Towards the end of my year living in Australia, I had the chance to visit one of the country’s greatest treasures: Kakadu National Park. I was lucky enough to have a friend who had access to a 4WD truck, which is required to see some of the bigger and more remote sights in the park. After living and working my last three months in Darwin, we decided to go out and spend our final weekend in Australia camping and exploring the park with some other adventurous backpackers.
Kakadu is huge, covering nearly 20,000 square kilometers. That’s half the size of Switzerland! At this size, getting around obviously takes some time, which is why a proper visit should take at the least a couple days. At first glance, driving through the park is fairly monotonous as we drove through a large expanse of gum tree forests, a lot of which has been burned by bush fires. There are, however, a considerable number of hidden gems and interesting places that make Kakadu one of Australia’s most popular and unique national parks: stunning gorges, hidden waterfalls, lush wetlands, and ancient aboriginal art sites. All of this combined makes it one most beloved places in Australia and it has the status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are just some of the major highlights you can find:
Ubirr & Nourlangie Art Sites
The East Alligator and Nourlangie regions of the park are where you’ll find one of the park’s major attractions: ancient aboriginal rock art. Some of the paintings are believed to be 20,000 years old and typically depict creation stories, but also paintings of animals that the Aborigines hunted and paintings depicting the first encounters with white settlers.
Location: 12° 51.894’S 132° 48.611’E
Accessibility: Most sites are accessible by paved road, but may be restricted by flooding in the wet season.
Sunset From Ubirr Rock
The sunsets in the Top End are legendary, with brilliant displays of color reflecting off the billabongs and wetlands. A great spot to catch the sunset is from the top of Ubirr Rock (pictured above).
Location: 12° 24.522’S 132° 57.255’E
Accessibility: All vehicles (may be restricted due to flooding in wet season)
Croc Spotting At The East Alligator River
Ironically, there are no alligators in East Alligator River. It is instead the home to thousands of fresh and saltwater crocodiles. If you want to see some big crocs, this is the place! We took a brief break here and in just 10 minutes we spotted 7 in one little section of the river.
Location: 12° 25.577’S 132° 57.914’E
Accessibility: All vehicles (dry season)
Jim Jim Falls
Perhaps the most famous waterfall in the park, this area can only be accessed during the dry season by 4WD vehicle and a 2 km walk over boulder fields and through monsoon forests. At the peak of the dry season (July-October), the falls actually dry up and cease to flow so the best time to visit is at the beginning of the dry season when the falls are still thundering down the cliff face surging with wet season rain.
Location: 13° 16.399’S 132° 50.311’E
Accessibility: 4WD only (dry season)
Also known as Barramundie Gorge, this quite swimming spot is in the southern part of the park. Getting here is recommended by 4WD but it may be possible for a car to make it here. Unlike some of the other falls in the park, this one flows year-round.
Location: 13° 19.097’S 132° 26.280’E
Accessibility: 4WD only (dry season)
My personal favorite place in the park, this serene place is like a natural infinity pool. The plunge pool is situated on top of a cliff among a shady grove of gum trees with sweeping views overlooking the park. Getting there requires a short but steep climb to the top of the falls and on a hot day a dip in the pool is super rewarding and refreshing!
Location: 13° 25.874’S 132° 25.081’E
Accessibility: Possible with 2WD, 4WD recommended (dry season)
No trip to Australia is complete without visiting Kakadu National Park. It’s exactly how I imagined Australia to be–huge skies, big gorges, endless expanses of gum trees, great camping, big crocs and other Aussie wildlife, Aboriginal culture. It’s a special place not to be missed!