We were both really looking forward to Kakadu as it is frequently heralded as one of the top things to do in Oz and we had had such a great experience in Katherine Gorge. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite rise to our high expectations. We are fully aware that we visited right at the end of the dry season which isn’t the best time to be there so this is not a complaint, our aim is simply to be honest. Our biggest issue was the unrelenting heat and the fact that some of the main sights do require water for them to be at their best. There were some parts that were excellent and we will go in to glowing detail here.
We had made an early start to cover the 100kms to Kakadu in order to beat the heat of the day. This plan failed spectacularly as the temperature was in the 30s by 7am and rose steadily throughout the day. We stopped on the way in for the compulsory picture with the trip mascots.Many people visit Kakadu on trips from Darwin, coming in to the North of the park, whereas our route brought us in from the South. This meant that the first sites that we saw in the southern end of the park were relatively underpopulated with tourists, although at no point did we have the place to ourselves. Many of the best spots are only accessible by 4WD track and as a general piece of advice for people road-tripping in Oz we would say go with the 4WD, you miss out on so much without it. Gunlom was our first stop, where there is a waterfall and swimming area. It was a lovely spot but we weren’t yet tempted in for a swim, despite the heat, and so continued on our route north.Kakadu is absolutely huge and our next stop, the Gungurul lookout, is a really good spot to appreciate this. From the end of the short track the park opens up in front of you in mile after mile of savannah and, judging by the tour group who were there at the same time as us, it is also a popular spot for bird watching. It was getting towards lunch when we arrived at Maguk, so we set up in some shade and ate lunch from under our fly nets (purchased after the Lawn Hill debacle).By this time we were definitely in need of a swim and so braved the 2 kilometre track to falls. It took some real motivation to do so as we were struggling with the heat and Heidi’s air-con was very appealing but we persevered, breaking one of our trip rules by not putting on trainers to walk there. We paid for this dearly when clambering over the rocky path to and from the falls. That being said, the walk and the swim were both well worth it and we noted that we need to make ourselves do things even when it is hot and sweaty.Somehow, Caro managed to leave her bra behind at the swimming hole having changed in to her bikini when we arrived. She only realised when we were nearly back to the car but, although we retraced our steps, we never found it. Presumably Caro’s bra is now someone’s souvenir… or it’s been pinned to the wall of a bar. Despite this wardrobe malfunction, James still managed to secure the “most bizarrely dressed” award with this particular confection:We have both been impressed by the dramatic increase in resources and information about Aboriginal culture that is now readily available compared to when we visited Australia a decade ago. The Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Kakadu is an excellent example of this and we spent an interesting hour improving our thus far limited knowledge. We made a brief stop at the Yellow River wetlands, brief because the area is apparently best explored by expensive boat trip and we, as ever, were going for the free option. There is a boardwalk that allows you to venture a short distance out in to the wetlands with the most astonishing thing being the complete contrast of lush greenery and abundant wildlife to the arid land around it.Our first day in Kakadu had been a challenging and hot one and we were both still feeling the effects of our very hot walk and muggy night’s sleep a couple of days earlier. As it was still in the 40s when we called it a day at 5.30pm, we opted once again for a powered site, air conditioning and the guarantee of a good night’s sleep.
Feeling re-energized the next morning, we hurried up to Cahills Crossing in order to get there for high tide and the promise of saltwater crocodiles. Cahills Crossing is where the river separates the park from Arnhem Land and is pretty cool in and of itself as you watch it disappear under the rising water. We arrived with 20 minutes to spare so we hid in the shade and watched anglers wandering up and down the causeway in the increasingly deep water. We found this rather baffling given that we had been all but guaranteed some salties and they don’t tend to be receptive to humans on their turf.We were just starting to think that maybe we had misunderstood the timings when we were joined by 4 carloads of people all staring with great anticipation at the crossing and we were all rewarded within minutes when we spotted a croc gliding downriver with the tide. As it swept over the causeway it snatched up a fish which was being helplessly pulled along by the tide, fairly easy pickings for the croc and a great viewing opportunity for us. We were all staring beady-eyed upriver waiting for more to arrive and so it took us a while to realise that they were all coming from the other direction. As the crocs swam up to the crossing, fish were leaping out of the water trying to move out of their paths but the tide had other plans. The crocs at Cahills Crossing all look pretty well fed. This was our first croc sighting and we were spoiled with at least 11 in one spot. Here is a pretty murky picture of a couple of crocodiles:With a good start to the day under our belts we made our way back to Heidi with a bit of a bounce in our steps and drove the short distance to Ubirr. There is no more sophisticated way to describe it; Ubirr is seriously cool. It is essentially an outdoor gallery for two-thousand-year-old Aboriginal rock art and it is incredible how well preserved some of the drawings are. Once you know what to look for you find yourself scampering around the rocks trying to find the next turtle or kangaroo. There are also free talks with the rangers at different times of day, we caught the last 10 minutes of one and it was clear that they know their stuff and, had we been a bit more organised with our timings, we would have loved to have heard more. We weren’t sure whether or not we were allowed to take pictures, as you are often asked not to at Aboriginal sites, so we erred on the side of caution and didn’t. Now you have an excuse to go and see them yourselves. Possibly our favourite spot in Kakadu was at the top of Ubirr which is an easy climb with rock art to view on the way. There are panaormic views of Kakadu and across in to Arnhem land, the immediate surroundings are lush and green giving way to scrub land and gorges. With the added appeal of a glorious breeze, we could happily have sat there all day… but there were ridiculous pano photos to be done:We were working our way out of the park and a stop at the main Visitor Centre was, of course, compulsory, if only to compare it to the others that we have enjoyed so much. It’s a good’un! It houses huge amounts of information about the history of the park, the wildlife, the impacts of dry and wet seasons and excellent exhibits. The crowning glory was a small, blissfully air-conditioned cinema showing a splendid documentary series capturing the life in the park for its inhabitants and the rangers who manage it, like Countryfile on acid. We were both completely absorbed and could have watched for far longer than the 45 minutes that we allowed ourselves, we have vowed to track down the full 4 episodes to watch later.
Our final stop was the Mamukala Wetalnds bird hide where we were wowed by the sheer number of birds, particularly the Pink Footed Geese which James was very taken by.Kakadu is extremely varied in its habitats and wildlife and as a result there are so many different things to experience. We would have loved to stay for a few days, do some of the longer walks and see more of what was on offer but the heat, and subsequently our tempers, just didn’t allow for it. And so we continued north to explore Darwin…