3 Days in Kakadu National Park
Did you know Kakadu is Australia's largest national park? Kakadu covers nearly 20,000 square kilometres, much of which is inaccessible without a 4WD vehicle. We could've spent weeks exploring here, but had to rush on to Litchfield and Darwin to get our Canadian friends back in time for their flight home! An itinerary for 3 days in Kakadu National Park is recommended if you're short on time, or don't have access to a 4WD vehicle to get to the more remote areas.
I'd highlighted a few spots in the park to visit from blogs and Instagram, but we didn't have a park map or much cultural information on hand. Since we were coming up from the south, we stopped at the Mary River Ranger Station to double check on some closures. This station had restrooms and some signage, but surprisingly no park information brochures. There was a map with campgrounds, but it had no information about how long the hikes in were or road condition reports.
The ranger station did have signage that mentioned the Gunlom Falls upper pools are closed due to a request from the native tribe. We were told by a park ranger that the trail goes though a sacred ceremonial site, so it will be closed for the forseeable future. If you still want to visit, the lower pool is open, and so is the campground. We decided to skip Gunlom and headed to Maguk instead!
This waterfall is accessible to 4WD vehicles via a 10km unsealed road. It might be accessible to 2WDs if it's dry and you're not driving a rental! We saw a few vans that made it in here, but the road is quite rough in spots and we saw quite a few lost hubcaps. Our friends parked their campervan at the turnoff and hopped into our rig. We flew through a mud puddle expecting it to be quite shallow but almost lost a wheel down there, so go carefully!
Once you park, there's about a 20 minute rock scramble to the waterfall. It was hot when we were there, but so worth it.
The water wasn't very cold, but it was great to be able to take a dip here. Make sure you don't swim in the river!
There is a campground at Maguk but we decided to get a bit further north. We drove back out, stopping at a pull-off with some massive termite mounds! They're HUGE!
Mardukal Campground also looked nice but we needed to charge up our batteries in the trailer to keep the fridge running. We camped at the Cooinda Lodge, which has a bar and restaurant and multiple swimming pools. Would recommend if you're not looking to go bush!
I was crushed to find that the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre was closed due to renovations, and there's no planned reopening date. We considered the Yellow Water boat tour which gets rave reviews, but at $90 per person it was a bit out of our budget. So we continued on to the Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) heritage site.
The Anbangbang Rock Shelter was a highlight, offering insight into the traditions and stories surrounding this area. The Indigenous tribes used to take shelter here during the pre-monsoon season (which is when we visited) to avoid frequent lightning strikes.
The art along the rest of the Nourlangie Trail tells stories of the people that have been coming here for over 6,000 years.
There are normally ranger-guided hikes during the busy season, but due to COVID these were not available.
The storm clouds started rolling in as we got to the lookout, so we made our way back to the cars.
Bowali Visitor Centre
This visitor centre was more what I was looking for, with a park ranger on hand to answer questions, park brochures and maps, and a cultural exhibit. You'd normally pay a $40 entrance fee here, but the fees were waived when we visited.
There were many interesting displays in the little musuem. One was about the region's six seasons - Monsoon (Gudjewg), Knock 'em down (Banggerreng), Cooler but still humid (Yegge), Cold weather (Wurrgeng), Hot dry (Gurrung), and Pre-monsoon storm (Gunumeleng), which is when we visited. Read more about the seasons here.
We were also fascinated to learn some ancient legends about the sickness land, which has since been found to be a radioactive area rich in uranium. Even though the Indigenous peoples didn't have a scientific reason to avoid that area, they knew not to eat or drink anything from there, and told stories to keep people out.
After having a browse around, we headed to Jabiru to set up camp for the night. We stayed at Aurora Kakadu Lodge & Caravan Park, jumped in the pool for a cool down, and had a lazy restaurant meal since we were pretty much out of groceries. If you need to stock up in Jabiru, be aware that the grocery store prices are exorbitant but there's nothing else available for a long way.
If you want to witness crocodiles in the wild, head a half hour north of Jabiru to Cahills Crossing.
If you've done any research about the N.T. you've most likely heard about Cahills Crossing. This is a rite of passage for any 4WD, with crocodiles lurking in the murky water and a strong current at higher tides. There are hundreds here at any time, but we only saw a few tracks through the mud and the occasional head above the water.
The tides affect the river level, and the most crocs can be viewed at high tide. People have died here, so only cross if your vehicle is capable and do not leave your vehicle in the middle. Take note that the other side of the crossing is native land, so you can only go further than the turnaround with a permit.
Ubirr Rock Art Site
Just north of Cahills Crossing is Ubirr. This rock art site is one of the best in the world, with rare examples of x-ray paintings (see below).
The trail goes past many areas of rock art, and eventually winds its way up to a scenic lookout.
The sunset is supposed to be spectacular from up here, but since it was raining we opted to head back to camp.
The next day we drove back towards Darwin. There's not much along the road, and very little mobile service, so we kept in touch with our friends using our radios.
Our next stop was Litchfield National Park, which we actually liked a lot better than Kakadu... Subscribe below to get a notification when the next blog is posted!
Tips and Tricks
Take note when leaving Katherine or Darwin that there's not much along the way! Fuel up and have plenty of supplies with you.
If you want to truly explore Kakadu, you'll need a 4WD and you will need to visit during the drier parts of the year.
There's honestly not a lot in Jabiru. There's a small grocery store with exorbitantly-priced food, a servo, a few caravan parks, and the famous crocodile-shaped hotel. I wouldn't make this a destination, just a stopping-over point to leave plenty of time for Ubirr and Cahills Crossing.