Top of the NT: Pt 2 – Kakadu

by Steven Chater from Trip Plan Australia. Check out Trip Plan’s free Itinerary Planner that will help you make the most of your next road trip through regional and outback Australia.

“Welcome to country!” Our Yellow Water guide, Dennis, got the sunrise cruise underway with this greeting – and what a special country it is!

Just how special? Well, like Tasmania’s World Hertitage Area (see our Tasmanian Wilderness blog post), Kakadu is one of the few World Heritage Areas that was listed for both its natural and cultural heritage. And Kakadu wetlands are listed as Ramsar protected – a sanctuary for not only native-Australian birds but also for migratory birds that travel from places far away, including from the far reaches of the northern hemisphere.

Road trip planner Australia - sunrise on Yellow Water

Setting out at sunrise on Yellow Water

As described in the first of the Top of the NT blog series, we were travelling east along the Arnhem Highway and had spent the first night of a seven night motorhome hire in the caravan park at the Corroboree Park Tavern.

Entry to Kakadu National Park was around three-quarters of an hour drive away, and one of the first major attractions, a bird hide in the Mamukala wetlands, was a further hours drive into the park. We thought we’d be one of the first there … but no! The twitterers were well established, complete with a bird-call sound machine (which can make you jump with its volume if you are not expecting it!).

Road trip planner Australia - Twitterers in action at the Mamukala bird hide

Twitterers in action at the Mamukala bird hide

Apparently Mamukala is at its best in September-October when thousands of magpie geese gather; still worth a visit though at our time of year, the Yegge season (late May/June). We saw plenty of birds – the ones we recognised with our limited knowledge were egrets, magpie geese and kites.

Road trip planner Australia - Egret in flight at Mamukala

Egret in flight at Mamulaka – sleek!

Another 30km along the Arnhem Highway is the eastern most point for park visitors, as any further down the highway brings you to the Ranger Uranium mine and eventually the border with Arnhem Land.

At this eastern most point you have three choices: turn off to Ubirr, or head into the town of Jabiru (with its reasonably well stocked supermarket and other facilities) or go to the Bowali Visitor Centre, which is just a few kilometres down the start of the Kakadu Highway. Bowali is well worth a visit, particularly to see their videos that give you a greater understanding of Kakadu’s seasons and also a sense of its history.

I haven’t mentioned so far just how surprisingly hot it was – usually around 33 to 35 degrees Celsius in the middle of the day. Certainly hot enough to slow down us southern state visitors! As such we delayed our visit to Ubirr until later in the day, but make sure you take in this area – fantastic rock art and wonderful floodplain views, both relatively easily accessible.

Road trip planner Australia - Rock Art at Ubirr

Rock Art at Ubirr

Road trip planner Australia - Rock Art at Ubirr

Rock Art at Ubirr

Road trip planner Australia - Nadab floodplain from Ubirr

Ancient lands of Ubirr and the Nadab floodplain

After an overnight stop in Jabiru we started our journey south down the Kakadu Highway. We turned off to visit Nourlangie (more good art sites) and Anbangbang Billabong.

Road trip planner Australia - Nourlangie

Nourlangie

Road trip planner Australia - Anbangbang Billabong

Anbangbang Billabong

Anbangbang is very pretty, however I was unable to do the circular walk as the track was still closed for the season and there were plenty of signs around warning of crocodiles – a risk I wasn’t about to take!

The distances aren’t great between attractions. Just a further 30km’s down the highway is Cooinda, the location for our next main attraction on our agenda, Yellow Water. Not driving too far makes for a very relaxed holiday – the pool at Cooinda Lodge was available to us and it was certainly hot enough for swim. Beautiful! And the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre is well worth a visit.

Given that we’d taken the sunset cruise at Corroboree Billabong I opted for the sunrise cruise at Yellow Water. Another magical, not to be missed experience. We saw wild horses, heaps of birds (geese, various types of ducks, a pair of beautiful blue kingfishers, a male jacana protecting its chicks, egrets, herons, darters, kites, rufous night herons, sea eagles, pelicans … just to name a few!) and of course, crocodiles.

Road trip planner Australia - Birds on Yellow Water

Birds on Yellow Water

Road trip planner Australia - On the sunrise Yellow Water cruise

On the sunrise Yellow Water cruise

Road trip planner Australia - Crocodile in Yellow Water

Crocodile in Yellow Water

Yellow Water is part of the South Alligator River floodplain. The area’s beauty is simply stunning …

Road trip planner Australia - Pandanus at Yellow Water

Pandanus at Yellow Water

I’d seen a number of videos describing the seasons up in the top end, all of which emphasised the volumes of water that were experienced in Gudjewg (the monsoon season). Our indigenous guide, Dennis, who has lived in Kakadu for most of his life, said that a few years ago, after a particularly heavy wet season, the water level was over the top of the two poles that can be seen in the middle right of this photo:

Road trip planner Australia - Sunrise on Yellow Water

Sunrise – Yellow Water

Imagine that volume of water spread across the entire floodplain – still hard to get the head around!

Further south down the Kakadu Highway are other great spots to visit – if you have a 4WD. Places like Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls and Gunlom near the park’s southern border. Unfortunately road conditions were not suitable for our motorhome, so it was on to the fantastic Nitmuluk National Park … more on this in the next Top of the NT blog post series – one that completes the extended triangle back to Darwin.

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Road trip planner Australia - Kakadu National Park

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