As we drove out of Darwin I had a great sense of anticipation and excitement driving towards Kakadu. I must say first off that Kakadu has been for me the highlight of our trip so far. Interestingly there are a few naysayers out there that have coined the term ‘Kakadon’t’ because of the over commercialisation of the park and are of the opinion there are better places to see in the NT. While that might be true, I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Kakadu and would recommend it to those exploring the north.
I had put together a very well planned itinerary for our time there as the anticipated 7 or 8 days we had originally thought we would spend in Kakadu had whittled down to 4 or 5 days. We ended up spending 5 nights but it so easily could have been longer. There is so much to do!!
We decided to break the trip into two parts. The first part of our time would be spent at the northern end of the park at Merls Campground and then the second couple of days were yet to be decided. We arrived at Merls around lunch time and as the peak tourist season was coming to a close we had our pick of campsites with only two or three other campers occupying other sites. We planned to go to the guided ranger walks at Ubirr Rock that evening, but not before we made a quick trip to the Visitors Centre.
Our visit to Ubirr was both informative and transformative. Ubirr is particularly known for its Aboriginal rock art but it also has amazing views over Kakadu. The beautiful landscape once again captured my imagination with the richness of the indigenous culture and their love of country and story furthering my interest in this ancient people. The ranger was able to impart a real wealth of knowledge and an obvious love and respect for the land.
The view of the setting sun from the summit of Ubirr rock is absolutely stunning but unfortunately Tom had taken Tobias back to the car and the camera along with him. This being said, photos never do the experience any justice so it will just have to remain etched in my memory.
We headed back to our campsite and for the first time since beginning our trip we could not eat outside because of the mozzies!! They were vicious!! Matisse in particular cops it. The next day, although we took every precaution to stop her from being bitten, we were able to play dot to dot on her legs, poor poppet!!
On the agenda for our second day was Nourlangie. Nourlangie (Burrungkuy) is one reason why Kakadu is World Heritage-listed for outstanding cultural values. This place holds significance because it documents environmental and social changes in the region from 20,000 years ago to the first contact with European explorers reflected through rock art. There are layers and layers of art etched one upon the other. For the traditional owners the act of painting is itself the most important thing and therefore the newer paintings replace the old.
On our way into Nourlangie we also stopped in to Jabiru to pick up some supplies and to try and get some coverage in order to make some phone calls. Jabiru has an interesting history. It is a township in the world heritage listed Kakadu, yet was established as an uranium mining town. It is a unique juxtaposition. The mine is actually due to close in 2021 and Jabiru has become a bit of a ‘watch this space,’ with the NT government planning to invest millions in the area to ensure the towns survival and to improve tourism.
In the afternoon we went to visit Cahill’s Crossing. This is a water crossing into Arnhem Land that is synonymous with saltwater crocodiles. So off we went croc spotting. There were some who are much braver than I fishing off the rocks as five or six (visible) crocs lurk about. We all stood well back and observed from a very safe distance. It was also a little sobering to see these creatures at such close a distance in their natural habitat.
The next morning we packed up and headed to Cooinda Lodge. Cooinda was a find!! They don’t charge for kids (always a winner in my book), they have a great resort style pool, they have hot showers and they have a nightly ‘happy hour’ with half price drinks, What’s not to love?! We also ended up with a fantastic site. I was in a happy place and so were the kids!
Our first day at Cooinda was spent doing…well…not much. We sat by the pool, the kids swam and played at the playground and Tom and I partook in ‘happy hour’. The kids were able to make some friends with other kids who were also doing the ‘travelling thing’. Isaac in particular met up with his friend Luke who he has been bumping into ever since Uluru. This would be the last opportunity for them to play however as we were heading west and they were heading east to Cape York. It is amazing how many families are on the road. We have made friends with lots of families from all walks of life who are trying to take a break from the busyness of life and slow things down, all with their own reasons as to why they have decided to hit the road. It has been nice meeting and chatting to people along the way.
The next morning we headed out on the Yellow River Sunrise Tour. We spent two hours exploring the wetlands of the South Alligator River, a definite must while visiting Kakadu. The river system, the largest in Kakadu, is home to a diverse range of birdlife (over 60 species of birds) and other wildlife (buffalo and crocodiles) and is made up of extensive river channels, blackswamps and floodplains.
The sunrise tour was then finished off with a buffet breakfast back at Cooinda Lodge. Seriously good!! What a great way to start the day and now that we had been well fed we made our way to Maguk.
Maguk waterfall and plunge pool are a wondrous sight to behold. Not only because of their pristine beauty but also because of the arduous trek you have to make to get there you are so glad to finally reach them. Maguk falls lies within the Maguk escarpment and Arnhem Land Plateau that toogether make up the stone country. It is mostly comprised of ‘Kombolgie sandstone’ and has been dated at 1.8-1.6 billion years old. The plateau runs for approximately 500 kms.
To access Maguk you need a 4WD. Once arriving at the carpark there is then a moderate walk to get to the plunge pool through a monsoon rainforest. It was hot and it involved a bit of rock scrambling and coaxing of Tobias, but we made it in. We only swam in the bottom pool but the kids had fun jumping off rocks and swimming out to the falls.
Our final, big adventure in Kakadu was Jim Jim Falls. This was one of those epic moments that you are so proud of yourself for having achieved. Whoever writes the signs or figures out the walk gradings for NT Parks, I have come to the realisation, must be delusional. I learnt that I should never trust those silly signs and instead I would read the time suggestion and then add at least an hour or two! Nothing about Jim Jim was easy or ‘moderate’. It was a 4WD track in and then a tough, hot walk into the plunge pool which at times involved leaping between scalding, hot, boulders while carrying a 3 year old, but it was totally worth it. Tom and I marvelled together at the remoteness of this place and how we felt blessed at being counted among the few who had been lucky enough to visit. Getting to Jim Jim required an adventurous spirit and at the end of the day we all felt like we had achieved something worthwhile, the kids included.