeks late but time has allowed us to reflect on what a truly amazing place Kakadu is and what a wonderful time we had there.
We came away scratching our heads at the old 'Kaka-don't' catch cry and can only draw the conclusion that the Kaka-don'ts didn't give Kakadu the time and respect it needs to fully appreciate it for what it is.
Kakadu National Park is huge, covering almost 20,000 square kilometres with five main landscapes (stone country, wetlands, savannah woodlands, coastal and tidal flats and the southern hills and ranges) and six recognised seasons as identified by the Aboriginal people over thousands of years. With all this in mind a couple of days isn't enough to really #DoKakadu. We spent 6 nights there and would suggest that this would be the minimum required time to experience just some of what the area has to offer. Even still there were areas that we didn't explore such as Jim Jim Falls but this was largely due to the fact that we were there late in the dry season and we had word that the water had finished flowing.
Here's a run down of our stay...
Our drive on the Arhnem Highway from Darwin to Kakadu gave us an uncomfortable reminder of the perils of road tripping as we approached the scene of a serious accident. A roadtrain had rear ended a Britz which had stopped on the bridge near the Jumping Croc cruises to take a picture. Needless to say the Britz came off second best and thankfully no one was seriously injured. The road was blocked for sometime before we were able to pass so we used the delay to familiarise ourselves with the Kakadu map.
The afternoon was hot so long walks were out of the question but we noticed that the Mamukala wetland and bird viewing area was on the drive in and decided to stop for a look. In 36 degrees of dry heat we asked another traveller if the short walk was worth a look. It was a resounding yes and so we took the hot stroll in. We came upon a large partitioned shelter and proceeded to enter. The other side was at least 10 degrees cooler with a glorious breeze and a view in stark contrast to the dry woodlands we had just walked through. In front of us was a wetland as far as the eye could see with large lilypads and pink flowers blowing as if almost in slow motion. Birds of varying species were ducking for food and flying above the wet expanse. That's all it took for us to know that we were definitely team Kakadu!
We checked into Kakadu Lodge caravan park where we stayed 4 nights. The Lodge is central to Jabiru township and a great base to explore the regions of Ubirr and Nourlangie.
Given the size of Kakadu it helps to carefully spend time planning your list of 'must-sees' to ensure you aren't backtracking unnecessarily. Our list of 'must-sees' included Cahills Crossing at high tide, Ubirr at sunset, rock art exploration and a meal of Thai food at the Border Store. We were able to work it so that we did all of these things in the space of a few hours saving us from having to drive back out to Ubirr on another day.
We had a picnic lunch at Cahills Crossing and spent almost 2 hours croc and people watching in the shade. We witnessed a Hyundai Getz make a crossing amidst the rising waters only to have a large salty slip across in front of the car. We were within an inch of witnessing horror but somehow those daring locals had it in hand and safely made it to the other side. Goodness knows they have probably done it loads of times before!
A travelling friend had recommended that we pick up a copy of David M. Welch's book 'Aboriginal Paintings at Ubirr and Nourlangie' which we did. It proved invaluable as we viewed the galleries in these areas despite taking a rock art tour with a ranger at Ubirr. It gave us a deeper understanding of the pictures and allowed us to locate and view a greater number of paintings. We were even able to estimate the age of some artworks based on the information in the book and enjoyed getting into this learning as a family. Much of the rock art at Ubirr focuses on food sources and is painted in x-ray style. There is also evidence of contact art following Aboriginal contact with Europeans.
After exploring Ubirr's galleries we climbed to the top of the lookout to take in the majestic view of the Nadab Floodplain. The scenery up there was breathtakingly beautiful and made even more wonderful as the sun went down. The night was topped off by a delicious dash to the Border Store for a feed of tasty Thai!
One of the lesser visited areas of Kakadu is Nourlangie. This is unfortunate as the rock art and landscape are as equally captivating as those at Ubirr in fact the galleries are even more impressive focusing on ancestral beings. We highly recommend that this area not be missed!
We were lucky enough to be at Jabiru when the Mahbilil Festival was on. An annual festival held in the Kurrung season (Aug-Sept) celebrating Kakadu culture and drawing people from Kakadu, West Arnhem Land, Katherine and Darwin. We can safely say that this was by far the best festival we have ever been to. It was also the richest cultural experience that we had had on our trip to date. We learnt about Traditional cooking and bush foods, weaving, painting and dancing. We were all encouraged to give it a try and we had a ball joining in. The best part was this festival was completely free and it was outstanding. If you are planning a visit to Kakadu and can time it with this festival then be sure you do. You could pay hundreds of dollars to have these kinds of cultural experiences in other places but this was as authentic and rich as you could get and it was awesome. The night was topped off on the sand dance floor as we kicked of our thongs and grooved to the funky tunes of Tijuana Cartel and local Aboriginal rock bands.
After our 4 nights at Kakadu Lodge we headed south-west to stay 2 nights at Cooinda Campground & Caravan Park. This place was a pleasant surprise and our favourite of the two caravan parks. Given our time again we would have stayed longer here. With live entertainment every night and a resort style swimming pool we thought we'd been transported back to the Free Spirit Resort in Darwin!
Despite Jim Jim being dry we didn't want to miss some of Kakadu's finest falls so visited both Maguk and Gunlom over the next 2 days. We dropped the tyre pressure and in we went. The 4x4 only road to Maguk was freshly graded and described by a fellow traveller as being 'as soft as a baby's bottom'. Gunlom on the other hand was a shocker! The road was heavily corrugated with potholes giving us a good old shake rattle and roll! We felt sorry for the many 2WD vehicles and campervans that we flew past that day on the road in! Both Maguk and Gunlom Falls were still running and both very impressive. The walk into Maguk was lovely despite being a bit of a challenging one. Similarly the climb to the top of Gunlom was very technical but rewarding.
Our time in Kakadu was topped off by cruising Yellow Water on both the sunset and sunrise cruises. This stunning waterway harbours an abundance of wildlife from estuarine crocodiles (salties) to Jabirus. With more than a third of Australia's bird species calling Kakadu home it's no wonder this place is a birdwatchers paradise! The magic of Yellow Water is captivating and the view at sunrise as the mist hovers over the lilypads in the water is nothing short of breathtaking! This is one cruise that we highly recommend!
If you want authentic experiences with wildlife in the Top End then go to Kakadu, sit at Cahills Crossing for a few hours, visit Yellow Water or take a Yellow Water cruise and observe the animals doing what they do in the wild. You will get right up close, learn loads and leave knowing more about the natural behaviour of these creatures.
We loved Kakadu and can't wait to go back and see more in the future... perhaps during a different season. It's a big Kaka-DEFINITELY-Do from us!
Here are our top 5 favs...
Adam - Sunset at Ubirr
Sharon - Maguk
Ella - Taking photographs at Cahills Crossing
Ava - Mahbilil Festival
Noah - Watching Aboriginal people dancing at the Mahbilil Festival