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Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park travel guide: things to see and do

Why go when it is hot, dusty, with too many mosquitoes. And then it is difficult to actually get there. A world heritage status for its landscape and cultural heritage Kakadu is rightly a must do destination, Unique, meserisming, Kakadu is a living link to the ancient identity of Australia that calls to the beat of the didgeridoo. Forget the red powdery dust, it’s all part of your outback experience making you a genuine Aussie. Dust off the Akubra hat, the well-worn tramping boots, find the mosquito repellent and let’s get going.

Kakadu is the largest national park, jointly managed by Parks Australia and the Bininj / Mungguy people. Outback exploration does not come much better than Kakadu.

Kakadu National Park, Australia @oscarmiketravel

Highlights

  • Yellow River Cruise, sunset or sunrise
  • Barramundi fishing trips
  • Waterfalls and rock pools, Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls
  • Quirky outback characters
  • Scenic flights

Best time to go

The dry season (May – September) is the best time for travel. Most roads are open and the weather is reliable. The coolest months are June – August.

Where is Kakadu National Park

The western boundary is 150km east of Darwin, located in Australia’s tropical north. The Bowlie Visitor Centre, near the township of Jabiru is 250km from Darwin. Kakadu is enormous extending 200km from north to south and over 100km east to west. Coastal estuaries, floodplains, billabongs and lowlands to rock escapements and stone country in the south. Over a third of Australia’s birds call Kakadu home and the park is a reservoir of Australian fish species.

Getting there

Most visitors arrive in Darwin via air or train. From Darwin the drive to Kakadu National Park is a 3 hour drive on sealed roads. You will need a KAKADU NATIONAL PARK PASS. The Kakadu National Park Pass can be purchased online at from Parks Australia or from Tourism Top End in Darwin CBD, The Bowali Visitor Centre which is National Park Headquarters and is just a couple of kilometres down the Kakadu Highway (turnoff just before Jabiru) or if you are coming from Katherine you can get them at Mary River Roadhouse which is the next fuel stop after Pine Creek, the southern entrance / exit for the Park.

You will need a vehicle in the National Park if you are an independent traveller.

TOP TEN ACTIVITIES & THINGS TO DO

1
Learn about Kakadu at its visitor centres

Stroll through the Bowali Visitor Centre in Jabiru to learn about the flora and fauna, habitats and geology of Kakadu through interactive displays, videos and an extensive library. Remember to check out the attached Marwadi Gallery. In Cooinda, visit the Warradjan Cultural Centre to grasp the heritage and history of the Aboriginal people who lived in Kakadu for over 65,000 thousand years. There are free ranger talks as well as guided ranger explorations at both centres.

2
Barramundi Fishing

In Kakadu fishing is not just a rod and a boat. You are casting rods in the vicinity of salt water crocodiles and native birds. Your prized catch can be taken to the restaurant at Cooinda Lodge for your evening meal. Inquire beforehand preparation cost.

3
Sunset viewpoint, Ubirr and rock art

The 1km loop track passes several rock-art sites. “1 km circular track takes you past the rock art sites before a steep 250 m climb to a rocky lookout with 360-degree views of Arnhem Land and the Nadab floodplain. Allow at least an hour for this walk, or more if you want to sit at the lookout and absorb the views. Much of the art here features fish, turtles, goanna and other important food animals. At the main gallery, a painting of a thylacine (the Tasmanian tiger, which became extinct on the mainland more than two thousand years ago) is a rare treat, and gives an idea of the age of some of this art.”  Ubirr walk | Kakadu National Park.

Ubirr’s rock art is considered among the best in the world, with fine examples of x-ray painting as well as contact art from the time when Indigenous people first encountered Europeans. Stories about behaviour and law are told at the Mabuyu, Narmarrkan Sisters and Rainbow Serpent paintings.

Other viewing sites for Aboriginal art are Nourlangie and  Nanguluwur.

4
Yellow waters sunset cruise

The sunset cruise on the Yellow Waters Billabong is a popular activity. The cruise is between 1 ½ hours to 2 hours. There is a commentary. The billabong springs into life. Wildlife viewing is assured as bird species start their dusk feeding and snakes, spiders and various creeping insects can be found in the trees along the banks. Water Buffalo and crocodiles are big ticket attractions.

5
Helicopter flight over Kakadu National Park

A helicopter flight is one of the most popular things to do in Kakadu National Park. Not only is it a great way to take in the whole park, it also lets you access areas that are otherwise closed. For example, when Jim Jim Falls is at its peak it is off limits to tourists. Often it is also closed in the wet season before it can be checked for crocodiles and opened to the public. This means when Jim Jim Falls is at its’ peak tourists can’t even see it. That’s where a helicopter flight not only gives you an epic perspective but access to the best spots at the perfect time of the year.

6
Bird watch at Mamukala wetlands

Take the easy walk to an observation platform hidden in the paperbarks at the Mamukala wetlands, one of Kakadu’s best bird watching spots (30km from Jabiru). Watch quietly as kites, comb-crested jacanas, cormorants, purple swamp hens, finches and kingfishers feed. There are information plaques describing the seasons. The wetlands are dramatic in the late dry season when migrating magpie geese return for water chestnuts. (September to November). There could be avid, dedicated bird watchers, in the area or even on your cruise. Silence and patience to achieve the great photo moment is a lesson all bird photographers can teach us.

7
Waterfalls

Gunlom Falls, an instagram moment location is a natural  infinity pool with panoramic view across Kakadu… Another 100 metres along the track brings you to a series of rock pools and a small waterfall. “From the sandy beach and large clear pool at the base, a short, steep walk takes you to a series of smaller rocky pools stretching up into the escarpment. Gunlom is a must-see and a highlight of everyone’s Kakadu bucket list. “ Follow Parks Australia for advice on pool access and safety advice. The location has BBQ and toilet facilities as well as is accessible by 4WD vehicle. There is an authorised bush camp site. The water is not drinkable. Booking are required beforehand.

Maguk Falls is less visited due to the more difficult rock climbs and treks over sandy creeks. It is a quietly beautiful 2km walk and leads to a large, deep plunge pool, Maguk pool surrounded by red soaring cliffs and bush. The pool is easily accessible. To access the pool follow parks Australia advise Maguk walk | Kakadu National Park. The location has BBQ and toilets. The water is not drinkable.

8
Walks

TIP: Download all walking maps, from Walks | Kakadu National Park. The walks are graded from easy to multi day experienced tramping expeditions.

BEFORE entering Kakadu to ensure that you have the relevant information at your fingertips. You could even do the old fashioned action and print a paper copy.

TIP: You are likely to feel hot in your boots however it is necessary to provide protection against snakes and biting insects.

9
Kakadu as a zen moment: The Outback

Relax, refresh and revive the spirits in the silence and timelessness of Kakadu. The sun drenched slabs of rock and sand around waterfalls are the perfect location to sink into Kakadu time with nothing but the birds and the breeze. Perhaps the occasional backpacker might stroll by. Lots of space for the two of you in the remoteness of Kakadu.

10
Mary River Region exploration for experienced hikers

Relax, refresh and revive the spirits in the silence and timelessness of Kakadu. The sun drenched slabs of rock and sand around waterfalls are the perfect location to sink into Kakadu time with nothing but the birds and the breeze. Perhaps the occasional backpacker might stroll by. Lots of space for the two of you in the remoteness of Kakadu.

Travel Pack Information

Roads and Access

Kakadu is 20,000 square km and it often drives on unsealed roads or tracks restricted to 4WD vehicles. Self-guided visitors need to carry surplus fuel, tyres and spades to dig a vehicle out of an unexpected hole. It is advised if you are using a rental you are familiar with how to change the tyre and if the necessary gear is easily accessible.

Wifi and mobile

Mobile reception is non-existent, in many areas. Jabiru township and Cooinda have limited access to networks. Kakadu sites have emergency call devices in the carpark. Guides usually carry satellite phones.

Safety

Carry water everywhere and fill up bottles whenever possible.

Clothing and mosquitoes

Mosquito repellant is awful and likely poisonous when it is used continually. Especially products with Deet which actually repel mosquitoes. Long loose pants and a shirt made of natural material is recommended. Sturdy walking boots while seemingly hot are a protection against mosquitoes and other biting insects.

Sunscreen and protection against the heat is necessary.

TIP: Mosquitoes are enormous, be prepared to carry industrial quantities of insect repellant, Aussie made as it is designed to master the biting insects of all shapes and sizes.

Where to stay

There are plenty of choices from the comfortable Cooinda Lodge to extensive campground facilities.

Kakadu accommodation operators are vetted by the National Park. There is a choice for all budgets and all are family friendly. I recommend the Cooinda Lodge, it was comfortable and being the  hub of lots of tours run by the same owner was convenient for a solo traveller. Fully Indigenous-owned, Cooinda Lodge is part of the Kakadu Tourism group and is managed by Accor Hotels. In addition to the Lodge accommodation, Cooinda offers extensive campground facilities Cooinda Campground & Caravan Park | Tourism NT | Explore Kakadu. The Warradjan Cultural Centre is managed by the traditional owners in conjunction with Accor Group. Campgrounds are also directly managed by Parks Australia Camping and caravans | Kakadu National Park, for camping options check out what suits your needs.

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