Bear with me, this is going to be a long one; Kakadu has so many wonderful things to see and do.
One of the great things for us was how much more integrated the local people (Binninj in local) are compared to other places we have been. As a ranger explained to us they have always remained on their land, indeed until the 1960’s white faces were rare, and around 500 continue to live traditional lives within the park. There was contact over the years, with the first visitors seemingly the Dutch, with Ballander, the local name for whites, apparently a derivation of Hollander.
Edith Falls – Sun 5th
Many Wikicamps comments relate to how busy this site is, how hard it is to get a spot. An early start therefore, to make the short trip north from Katherine. Unlike some campsites this one does not allow you in until 10am, before that you park in the day use and go the office to book your space.
An amusing incident on the drive up. Leaving Katherine a road train turned out ahead of us, so we crawled along until the next overtaking lane. At this point we went round, only to be passed by the caravan behind us which looked to be going for a land speed record right to the point he pulled back in, when he slowed under 90 and blocked us. Funny how he didn’t answer the radio (the nomads like to put their preferred channel on their van) when we called up to ask what he was thinking….
Turning off the highway it was disheartening to see a “Site Full” flashing sign, but we pressed on just in case. Lucky we did as they had forgotten to reset the sign and had plenty of space; so much that, to Hils discomfort, I sent her back to the office twice to ask if we could move.
The falls are a short loop walk from the site. Outward is a steep climb, over a ridge, and then down to the upper falls. This was a large area of rock bands split by shallow pools leading to a deep plunge pool beneath the falls; a lovely swim but rather cold.
The return loop is slightly longer, giving views of the middle pool with the upper pool in the background. It is possible to get to the middle pool, but only with quite a scramble over rocks. The pool then stretches away before tumbling into lower pool which is by the campsite.
The lower pool flows out through a stream rather than a waterfall; being large and deep, when swimming it is hard to banish thoughts of crocs in the depths.
Gunlom – Mon 6th
The turn to Kakadu is at Pine Creek, once an important mining town this now seems to just be an en-route fuel stop, but does have views of an old open cut goldmine.
Driving into Kakadu it was not what we had imagined, perhaps a stereotype but we had images of wetlands, but instead were travelling through woodland savannah.
As we found out later Kakadu has a wide range of landscapes – including stone country in the north east and into Arnhemland, coast and tidal flats to the north, the wetlands inland from the coast and the savannah. The savannah is a man-made landscape, shaped by mosaic burning over thousands of years; as a result over 80% of all the plants require fire at some stage of their lifecycle.
To enter the park you have to buy a permit, $25 an adult but kids free. Bizarrely, as this is a Commonwealth Reserve rather than an NT State park, residents of NT get in for free.
Much like the Kimberley there is just one main road through Kakadu, running from Pine Creek to Jabiru and then to Darwin; off this road there are. At Jabiru a side road heads NW towards the border with Arnhemland.
Gunlom is at the end of about 45km of dirt road. As we aired down 4 cars passed without stopping; funnily enough this road is moderately corrugated – also very funny to then pass all 4 cars as they bounced along. Not so funny for the driver of the Delica that must have rolled a few times, all smashed up and abandoned on the side of the track.
The falls apparently featured in Crocodile Dundee. Waterfall Creek drops over 50m, with swimming both in the plunge pool below and in the pools at the head of the falls. The walk up is not long, but is steep and scrambly; well worth it though for the natural infinity pool at the top and the extensive views.
Mardugal – Tue 7th and Wed 8th
Mardugal was a great base for a few days. Located near to Cooinda it is convenient for Yellow Waters, without the premium price tag and busyness of the caravan park.
On the way we stopped in at Maguk, probably the best swimming hole we found. About 1.5km walk from the car park, the path first winds along a stream (lots of croc warning signs……) then across rocks. Unusually the water here is warm. It is also very clear, with plenty of fish swimming around.
Heading back out Charlotte spotted the perfect bonnet ornament, sadly Hils was not so keen; denied!
Yellow Waters – this may be the best known of the wetland areas, with cruises running throughout the day. We chose sunrise, so an awfully early start; no matter how much you tiptoe around there is no hiding the 110 diesel when it fires up…..
Breath-taking is the only way to describe the wetlands. We absolutely loved this. When we turned up it did not look good, 4 boats each holding near on 50 people. However when we set off the boats scattered and it felt like you were alone on the water. The guide, a local chap, was a fount of knowledge on the wetlands and their wildlife, and really added to the cruise.
Firstly with mist floating above the water before the sun rises.
Then as the sun rises the light changes and the bird calls begin
The range of birds here is incredible, amongst the many, incredible white herons, the unusual “Jesus” bird whose feet allow it to live on the water lillies, the Jabiru stork towering over them all and the whistling kite – also known as the firehawk for its habit of picking up smouldering sticks from a fire and drooping them in fresh grass, setting a new fire and feasting on the animals driven out.
The wetlands, as well as being surrounded by grass also supports fantastic water lillies.
And finally there are the crocodiles. Its scary to think they just see you as food.
Waradjin Cutural Centre – this is just outside Cooinda, and its shape is based on the pig nosed turtle, an important local food source. As part of NAIDOC week there was a weaving class; definitely not as easy as it looks but was great fun and the fresh damper on the fire tasted great.
Jabiru – Thu 9th and Fri 10th
Originally we had planned to stop at a campsite near Jim Jim Falls, and visit both those and Twin Falls. Jim Jim is the tallest fall in Kakadu but dries up quickly, majestic all the same and must be stunning in the wet. By the way, the structure on the right is a croc trap, no swimming here…..
Sadly we didn’t make it Twin Falls, the water crossing along the way was 700mm deep. Although pretty certain the 110 could handle it the official wading depth is 500mm – it’s a long way to get towed out….
Instead we based at Jabiru, the main town in Kakadu. Kakadu Lodge campsite is very pleasant, and along with the usual stuff also has ranger talks which were outstanding. The ranger, Christian, is incredibly enthusiastic and a great communicator – fascinating to hear about the fauna of the different environments in Kakadu, from estuarine through savannah to stoneland.
Nourlangie – located to the south of Jabiru this is important both for its art and an ancient shelter site. We joined a free guided tour, with Christian. From here you can see the pillars of the home of Namarrgon, the lightning man, a very sacred site; he watches for his children, the Leichardt Grasshopper or Aljurr who appear in the build up to the wet when the lightning comes.
High up on the rocks is a block of stone, an important symbol to Binninj. It is the feather Narmonjolg’s sister took from his headdress when they violated incest law (not necessarily blood sister, aboriginal kinship rules are incredibly complicated), left there as a reminder of the law.
In the Angbang gallery here there is a significant piece of rock art, painted by an elder, his last work. Some art is sacred and not to be seen, some can be seen but the story is not to be told, others can be seen and part of the story told. Often the painting is associated with education, and the story is given on a need to know basis – the story shared with Ballander is often very basic, almost like the children’s version.
Top right is Namarrgon and next to him Narmonjolg. Beneath Narmonjolg is Barrginj, Namarrgon’s wife. The figures underneath are family groups on the way to a ceremony and the fish are Guluibirr, a local food source.
Just around the corner from this gallery is one of the “see but don’t talk about it artworks”, Nabulwinjbulwinj, who strikes females down with a yam and eats them (I would love to hear what that is all about).
Living a nomadic lifestyle within their territory Binninj moved between shelters. The one here has revealed extensive cultural history over tens of thousands of years. On the right are the oldest items we saw, getting younger to the left. The spear head in the middle is thousands of years old, but identical heads were still being made in Arnhemland at the time it was dug up
Ubirr – Sat 11th
Ubirr lies just to the edge of the East Alligator River, which forms the border between Kakadu and Arnhemland. The river, along with the West and South Alligator Rivers, were named by Phillip Parker King in 1820 – shame he couldn’t tell alligators from crocodiles.
Cahills crossing traverses the river, not a place for paddling. A good place for viewing the crocodiles though, especially when the incoming tide brings the barramundi in – there is even a viewing platform.
Ubirr, like Nourlangie, has some fantastic rock art; more on that in the next post.