Kakadu will take your breath away!
Have you visited Kakadu National Park yet? Steeped in history, rich in Aboriginal culture with wall-to-wall wetlands, waterfalls and wildlife. Kakadu should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Kakadu is a seemingly endless wilderness. Beautiful billabongs teeming with unique birds and other wildlife. Stunning waterfalls to laze in and enormous flood plains that stretch across the horizon.
Aboriginal people have a spiritual connection with this land and it’s easy to see why. Home to Aboriginal people for more than 65,000 years, Kakadu is recognised as the oldest living culture on earth.
Come with us and let Kakadu capture your heart.
Kakadu National Park is World-Heritage Listed
Did you know that Kakadu National Park is dual-listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list? Kakadu is recognised for both its outstanding natural values and, as a living cultural landscape. Only 37 sites worldwide have received this honour – and only four sites in Australia.
Ancient rock art and archaeological sites record the way of life of Aboriginal people over tens of thousands of years. Aboriginal rock art tells the story from before time. These paintings constitute one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world.
Kakadu’s ancient escarpment and stone country spans more than two billion years of the earth’s geological history. The coastal floodplains however, are more recent as they are shaped by changing sea levels and the big floods of the wet season, every summer.
My favourite things to do in Kakadu National Park
- Climb Ubirr Rock at sunset – any sunset will do!
- Experience sunrise on a Yellow Waters Cruise
- Explore Aboriginal rock art over 65,000 years old
- Take a scenic flight to experience the massive landscape within Kakadu
- Take the tour to Twin Falls and Jim Jim Falls
How long to stay in Kakadu
Spend at least 4 – 7 days, or longer if you want to get the most out of your Kakadu adventure. There is really so much to see and do in this national park that it would be a shame to rush your experience.
Our last visit to Kakadu was my fourth visit. We explore new places every time and always leave in awe of this magnificent place. Without doubt, we will visit again!
When to visit Kakadu
The best time to travel is between May and July when the waterfalls are still cascading heavily. The Australian winter months are when the nights are cooler, rainfall is almost non-existent and the barramundi are biting.
In the late dry season (September – October) the wildlife spotting opportunities are incredible. At this time billabongs begin to dry with the lack of rain and animals gather at the remaining permanent waterholes.
When the wet season arrives, thunder and lightening storms are frequent and provide spectacular sightseeing during (April – May) turning Kakadu and the Top End to a lush green overnight.
Getting around Kakadu National Park
Most popular attractions can be accessed with a 2WD vehicle, but you may need to take a tour unless you have a 4WD vehicle.
Kakadu is as big, as it is remote! At almost 20,000 square kilometres, Kakadu is Australia’s largest National Park.
The drive from Darwin to the Kakadu National Park takes approximately 3 hours. The main highways are good, however some roads within Kakadu are 4WD access only.
You will need to bring your own vehicle to get around or book a bus or 4WD tour. There are no taxis, buses or trains. If you’re travelling in the wet season, you may find some road closures so plan your visit to make sure you can access the places you want to.
Be sure to read our driving tips and check access to Kakadu roads. AANT provides a comprehensive report.
What to do in Kakadu National Park
Visit the Cultural Centres
Visit the Bowali Visitor Centre near Jabiru, the township centre within the National Park and Warradjan Cultural Centre near Cooinda.
Learn about the history of this ‘country’ (the Kakadu region) from the people who have lived here for over 65,000 years. There are interpretive displays, story boards and Aboriginal Arts and Crafts as well as a cafe and gift shop. Bowali and Warradjan Cultural Centres.
Join the national park rangers for activities throughout Kakadu. Take one of the onsite rock art talks, guided bushwalks, painting and weaving demonstrations at Bowali Visitor Centre in Jabiru, and Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the Yellow Water region. Many sites will also offer localised talks throughout the park.
Take a guided tour
Discover Kakadu with local tours, experience the wetlands on a sunrise cruise or take a stunning scenic flight over this magical wilderness. Enjoy the spectacular fishing spots, go boating in a billabong to catch a barramundi and spot some crocodiles in the wild!
- Hunt and gather with a traditional Aboriginal guide, eat traditionally-cooked bush foods beneath the southern stars listening to stories about their creation ancestors.
- Learn about Bush Medicines and learn about the healing properties of the native plants in the national park.
- Take an Aboriginal guided tour through the Rock Art Galleries and learn about the history of the ancient people of Kakadu.
Ikoymarrwa Falls and Rockhole
For a change of scenery, we decided to take the southern road into Kakadu National Park and turned at Pine Creek.
On the Pine Creek highway a signpost pointed to Ikoymarrwa Falls and Rockhole so we stopped to explore. It was just a short 2 – 3 kilometre drive off the highway until the road became too rough, so we walked the last 500 metres to this icy cold crystal clear swimming hole and waterfall. A perfect spot in a croc free waterhole to go swimming!
Yellow Waters Cruise
One of my most favourite things to do in Kakadu is to take a Yellow Waters billabong cruise at either sunset or sunrise. Expect it to be totally different every single time!
There is an abundance of barramundi and other fish in these billabongs, crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks and birds flitting from tree to tree. You will be surprised at how much wildlife you will see. Don’t forget to take your camera!
Sunset or sunrise at Ubirr Rock is ‘a must do’ for all visitors to Kakadu! It is easily accessible and about 40 kilometres drive from Jabiru.
Ubirr (pronounced Ooo beer) is famed as one of Kakadu’s two most famous rock art galleries in the National Park. The art galleries are an easy (one kilometre) circular walking track and are open access so you can walk along the self-guided pathway. If you’re visiting in the dry season, rangers deliver free talks (scheduled) about the ancient rock art and the stories behind the artwork.
A short, ‘not too difficult’ climb to the top of the rocky lookout will offer spectacular views over the floodplains below – horizon to horizon. Be aware, it does attract huge crowds at sunset so if you’re a morning person, my tip is to be there at sunrise.
If you’re visiting in the ‘wet season’ you will be rewarded with amazing wetland water views to the horizon and the most magnificent sunset you will ever see!
Visit Cahill’s Crossing
Cahill’s Crossing is a causeway on the East Alligator River leading into Arnhem land. If you’re heading to Ubirr Rock check the tides and arrive at Cahills Crossing as the tide changes! Its worth the experience.
Watch the turn of the tide crocodile feeding frenzy from the viewing platform above the river. See crocodiles feeding on barramundi and other fish as the tidal run-though occurs. Last time we visited there were over 40 large crocodiles aggressively positioning themselves for the best feasting advantage!
You may even see fisherman trying to catch barramundi from the causeway. These waters are heavily populated with deadly saltwater crocodiles so please do not do this!
Nourlangie Rock Art
Burrangkuy (Boor-oon-goy) is the name for the higher parts of Nourlangie art site which has been a shelter and art gallery for over 20,000 years. Paintings such as Namarrgon, the Lightning Man show the relationship of the people to their lands and beliefs.
A 1.5 kilometre circuit walk takes you through a wet season home for generations of Aboriginal people. Evidence of changing times is reflected by the rock art in the area.
From May to October, interpretive rangers invite visitors to join them as they share their knowledge of this ancient gallery.
The walks up onto the escarpment provide panoramic views across Kakadu.
Anbangbang Billabong is filled by the run-off from Nawurlandja, Nourlangie and Nourlangie Creek. The billabong is cut off during the dry season and attracts dingoes, wallabies and woodland birds.
The sandstone plateau of Nawurlanja and the walk to the lookout are the perfect location to do some birdwatching. You will likely see brolgas, kingfishers, rainbow bee-eaters, royal spoonbills, pelicans and magpie geese in these waterways.
The Anbangbang Gallery and other rock art nearby was photographed by British naturalist Sir David Attenborough in 1962.
We drove along a sandy track wondering where it would lead and were pleasantly surprised to find a gorgeous billabong and camping area at the end of the track. Sandy Billabong is, I think, the prettiest camping spot in the World Heritage-listed national park.
I didn’t dare stick my toes in the water as I’m certain there were crocodiles waiting for a tasty tourist!
Covered in nymphae and yellow snowflake waterlillies, there’s an abundance of birdlife both in and around the billabong.
You can see white-bellied sea eagles, fat well-fed magpie geese and long-necked darters stretching and drying their wings. There were plenty of beautiful kingfishers and rainbow bee-eaters foraging for insects in the nearby paperbark trees.
Be aware, there are crocodiles in this billabong.
Mamukala Wetlands & Bird Hide
Open in the dry season, Mamukala Wetlands and Bird Hide is a great place to view magpie geese and whistling ducks as they gather to feed. Watch the birds from the bird hide or along one of the walking trails beside the wetlands.
There are a number of marked walking trails which vary from 1 – 3 kilometres.
Gunlom Plunge Pool
Accessible only in the dry season, Gunlom Falls are located at the southern end of Kakadu and are at their best when the falls are flowing.
Gunlom is one of the most impressive destinations in Kakadu. A steep stairway to the top of the waterfall beholds a natural horizon infinity pool with sweeping views over the southern-most parts of Kakadu.
The huge plunge pool at the bottom of the falls perfect for swimming but be aware that there may be freshwater crocodiles sharing this waterhole.
Gunlom has a well maintained camping ground and picnic areas making it the perfect place to spend a few lazy days.
Take a scenic flight over Kakadu National Park
Its difficult to comprehend the ever-changing landscapes of Kakadu. When we last visited Kakadu we took a scenic flight for an airborne perspective of this vast country.
Once in the air the differing landscapes were clear and featured the rich colours of the sandstone escarpments glowing with the setting sun. Silvery floodplains showing buffalo churning up the edges of the freshwater billabongs and the fast-moving tidal rivers. There are acres of untouched tropical monsoon forests and the savannah woodlands.
Dave our pilot from Kakadu Air gave a great overview of the country below, and dropped low to point out herds of buffalo on the plains and saltwater crocodiles in the water. It was a great addition to our Kakadu experience.
Kakadu Air have a number of light plane and helicopter flight options to suit so if you can, consider a flight to your travel plans.
4WD Access only
Jim Jim Falls
The road into Jim Jim Falls is 4WD only. Take a local tour option if you don’t have a suitable vehicle.
Open during the dry season only, Jim Jim Falls are in the Arnhem Land escarpment and well worth the 2 kilometre return rocky walk. Jim Jim Falls are spectacular with a crystal clear water swimming hole and glorious white sandy beaches.
Twin Falls is 4WD access only so opt to go with a local tour operator if you don’t have a suitable vehicle.
Open during the dry season only, Twin Fall Gorge is high-up on the Arnhem Land escarpment. It is accessible via a ranger guided boat cruise, followed by a bushwalk and stroll along a boardwalk to the cascading falls.
Maguk is 4WD access only so if you don’t have a suitable vehicle, book a tour with one of the local tour companies. Open during the dry season only.
Take the bushwalk (1klm) through the shady monsoon rainforest along Barramundi Creek to reach the base of Maguk. The tranquil plunge pool has it’s own small waterfall.
At the southern end of Kakadu, 26 kilometres from the Gunlom turn off, lies a series of interconnected walking tracks which are a perfect for the adventure seeker. Fall in love with nature as you climb the escarpments and swim in tropical waterholes.
- Boulder Creek (2 km return)
- Motor Car Falls (7.5 km return)
- Yurmikmik Lookout (5 km return)
- Kurrundie Creek (11 km return – permit required – Bowali Visitor Centre)
HOW TO GET TO KAKADU NATIONAL PARK
- Fly into Darwin: The nearest Flight hub is at Darwin. Currently there aren’t any commercial flights direct into Kakadu.
- Drive from Darwin:
- Self-drive from Darwin via the Arnhem Highway.
- Hire a 2WD vehicle, 4WD or motor home in Darwin.
- Bus or 4WD tours to Kakadu are available.
Where to stay in Kakadu National Park
We share the love around when visiting Kakadu and usually stay at these hotels alternatively depending on where we’re planning to visit while in Kakadu.
Last visit we stayed at Cooinda Lodge as it was closer to Gunlom Falls and the escarpments we were planning to walk but if intend to visit Ubirr Rock and Cahills Crossing, the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel is closer.
There are other hotels and guest houses in Jabiru, so I’ve included a link for you to consider.
You’ll find this tropical style Cooinda Lodge beside Yellow Water Billabong under a canopy of shady trees. A village style open-air resort complete with caravan and camping facilities, a combination of lodge style apartments, bar and restaurant and swimming pools.
Tours can be booked from the reception and most operators will arrange a pick-up and drop-off for you.
If you’re after a relaxing place to stay, check out the accommodation choices at Cooinda Lodge.
Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel
One of the world’s most distinctive hotels, the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel is built in the shape of a crocodile. The croc-free swimming pool is located in the open-air belly of the building.
This hotel is rated four star accommodation however, is looking a little tired however the hotels restaurants and bars offer a good menu and you can generally watch an interpretive cultural show most weekends.
The Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel is a nice change from traditional accommodation in the outback so check out their accommodation options.
There are a range of campgrounds throughout Kakadu National Park which offer picnic tables and fire pits, as well as toilets and showers. The alternative is to get back to nature at a bush campground with basic facilities such as pit toilets, barbecues and picnic tables. Some have a small fee, while others are free. Find out the latest information here.
There are a few camping rules that you should follow to make sure you stay safe.
- Ensure you observe all safety signs, and be aware of crocodiles whenever you are near water in the park.
- Camp at least two metres above the high water mark for your own safety.
- Camp in designated camp sites well away from waterways.
Pin this for when you travel to Kakadu National Park
Have you got your park pass?
You will need a park pass to access Kakadu National Park. You can buy your pass online, at the Katherine Visitor Centre or the Bowali Visitor Centre in Jabiru.
The Australian Government has announced that park entry fees will be waived for visitors to Kakadu National Park from 16 March to 31 December 2020.
You’re travelling into remote Australia
Remember that you are about travel in to remote Australia.
Although there is a good supermarket, medical centre and bank in Jabiru, near the centre of Kakadu National Park, options are going to be limited.
The Top End is alive with crocodiles, both saltwater and freshwater.
Freshwater crocodiles are only found in Australia. They live in freshwater rivers, creeks and plunge pools such as Maguk and Gunlom. Usually shy, freshwater crocodiles can become aggressive if disturbed, so keep your distance.
Saltwater crocodiles are also found in India, South East Asia and Papua New Guinea. Often called ‘salties‘, they live in both freshwater and estuarine areas such as floodplains, billabongs, gorges, rivers and coastal waters.
Saltwater crocodiles are aggressive and predatory.
- Obey all crocodile warning signs and check with Rangers if you’re unsure.
- Do not enter the water and keep at least 50 metres from the water’s edge.
- Camp at least two metres above the high water mark.
- Camp in designated camp sites well away from waterways.
Respect these prehistoric reptiles. There is a reason they have survived this long!
Read more: Crocodile Facts
5 Essential Items to get set for your Top End adventure
- A Good Camera: There will be plenty of great photo moments in the Top End so bring along a good camera. I highly recommend the [easyazon_link identifier=”B00I8BICB2″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”territorymob2-20″]Sony A6000[/easyazon_link]. It’s light, compact and takes amazing photos!
- Sandals – A good pair of trekking sandals are vital in Kakadu and I love my [easyazon_link identifier=”B000ZI7KUK” locale=”US” tag=”territorymob2-20″]Ecco Yukan sandals[/easyazon_link]. Perfect for keeping my feet cool well supported with all the walking that I did. I wore them all day, every day!
- A long-sleeve hiking shirt: I love my [easyazon_link identifier=”B07RS55NB3″ locale=”US” tag=”territorymob2-20″]long-sleeve Simms shirt[/easyazon_link] for great airflow and protection from the Northern Territory sun. At the end of the day, a quick rinse will have it fresh and clean for the next day adventures.
- A Stainless Steel Water Bottle: Stay hydrated in the harsh Territory sun. Get yourself a [easyazon_link identifier=”B07B9T8C3N” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”territorymob2-20″]Yeti stainless water bottle[/easyazon_link] and refill as you go. Australian tap water is drinkable … and free!
- Good Sun Hat: You will need a good sun hat for protection. In my opinion you can’t go past this packable and foldable [easyazon_link identifier=”B07BMY7FJX” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”territorymob2-20″]Furtalk Womens Beach Hat[/easyazon_link]. Don’t ruin your holiday with sunburn!
Download these apps before you go
Download our visitor guide app and our bird app. Both will will work while you’re offline.
Kakadu Visitors Guide: This is a pocket visitor guide, complete with maps, contact numbers, things to do, where to stay and all the other information you’ll need.
Kakadu Birds App: Discover the many bird species throughout the park. Around 50 favourite birds with pictures, bird calls and notes on where to see them.
Read more about Darwin and the Top End
- Darwin to Kakadu – our 6 day itinerary to take in the best of Kakadu, Nitmiluk and Litchfield National Parks.
- Learn about the 6 seasons of Kakadu based on thousands of years of Aboriginal knowledge.
- Best things to do in Kakadu – Photo Essay
- Top Things to do in Darwin – see what the Top End is all about.
- Crocodile FACTS – things to know before you go!
Kakadu is vast and extraordinary country and one of the most spiritual places in Australia to visit. Be sure to add it to your Bucket List. This is truly the most remarkable place you’ll ever visit! Visit soon!
Reference: Kakadu National Park visitors guide. Parks Australia