Ahhh, Kakadu. We had always planned to do Kakadu before we got to Darwin, but as things turned out, we had to wait until after our stay in Darwin. And in the lead up to our Kakadu adventure, we’d been hearing and reading a number of reviews that had sparked the whole Kaka-du vs Kaka-don’t debate. And I don’t get it. Without a doubt, it’s Kaka-du all the way. It’s one of the most diverse and stunning landscapes I’ve seen, made up of easy walks and amazing views to challenging walks and even more amazing waterfalls.
We broke our Kakadu stay into three parts saying at the Kakadu Lodge in Jabiru, Cooinda Lodge in Cooinda and the Mary River Roadhouse at Mary River. From Jabiru we headed towards Ubirr where we detoured through to Cahills Crossing in the hope of seeing the crocodiles feast on Barramundi with the changing of the tide. Whilst we did see several crocodile, we didn’t see the so called ‘feast’ having missed it by an hour or so.
Corey had a go at catching a barra with the new lure he’s bought from Reidy’s lures but with no bites, and a constant eye on the banks for signs of crocs, he didn’t have any luck.
We continued on to Ubirr and one of the most stunning landscapes we’ve seen. The 1km loop walk around Ubirr features some stunning indigenous rock art that has been extremely well preserved.
The path then continues up into the rocky hillside and up onto an escarpment which overlooks a lush green savannah plain. The grass was so bright it looked neon and the view was so majestic, I half expected to see elephant, giraffe and zebra meander in front of my eyes. It was truly beautiful.
Everyone rates Ubirr at sunset, but because we’d been at Cahills Crossing by 2pm to make the high tide, it was a challenge to stretch the girls out that far so we finished off the walk and left about 5.30pm, an hour before sunset. Still, it was stunningly beautiful regardless.
The next day we ventured down to Jim Jim falls. We’d heard that it was beautiful but weren’t expecting the challenge of the walk that lay ahead. Although a 900m walk doesn’t seem too difficult, it was 700m of rocky pathway and 200m of boulder hopping. We didn’t anticipate how challenging and had opted not to have lunch before we went – bad mistake!!! It was exhausting for the girls, not that dissimilar to the Emma Gorge walk at El Questro, but thankfully, this one was mostly shaded.
The main Jim Jim pool was closed due to crocodile, but the waterfall pool was still open. Corey and the girls went in (it was way too cold for me) and even Miss B who generally doesn’t flinch, even got out because it was freezing.
But gee it was stunning. One of the most impressive waterfalls we’ve seen – not because of the fall itself, but rather because of the vertical walls that created a semi-circular ampitheatre.
We made our way back and made vegemite sandwiches before heading back to camp.
The next day we moved on, with the van, to Cooinda. We were scheduled in to do a Yellow Water sunset cruise that afternoon so spent much of the afternoon in the pool. The girls made a few friends and were happy to run around whilst I chilled out listening to some podcasts.
When we decided we wanted to do a cruise, we’d heard that the dawn cruise was great because the animals were becoming more active early in the morning. I was keen to see some brolga so we decided to splurge on the cruise. When we booked online, for an extra $50, we could also do the sunset cruise the night before and it seemed like too good an opportunity, so that afternoon we lined up to get on the bus to take us down to the boats. We were lucky that another family we’d met at El Questro with three daughters were also on our cruise so the girls kept themselves occupied allowing us to enjoy the very amusing tour guide Dennis.
Dennis is half Kiwi and half indigenous, his mother hailing from Cooinda. We were able to learn a lot about the cultural significance of the Yellow Water billabong and Alligator River area.
And the sunset was amazing!
The following morning, we were up super early to get ready for the dawn cruise. Despite the fact that the dawn cruise came with a free buffet breakfast, we made toast for the girls and had a coffee before we headed down. The dawn cruise was quite different despite following the same route. The colours were different and there was heaps more wildlife present. We could see and hear the brolga but they weren’t close enough to the edge for a good look.
Unlike when Janet went on the same tour a few weeks prior and got this awesome snap of them dancing! I wish I could say this was my stunning pic but alas, those brolga just wouldn’t play the game!
We also got to see Maxxie, the resident alpha male croc in the Alligator River.
After the cruise, we had breakfast and although we should have gone and done Maguk falls, we didn’t want to wear out the girls before we tackled Gunlom so we headed out to Nourlangie to explore some more indigenous rock art. The art in this area is quite amazing and the Nourlangie rocks were a place of shelter for the indigenous people before settlement. It is said that some of the artwork has been touched up in the 1960’s and I could believe that as many of the artworks were particularly vibrant.
The walk was a good one, making its way in amongst the rocks revealing safe and secure caverns and hiding spots. We walked to the top of the lookout before heading back down, having lunch and heading back to camp for some more pool time.
We didn’t get as early a start as we’d hoped by the time the girls were finished saying their goodbyes to the other girls that were camped near us, but nonetheless, we arrived in at Mary River Roadhouse by lunchtime. We threw a load of washing in the machine and once hung out, we headed to a local rockpool that we recommended to us by the staff at the road house, which isn’t on the map. The Rockhole was a pretty little spot and Corey and the girls went for a swim (too cold for me!) until it was too cold for the girls. We then headed back where they continued their swim in the pool.
They also had the best signs on their amenity block!
The next day we tackled Gunlom Falls. We had a look at the bottom falls before heading to the track that would take us to the top. We’d heard that the path to the top rock pools was challenging and as it was a 1km upwards pathway, we were expecting it to be tough. Surprisingly, both girls were on fire and powered their way up to the top without too much drama.
We got to the top and were told that there was no one in the top pool. Given the number of people in the lower pools, we headed for the top pool and for about 10-15 minutes had it all to ourselves.
The view was really quite stunning with the colour of the rocks creating a beautiful vista. I went in for a swim and after an hour or so, we decided to check out the lower pools. A little bit warmer than the top pool, the bottom pool had a natural affinity edge so it was a challenge to grab a picture without every man and their dog in it as well.
Soon it was time to head back down and when we reached the bottom we had lunch before heading back to Mary River Roadhouse and the pool. But that also meant that we’d come to the end of our Kakadu adventure!
When it comes to the Kaka-du vs Kaka-don’t debate, we’re firmly in the Kaka-du camp! I can’t figure out why people would even be questioning it, although Corey believes if people are only planning one or two days, then the cost for a park pass ($100 for a family) as well as higher than other NT park camping fees would probably make people feel as though they weren’t getting value for money. For us, we spent six nights in Kakadu across three locations so the park pass fee was not an issue – it just was what it was. The cost of a national park bush camp versus an unpowered caravan park site were negligible with both fees around the $30-36 mark. Powered of course was more expensive ($46-56) but with our van set up, it just wasn’t required. Compared to some other places we’ve stayed, $30 is quite reasonable for what we got to experience. The other reason Corey thinks people don’t see the value of Kakadu is due to the proximity of the attractions. Kakadu is huge, so the attractions are spread out over a couple of hundred kms whereas in Litchfield the attractions are only spread across a 25-30km distance. Plus, all waterfalls and swimming holes literally less than 500m walk on a relatively flat surface – in Kakadu, you have to earn your stunning view and swim at the end! And the camping sites in Litchfield are more than half the price of Kakadu – only $13.20 for a family (with kids under 5) a night.
So, if you’re considering Kakadu, make sure you spend the time to really explore it. We were surprised at the diversity of the landscapes and the number of amazing rock art sites. The Yellow Water cruises was 110% worth it and we could have definitely spent a lot more time exploring Kakadu and hopefully, when the girls are older and can tackle more of the walks, we can do the things we missed (although we didn’t really miss too much!)
Have you ever seen indigenous rock art? Are you indecisive about visiting Kakadu?