Territorians and visitors are in two camps when it comes to Kakadu – some happily call it Kaka DO while others call it Kaka DON’T.
On our third visit to Kakadu we were not planning to stay long, just revisit a few favourite places and then move on. Fate however, had a different idea. After breaking a suspension pin on the corregated road out of Gunlom, we spent five days at Cooinda Lodge campground near Yellow Waters waiting for replacement parts and thoroughly enjoyed taking the time to explore new tracks and billabongs.
Juvenile Jabiru takes flight over a Kakadu Billabong
Kakadu is an enormous park covering 20,000 square kilometres. Aboriginal people have inhabited this land for more than 65,000 years and they are still very much custodians of the land along with National Parks. Members of the Bininj/Munggay Groups live, hunt, work and conduct cultural business on the land. Those that we met were proud of their connection to the land and eager to have white-fellas experience it.
We began our visit to Kakadu in the Mary River Region in the south of the park. Its one of seven regions that make up the Park the others being: South Alligator; Jabiru; East Alligator; Nourlangie; Yellow Water; Jim Jim and Twin Falls. In the Mary River Region we camped at the managed camp-ground at Gunlom. It’s quite a big camping area and arriving at the end of a long weekend we were amazed at the number of vehicles leaving. It seems there had been 400 camped the night before. Gunlom has a plunge pool at the base of a waterfall a short walk across a grassy picnic area. The plunge pool is popular with families but the real reason to visit is the top pool known as the infinity pool for its aspect and spectacular views of the valleys and plains below.
The Infinity Pool, Gunlom
The Infinity pool is at the top of a very steep “goat track”. If you don’t like heights or climbing you may want to rethink this one but determination to “get the shot” made Fran continue on and Bazz found it challenging but okay. The swim and the views at the top are certainly worth the struggle up. It’s a favourite spot for international tourists and there were quite a few in the pool when we arrived. Our strategy of doing the walks at the beginning or end of the day paid off again and with a bit of patience we were able to get some shots with and without people in them.
A small waterfall at Gunlom
Also in the Mary River Region is the Maguk plunge pool and falls. The road in to Maguk is 4WD but it was not too bad as far as National Parks roads go. Crossing the river and following the arrows takes you to a largish plunge pool at the bottom of the falls. We followed the path to the left of the river that took us to the top of the fall. This is a beautiful area and the short walk takes you through monsoon rainforest, up a few steep climbs and finally to the escarpment above the smaller pools at the edge of the lazy flowing falls.
While waiting for our trailer part to arrive we stayed at Cooinda Lodge Caravan Park in the Yellow Water Region. The park is very clean, tidy and well maintained. It was great to have access to a fabulous Bistro too. There were also two pools, great amenities, power and for a change, phone coverage.
The Bistro at Cooinda Lodge and Campground
Some of our best memories of Kakadu from our previous visits revolve around a private photography tour we did on Yellow Water. That tour no longer operates but we were not at all disappointed with the regular tour and in fact we took the opportunity to do both sunrise and sunset tours as part of their ‘second tour at half price’ offer.
Misty Sunrise on Yellow Waters
Crocodile at Yellow Waters
The morning tour certainly had the best birds including the Little Kingfisher, which was a new one to tick off our life list. The afternoon tour had an Aboriginal Guide, Travis and hearing the stories of his family living at Kakadu was a highlight as was his didgeridoo playing at sunset. We did feel concerned at the number of Buffalo we saw on the wetlands while on the tour – there seems to be more feral animals in this park than native.
Didgeridoo with Travis at Sunset
Herd of wild Buffalo at Yellow Water
Watching the sunset over the flood plain from the escarpment at Ubirr in the East Alligator Region is a very special experience and one that we think should be enjoyed with quiet respect. That has become more difficult as more and more people flock there to take “selfies”. Many international guests do sit quietly and respectfully but others are quite obviously just there to add to their Instagram profile.
Sunset at Ubirr
This area has been frequented by Aboriginal people for centuries for food and shelter and has a rich Indigenous Art Gallery in the nearby rock caves.
While in the East Alligator Region a visit to Cahill’s Crossing provided hours of entertainment. At low tide the crossing is almost dry and vehicles cross between Kakadu and Arnhem Land, fishermen flick lures for barramundi and crocodiles appear every now and then for a lazy glance at the comings and goings on the bank. As the incoming tide rises a crazy thing happens, it changes from rapidly flowing one way, downstream, to be a torrent the other with the incoming tide in the space of a few minutes. With this change the crocs become very active. They face the current, mouths open ready to snap up any unsuspecting fish caught in the turmoil of water rushing over the causeway. Crocodiles also use the higher tide to cross over the crossing from one side to the other – occasionally very close to fisherman who are intent on staying as long as possible to catch the elusive barramundi on the rising tide. As vehicles approach either side of the crossing, tourists watching from the viewing platform hold their collective breaths, cameras poised, wondering are they going to risk the crossing and maybe end up adding to the toll of wrecks visible at low tide that didn’t make it across.
A car that didn't make the crossing at Cahill Crossing in the background while a fisherman retrieves his Barra catch.
Crocs line the crossing at high tide to catch fish caught in the current
In the Nourlangie Region we took a 6km sandy track drive to Sandy Billabong one of several “bush camp” options in the Park. The Billabong still had a reasonable amount of water and was very pretty but here as we found most places with water, the banks are heavily eroded by the presence of feral animals, pigs, cattle, buffalo, horses and donkey. We witnessed another serious case of this erosion at Anbangbang Billabong at the foot of Nourlangie Hill where at least several meters of the bank have been damaged by the same feral animal medley roaming wild in the park.
On our way out of the park towards Darwin we called in at the Mamukala Wetlands. The wetlands are viewed from a fabulous observation platform with interpretive signs showing the seasons and the array of birdlife that can be expected to be seen in each season. We stayed for quite a while photographing Great Egret, Comb-crested Jacana, Green Pygmy Geese, Rainbow Bee Eaters, Jabiru and the ever present Whistling Kite.
Great Egret at Mamukala
As for our experience here, well it’s definitely a Kaka DO. It’s well worth a visit for the diversity of landscapes, the rich bird life and very much alive indigenous culture. It WAS sad to see some places rundown and some facilities and tracks in urgent need of maintenance and a serious upgrade. It’s a reminder that while spending Government funds on National Parks might not be sexy, it is important to preserve these amazing places and the amount of international tourist dollars let alone the travelling Aussie dollars this place, K,Do brings in would have to be a significant contributor to the Territories revenue.