Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory is one of our greatest reserves and is Heritage Listed for both its environmental and indigenous cultures.
The size of Kakadu is immense. It covers an area of 19,804 kilometres squared, extending nearly 200 kilometres from north to south and over 100 kilometres from east to west. It is the size of Slovenia, about one-third the size of Tasmania and nearly half the size of Switzerland.
We drive from Darwin to Kakadu in approximately three and half hours and along the way we pass a variety of wildlife. We see wallabies, very rare Australian black cockatoos, grey and pink Major Mitchell parrots and white Galahs and other birds that look like an Australian version of the pink flamingo, but these birds are grey and can be seen wandering around in the off road wetlands.
This is what we’re seeing before we even get there and what’s better is there’s hardly any traffic apart from the occasional ‘only in the outback of Australia’ road trains. These beasts are semi trailers towing three to four extra giant trailers!
First on our to do Kakadu list is to check into the crocodile designed shaped hotel aptly called the Crocodile Hotel. After formalities we peruse the hotel’s art gallery with the General Manager Richard McArthur who shows us the huge variety of aboriginal paintings on display and for sale painted by some of Australia’s and Kakadu’s most renowned indigenous artists. The Crocodile Hotel is a huge supporter of indigenous art.
With only limited time in Kakadu we make our way to Bardedjilidji walk. At the start of the track there are two prominent signs regarding crocodile and buffalo safety. The first sign reads to keep well away from bad tempered huge prehistoric monsters that possess lots of nasty sharp teeth and very bad breath and there’s another warning sign advising to beware of buffalos. If you see a buffalo, they’re big, unpredictable and definitely have the right of way! Thankfully we don’t encounter either of the beasts.
Ten minutes into our walk we stop as we are overcome with the serenity, the rugged vegetation and colours. We are standing amongst some of the most incredible and natural rock formations. With the beautiful natural light you can virtually feel the thousands of years of indigenous sprits envelop you.
From the Bardedjilidji walk it’s only a short drive to our next destination called Ubirr, in the East Alligator region of Kakadu. This area is renowned for its rock art and dramatic sunsets. When you see your first indigenous rock art you cannot believe the clarity, colours and detail of the paintings that could be tens of thousands of years old. There is a huge amount of rock art and it’s all behind barriers for the protection of the works. Each display has a written description as well.
Many of the ancient artworks depict drawings of barramundi, catfish, mullet, goannas, ringtail possums, wallabies and long neck turtles and many other dreamlike creatures that also feature in a lot of paintings that are done today.
There’s a comprehensive amount of rock art to view and some are even drawn on the underside of overhanging rocks and its hard to imagine the intricacies of how they got into these positions to paint. The artwork continues on and upwards to where you end up high on the Ubirr rock formation that allows for magnificent panoramic views for a far as the eye can see. You can see the wetlands in the distance and in the wet season (November to March) the park turns into a veritable inland sea.
This year Kakadu had huge rainfalls and when we were there (May-June) it hadn’t rained for a month and the park is as lush, vibrant and green as it can get.
After a magnificent introduction to Kakadu we’re soon back at the Crocodile hotel to recharge our outback batteries to prepare for the next day’s massive adventure.
Next morning we depart for Cooinda Lodge. On the way our first stops are Nourlangie and Anbangbang, rich in indigenous rock art that entails an easy walk that snakes around all the artwork sites.
This walk is through some of the best examples of Australian savannah bush land. The weather is a perfect 28-30 degrees celsius with practically no humidity. After the last rock art on display there’s a relaxed walk through the bush to a lookout and at this time of year there’s a variety of vivid wild bush flowers in bloom. With the astonishing rock formations surrounding the walk you know you’re in a very special and spiritual land.
After our rock art and walk experience we visit the Warradjan Cultural Centre, which gives you a comprehensive insight into Kakadu’s indigenous cultural history.
From here it’s a short drive to Cooinda Lodge where we’ll spend the next two nights. There is a variety of accommodation here and also has sites for camping and caravans. The food is delicious and the resort has a real adventurous feel about it.
Cooinda is also where one of the top end’s greatest river adventure is based, called the Yellow Water Cruise. There are two cruises each day leaving at 6:45am and 4:30pm.
We do the 4:30pm cruise and our guide Amy explains to us that every kilometre travelled on the river we pass approximately 15 crocodiles, big prehistoric behemoth reptiles that look sedated but will have you in a death roll before you can blink.
And virtually on cue we see our first semi-submerged crocodile.
Our boat is a decent size and designed for spectacular viewing and very maneuverable and we’re sitting in the front seats and when we see our first crocodile our guide takes us to only metres away from this mega million year old beast. With a head full of massive serrated bacteria filled teeth, close up you can clearly see why this is one of the world’s most feared and prehistoric creatures. While we’re leaning forward to view it even closer for better photos the monster decides to make a sudden movement and I nearly wet myself. This is as good as wildlife viewing gets.
Anyway with my heart returning to beating normally I’m quite glad to move on. It’s not long before we’re being stared down by a glorious and regal sea eagle perched high up in the branches. Seconds later another crocodile sighting! But this 3.5 metre colossus is sunning himself on the bank of the river and though he looks harmlessly asleep on closer inspection we can see his cute and murderous eyes are actually wide open hoping for anything edible to unluckily wander past.
The yellow river tour is like a zoological movie; another sea eagle, a pied kingfisher, a tree full of white egrets and below them a squillion whistling ducks and then another couple of crocs. And that’s just what we can see, underneath the river there’s another life happening all on its own led by a huge amount of barramundi and other river fish that are undoubltly keeping the local crocodiles fat and contented.
Near the end of our cruise Kakadu National Park puts on a sunset spectacle that would’ve been worth doing the cruise just for this colourful phenomenon.
The dazzling colours of Kakadu turns a very good afternoon into one of the best two hours I’ve experienced and will be locked into my memory for a lifetime.
Next day is our last full day in Kakadu and it entails doing a Spirit of Kakadu 4WD adventure in a proto type truck that looks like it could be used as a Mars exploration vehicle.
We are picked up by our expert Kakadu guide Cameron at Cooinda Lodge at 7:30am and after an hour of driving through the glorious lush national park passing on the way wallabies, buffalos and some wild horses and one hideously ugly big black boar we arrive at an area where we refuel on a morning feast of fresh fruit, tea, coffee health bars and muffins. Full of energy we begin our first walk that takes us about 45 minutes hiking through rainforest and by a riverbank and we soon arrive at Maguk Gorge waterfall and swimming hole.
The water is crystal clear and crocodile free, the perfect Kakadu combination.
We don’t swim here but enjoy the solitude, sun and ambience before heading back to our ‘hummer on steroids’ to go to the renowned Gunlom Falls, which is about another hour’s drive away.
At the base of the falls the driver sets up our lunch that could’ve been from a five-star restaurant. The food was sensational and we gorged till we can eat no more.
After lunch we start our hike up to Gunlom Falls, that is quite challenging, but we take lots of breaks that gives us the time to enjoy the classic views. We soon arrive at the top and it is like we’ve arrived to Fantasy Island! There’s a waterfall filling three separate pools and if this was a travel brochure you’d think it was photo shopped!
The three pools are all shaped differently and the colours are post card perfection. The front pool is a natural infinity pool that allows gorgeous views of the valley and surrounding escarpments.
We all (eight of us) can’t get into our cozzies quick enough and for the next hour we indulge in a Kakadu National Park natural fantasy rock pool party.
Our time in Kakadu is only for three nights and four days and it’s hard to put into words what an extraordinary time we’ve had. This is my first visit to the top end and my love for Australia has soared into rarified air that I didn’t know existed.
Where to stay
Crocodile Hotel & Cooinda Lodge Kakadu, Yellow River Cruise and 4WD Adventure Tour: crocodilehotel.com
How to get there:
Vicky Gilden at Rose Bay Travel (02) 9371 8166