Often described as a “timeless place”, this national park in Australia’s Northern Territory has been recognised for its environmental and indigenous cultures
The size of Kakadu is immense. It covers an area of 19 804 km², extending nearly 200km from north to south and more than 100km from east to west. It is the size of Slovenia.
The drive from Darwin to Kakadu takes around three-and-a-half hours and along the way we pass a variety of wildlife: wallabies, very rare Australian black cockatoos, grey and pink Major Mitchell parrots and white Galahs to name a few.
Once checked in at the Crocodile Hotel (designed in the shape of its namesake), we peruse the hotel’s art gallery with the General Manager, Richard McArthur, who shows us the aboriginal paintings on display and for sale by some of Australia’s, and Kakadu’s, most renowned indigenous artists.
With only limited time in Kakadu we make our way to Bardedjilidji Walk (named after the Aboriginal word for “walking”). At the start of the track there are two prominent signs warning us about crocodiles and buffalo. The 2,5km trail allows you to escape the throngs of visitors to the reserve and takes you through the beautiful landscapes along the East Alligator River.
Ten minutes into our walk, we stop to take in the serenity, rugged vegetation and colours surrounding us. Standing amongst some of the most incredible, natural rock formations brought to life by natural light, it’s hard to ignore the presence of thousand-year-old indigenous spirits.
From the Bardedjilidji Walk it’s only a short drive to our next destination: Ubirr, in the East Alligator region of Kakadu. This area is renowned for its rock art and dramatic sunsets. Many of the ancient artworks depict drawings of barramundi, catfish, mullet, goannas, ringtail possums, wallabies and long neck turtles.
Follow the artwork and you’ll end up high on the Ubirr rock formation that allows for magnificent panoramic views. You can see the wetlands in the distance and during the wet season (November to March) the park turns into a veritable inland sea.
This year Kakadu experienced good rainfall, and when we were there (May-June) it hadn’t rained for a month leaving the park lush, vibrant and green.
We depart in the morning for Cooinda Lodge, stopping at Nourlangie Rock and Anbangbang Billabong, heading out on an easy walk that snakes around the artwork sites here and showcases Australia’s bush. In fact, the walk ends at a lookout from where we can view the wild bush flowers that are in bloom this time of year.
Later, we visit the Warradjan Cultural Centre for a comprehensive look into Kakadu’s indigenous cultural history. From here it’s a short drive to Cooinda Lodge where we’ll spend the next two nights. The lodge offers a variety of accommodation, including camping, delicious food and an energetic vibe.
Cooinda is also where one of the greatest river adventures, called the Yellow Water Cruise, is based. There are two cruises each day, leaving at 6:45am and 4:30pm. We choose the 4:30pm cruise. Once on the water, our guide Amy says that for every kilometre travelled we pass around 15 crocodiles.
As if on cue, we see our first semi-submerged crocodile. Our boat is designed for spectacular viewing and is very maneuverable, taking us in for a close-up. Merely metres away from this prehistoric beast, we lean forward to capture its characteristic lines and sharp teeth on camera before it moves suddenly and we all back away with hearts racing. This is as good as wildlife viewing gets. We continue to spot more crocodiles as we cruise along as well as magnificent birdlife.
The yellow river tour is like a zoological movie – a sea eagle, a pied kingfisher, a tree full of white egrets and below them whistling ducks, and then another couple of crocs. And that’s just what we can see; underneath the river there’s another world led by a huge amount of barramundi and other river fish that are undoubltly keeping the local crocodiles well fed.
Near the end of our cruise, Kakadu National Park puts on a sunset spectacle worthy of its own trip. The dazzling colours of Kakadu turn a very good afternoon into what will be among the best two hours I’ve experienced and will be locked into my memory for a lifetime.
Our last full day in Kakadu entails doing a Spirit of Kakadu four-wheel drive adventure in a prototype truck that looks like it could be used as a Mars exploration vehicle.
An expert Kakadu guide picks us up at Cooinda Lodge at 7:30am and after an hour of driving through the glorious lush national park, passing wallabies, buffalo, a black boar and some wild horses on the journey, we stop to refuel with a morning feast of fresh fruit, tea, coffee, health bars and muffins. Full of energy, we begin our first walk, a 45-minute hike through a rain forest and along a riverbank until we reach Maguk Gorge waterfall and swimming hole.
The water is crystal clear and crocodile free, the perfect combination. We don’t swim here but enjoy the solitude, sun and ambience before heading back to our vehicle for a drive Gunlom Falls.
At the base of the falls, the driver sets up our sensational lunch, after which we start our hike up to Gunlom Falls. It’s quite challenging, so we take lots of breaks, which gives us some time to enjoy the picturesque views. We soon arrive at the top to find what you only expect to see in Photoshopped travel brochures. There’s a waterfall filling three separate pools, all uniquely shaped differently and surrounded by mesmerising colours. The front pool is a natural infinity pool that allows gorgeous views of the valley and surrounding escarpments.
We quickly change into our swimwear and for the next hour we indulge in a Kakadu National Park rock pool party.
The three-night visit was my first to the top end of Kakadu and what an extraordinary time it was.
For more information about the Kakadu National Park visit kakadutourism.com
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Words & images Daniel Resnik