As the largest National Park in Australia, Kakadu is the big daddy when it comes to exploring this vast land’s natural wilderness. Situated in the Northern Territory, a few hours drive from Darwin, Kakadu is a steamy tropical mix of wetlands, and floodplains, escarpments and gorges. It’s an important UNESCO site and one of only 32 places around the globe listed for both its cultural and natural world heritage. With its landscapes and natural biodiversity charting crucial elements of the earth’s geological history, as well as its rock art and archeological footprints mapping out the story of one of the world’s oldest human civilisations, Kakadu is world heritage on a grand scale.
Amazingly however, before I came to Australia, I had never actually heard of Kakadu. This is pretty shocking for someone who loves nature, the great outdoors, anthropology and history, but it’s true! I am now happy to hold my hand up to this embarrassing feat however, because it pales into insignificance against the gratefulness I feel at having now seen, smelt, slept in and swam at this great natural wonder.
My time to visit Kakadu came when I was in Darwin, after journeying up, on a massive road trip, through the red centre of Australia. By this point, I had come to hear about the infamous Kakadu and knew it had to be on my hit list. Ever the budget conscious traveller, I didn’t fancy an organised tour however, so immediately started investigating the possibility of a shared trip with others via the ever trusty gumtree. I was lucky enough to find 3 people who had a 4wd drive and were also heading into the park for a few days of wild camping. I quickly emailed the group and the next day was stood on the street in Darwin, with a bag, a tent and plenty of food, fired up for a great adventure. 4 days, 1 breakdown and a whole lot dirtier we emerged the other side, exhausted, but so pleased we’d had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the great Kakaku National Park.
Watch Sunset at Ubirr
This is where we went on our first night in Kakadu and my oh my, what an introduction to the place. The landscape spread before you, as you climb up the rocks to watch the sunset, is as diverse as it is far reaching and as the colours of it change with the setting sun, I have to admit I couldn’t help but shed a tear at the simply incredible view. Photos won’t do it justice, but this is undoubtedly one of my absolute must-dos in Kakadu National Park.
Swim at Gunlom Falls
Depending what time of year you go to the park (largely divisible by either the dry or wet season), different areas of Kakadu will be available to you. Visiting right at the start of dry season – May – all the crocodiles had been cleared out of the water holes and we were able to swim in the breathtaking waters of Gunlom Falls. Get to the top pool, cool down from the tropical sun and admire the view stretched out before you … it feels like you are perched at the edge of the world!
Visit the Bowali Visitor Centre
A thoughtful, intelligent and sophisticated Visitor Centre, this is one of my must-dos in Kakadu National Park, because of the brilliant way it sets the things you are seeing and doing within a contextual framework. Giving you a greater insight and therefore a greater understanding of what you are witnessing in Kakadu only helps you appreciate this important world heritage site more. The centre also gives you a greater insight into the hugely momentous culture of the aboriginal people, their profoundly symbiotic relationship with nature and their highly sophisticated survival techniques within this harsh environment.
Birdwatch at Mamukala Wetlands
The floodplains and wetlands are one of Kakadu’s main features and important preserved areas which are home to thousands of migratory birds and unique ecosystems. Shaded huts at Mamukala, make bird watching across this landscape an easy and accessible activity, which is great for families. Are also 3 walks in this area that allow you to get a bit closer to the action.
Discover Ancient Rock Art at Nourlangie
A spell binding example of the longevity and ingenuity of indigenous Australian people, the rock art found in Kakadu is some of the oldest in the world, dated at around 20,00 years old. The chance to see something created by a human that long ago blows my mind and charts a story that you cannot help but feel some connection with.
There are also some great walks to visit in Kakadu, as well as some fantastic opportunities to get up and close with other wildlife including crocodiles and turtles. You just need the time, as the vastness of this National Park cannot be over estimated. As such, I really recommend doing a bit of planning before your visit to Kakadu, including mapping out a route to drive and where you intend to sleep. This will help ensure you get to see and do all you want during your time in the park.