Where: Kakadu, 3 hours from Darwin, North Australia
Best season: April or October
Best sights: Seeing ancient Aboriginal cave art, watery billabong wildlife like crocs and snakes
Remember to bring: sturdy closed boots, waterproofs, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent.
Kakadu National Park, situated in the Northern Territory about 3 hours drive east of Darwin, covers nearly 5 million geographically varied acres, comprising rainforest, tidal wetlands, floodplains, mangroves, grasslands and rivers. The area has been continuously inhabited for over 25,000 years and is the site of the earliest human settlement in Australia, but also hosts a significant and diverse range of flora and fauna. Winding for some 370 miles through the park is the dramatic Arnhem Land escarpment, a sandstone cliff line that is cut by deep gorges and crashing waterfalls, and whose many caves and overhangs have preserved galleries of Aboriginal art dating back thousands of years.
Kakadu takes its name from the traditional Aboriginal inhabitants of the area, many of whom still live within the confines of the park. Over 5,000 sites of Aboriginal art, some as ancient as 20,000 years old, have been recorded, many of which are of ceremonial or spiritual significance and therefore not accessible to tourists – please be sure to respect these restrictions. Where rock art sites are available for viewing, remember that the harsh climactic conditions of the area subject them to erosion as it is – don’t add to the problem by touching the painted rock surfaces.
When to go
Choosing when to visit Kakadu is made difficult by the extremes of the seasons in Australia’s top end. In the Wet Season, which runs from November to March, the humid conditions encourage a riotous profusion of plantlife and the monsoon rains swell the Jim Jim and Twin Falls to spectacularly thundering torrents. Perversely, this is also when the roads leading to them are impassable and many areas of the park are closed. (On the plus side, however, prices for accommodation can be as much as 50% less than in the dry season).
If you have cash to spare, you can enter the area and view the falls on a scenic flight – or you can 4WD there during the winter dry season when they are accessible, but often dried up and not “falling” at all! Generally, the best time to visit Kakadu will be either just after the Wet Season, when the waterfalls are still impressive or at the end of the dry season when an abundance of wildlife, including crocodiles, can be seen crowding around the rapidly diminishing billabongs (waterholes).
Whatever time of year you decide to visit, you should be prepared for the vagaries of the weather. Temperatures are high all year, exceeding 42C in the wet season and reaching highs of 33C in the Dry, so bring plenty of protection from the sun – a hat and sunscreen, plus adequate hydration are all essential. The tropical conditions also make an insect repellent absolutely vital! Although most of the 55 inches of annual rainfall hits in the wet season, downpours can strike at any time and you need to have enclosed boots – not least as protection against the resident snakes – and waterproofs. True to the film Crocodile Dundee which was shot in Kakadu – both the supposedly harmless freshwater crocodiles and lethal saltwater variety are common, so be wary of wading through rivers or swimming without prior advice. The best way to see them, if you are so inclined, is by boat on one of the many river cruises available.
There are a number of marked trails within the park, providing treks ranging in difficulty and length, but for true wilderness adventure, there’s any number of walking routes to be explored. Never attempt to walk one of these alone and always let someone – preferably a ranger – know what you are going to be attempting and when you expect to be back. Bear in mind also that permits are required if you are planning on camping other than on designated campsites.
The Fairfax Walkabout Australia Travel Guide
Provides useful tourist information on Kakadu and other destinations in Australia
For stunning images of Kakadu.
Article By Sarah Rodrigues