4 Days in Kakadu National Park

“Forty bucks?” I said. “Each?”

Paying $80 to enter Kakadu National Park felt like a price gouge, especially knowing that many of the roads were unsealed. Where was our money going, anyway?

Capitalists. Asking the questions that count.

Of course, now I don’t care about the $80 we paid. I remember a land that extends for 20,000 square kilometers, snatched from the jaws of mining corporations and designated as a World Heritage List site. Kakadu is a significant cultural site for the Bininj/Mungguy people, who have lived on the land for 65,000 years.

SIXTY-FIVE THOUSAND YEARS. I was grateful for the opportunity to be a visitor for a few days; it really drove home the deep Aboriginal connection to the land and what a joke it is that anyone else thinks they can lay claim to it.

We visited during the dry season (April to October) and spent three nights camping at Kakadu Lodge in the town of Jabiru. Initially we considered splitting our time between here and Cooinda, but ultimately decided to drive a little bit further on the last day rather than pack up camp and move.

Day 1: Arrival

White bird in Mamukala wetlands in Kakadu National Park
Elegant white bird (official name) at Mamukala Wetlands.

We drove from Darwin to Jabiru, stopping at the Mamukala wetlands on the way in. The observation platform is a great way to get a sense of the bird life out in the wetlands, but make sure you’ve topped up your mozzie repellent.

That afternoon we joined the ‘Sunset Over Stone Country’ Nawurlandja ranger walk in Burrungkuy (also known as Nourlangie) from 5pm. After a stop at the Angbangbang Billabong the group made its way up to the lookout for our first peek at the vast landscape of Kakadu.

Billabong Kakadu
Trees at the edge of Angbangbang Billabong, my favorite-named place in all of Kakadu.
Burrunggui, also known as Nourlangie Rock
Burrunggui, commonly known as Nourlangie Rock, thanks to some Europeans who got the name wrong and it stuck. Plans are in place to change it back.

Day 2: Rock Art

Kakadu is home to one of the world’s largest collections of rock art, much of it extremely well-preserved. We started the morning back at Burrungkuy for the Rock Art Talks, a series of three guided walks from 9am to 11am.

Aboriginal artwork depicting Namarrgon
The visual story of Namarrgon, Lightning Man – that’s him on the right.
Nabulwinjbulwinj: NOT a cool guy.

The ranger helped me see my surroundings from a different perspective; explaining that to the Bininj/Mungguy, the land was their chemist, supermarket, and hardware store all wrapped up into one. To my untrained eye, it was a collection of trees and plants, but for those who know the land it’s an incredibly rich resource. As she pointed out, Bininj/Mungguy people weren’t just ‘getting by’ in Kakadu for tens of thousands of years, they were thriving.

After a break in Jabiru for lunch and a swim, we drove up to Cahills Crossing to check out the salties. Rumor had it that if you wanted to see crocodiles in their natural habitat, this was the place to do it: a river crossing between Kakadu and Arnhem Land, impassable at high tides.

Daring to drive across Cahills Crossing at low-ish tide
Big salty croc resting on the banks at Cahills Crossing
That is one fat croc.
Saltwater crocodile in the Northern Territory
Oh hey, nice teeth you got there.

From there it was a five-minute drive to Ubirr for our final ranger-guided art walk from 4pm-6.10pm. We didn’t stay for sunset, but I’m sure we wouldn’t have been disappointed. The Ubirr lookout was stunning in the late afternoon, I can only imagine how it would look at sunset.

Rock art painting of a Tasmanian Tiger
Painting of a thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), which went extinct on the mainland 2000-3000 years ago, meaning this picture has been around at least that long.
View from Ubirr lookout, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory Australia
Views across Ubirr, a fine example of the photo absolutely not doing it justice.


Kakadu sunset lookout
It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all.

Day 3: Swimming

Jim Jim Falls is one of Kakadu’s more famous attractions, a powerful waterfall that is most impressive during the wet season. Access is via a 50km dirt road that may or may not have been recently graded. We went for it, despite knowing that the falls were likely to be dry, and were pleasantly surprised. The road’s condition was fine and we arrived at the plunge pool just as a tour group departed, so we had it all to ourselves.

Dirt road to Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu National Park
The road to Jim Jim.
Warning that Jim Jim Falls is in a croc management zone
Excellent. So reassuring.
Crocodile cage Kakadu
Croc trap: I’m not sure if I’d prefer it to be empty or occupied.

The hike gets challenging towards the end, when you’re climbing over large boulders to reach the pool. The falls themselves were a barely discernable trickle, but I hardly noticed. I was too bowled over by the scale of the walls surrounding the plunge pool and the brilliant white sandy beach. Worth the hike for sure.

Walking the white sandy beach at Jim Jim Falls
So weird to find a sandy beach in a gorge.
Calm plunge pool during the dry season at Jim Jim Falls
Honestly did not even notice that the falls weren’t running.

After Jim Jim we returned to the main road and continued south to Maguk Gorge. There are two hikes here: a sanctioned one kilometer walk to the main plunge pool and an unmarked trail to the top pools. By all accounts the top pools are the most impressive, but I was cowed into submission by the signs, which said that visitors must stay on the marked path.

Barramundi Gorge
Plunge pool at Maguk Gorge.
Diving into Maguk plunge pool
Jared executes a textbook horsey.

Day 4: Gunlom Falls

We packed up the tent in the morning and made the 176km drive to Gunlom Falls, our last destination in Kakadu. We stopped at the turnoff to unhitch the trailer and let down the tires before the final 40km on dirt road. These falls are the ones with the ‘infinity pool’ effect, and frequently pop up on Instagram. It’s a short (but steep!) hike up to the top, where you’ll find a collection of small pools with killer views. I can safely say this is the closest I’ve ever been to the edge of a waterfall.

Overlooking Gunlom Falls
Not as scary as it looks or I would not have been sitting there so casually.
A variety of natural pools sit at the top of Gunlom Falls
The Gunlom Falls swimming pools.
Gunlom Falls
Loving life.

We left Gunlom after lunch and continued to Katherine, our destination for the evening.

Tips for visiting Kakadu

  • Park passes are $40 per person (don’t worry, 100% of revenue goes back into the park!) and can be bought online at www.parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu
  • We camped at Kakadu Lodge ($30/night unpowered). It has a great pool area and (much to my surprise) strong Telstra reception.
  • Do at least one ranger walk! Download a schedule of activities here.
  • We didn’t do a Yellow Water cruise in Cooinda but they did get good reviews from people we talked to.
  • 4WD vehicles are recommended if going off the main drag; always check road conditions before starting your trip. The visitor centres usually have up-to-date info.
  • If towing, there are small bays at the start of the road to Jim Jim and Gunlom where you could conceivably leave a trailer. We locked up our trailer and left it at the start of the road to Gunlom, rather than taking it down the unsealed road. Do this at your own risk!
4 Day Itinerary for Kakadu National Park: Lateral Movements blog

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