Kakadu National Park

Barbecue Campfire Disabled Drinking water Fishing Kiosk/Restaurant Shower Swimming Toilets Wildlife Aboriginal site Accommodation Camping area Four-wheel drive touring Information Picnic area Ranger Walking
Kakadu National Park, Peter Eve / Tourism NT

Introduction

World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park is a landscape of unsurpassed beauty, with world-renowned wetlands attracting extraordinary numbers of birds, thundering waterfalls that plunge from towering escarpments into natural rock pools, and open woodlands that offer a refuge for a wide range of native animals. It is also a very spiritual place, with a cultural heritage that reflects the unique relationship between the Aboriginal custodians and the land itself.

Kakadu, Australia’s largest national park, has entire ecosystems within its boundaries. More than one-third of Australia’s bird species are found here, along with hundreds of plant, animal and marine species found nowhere else on the planet.

Fact file

Access

From Darwin via Stuart Hwy then Arnhem Hwy; from Pine Creek via Stuart Hwy then Kakadu Hwy

Best season

May to September

Location

235 km east of Darwin (to Bowali Visitor Centre)

Park information

  • Parks Australia Kakadu (08) 8938 1100
  • www.environment.gov.au/parks/kakadu
  • Bowali Visitor Centre (08) 8938 1121

Permits

A fee applies to visitors entering Kakadu National Park. NT residents and children under 16 years of age are exempt. Camping permits are required for some campsites.

Size

1 900 000 ha

Visitor information

Bowali Visitor Centre (08) 8938 1121

Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre (08) 8979 0051

Featured Activities in the National Park

  • Visit Bowali and Warradjan centres for a better understanding of the park’s Aboriginal culture

    Watch the sun set over the spectacular landscape from Ubirr Rock

    Take a journey back in time at the Aboriginal rock-art galleries of Nourlangie

    Cruise the Yellow Water wetlands by boat to see beautiful waterlilies, astonishing birdlife and predatory crocodiles

    Climb the escarpment at Gunlom and enjoy the pools above the falls

See Also

A look at the past

In 1818 Phillip Parker King sailed up the Alligator rivers and named them. In 1845 explorer Ludwig Leichhardt was the first European to traverse the Kakadu region, during his expedition from Moreton Bay in Queensland to Port Essington on the Cobourg Peninsula. He said the country was beautiful and bountiful and the inhabitants populous and friendly. In 1862, explorer John McDouall Stuart crossed the south-western edge of the park when he neared the end of his epic south–north crossing of the Australian continent.

European infiltration of the Kakadu region began in the 1880s when pastoralists, buffalo hunters and missionaries began to settle around the East and South Alligator rivers. Aboriginal people were paid in goods such as flour, tea and tobacco to help shoot, skin, transport and load buffalo hides onto ships. The park attracted prospectors when gold was found at Pine Creek further to the west, but mining did not become really active until uranium was found near the headwaters of the South Alligator in 1953. Rich deposits of uranium were later found on the Ranger, Jabiluka and Koongarra leases, and the township of Jabiru was established to service the controversial industry in the late 1970s.

In the early 1970s there were moves to protect Kakadu within a national park and in 1972 much of the area was declared a wildlife sanctuary. In 1978 the Gagudju people were granted title of their land, which they then leased for use as a national park. Stage One of Kakadu National Park was declared in 1979, along with the establishment of the Ranger Uranium Mine and strategies for its control and management. In 1981 Stage One became a World Heritage area (WHA). Stage Two of the national park was added in 1984, which acquired WHA status in 1987. Stage Three of the park was proclaimed the same year. Today the entire park enjoys World Heritage status, classified for the immensity of its natural wonders and rich cultural heritage.

Aboriginal culture

Rock art of the region indicates Aboriginal people have occupied Kakadu for between 40 000 and 60 000 years, the longest record of continual human occupation of any area on Earth. The rock-art galleries show early Indigenous groups had a strong culture based on deep spiritual beliefs, and that they had access to a rich larder of food.

The name Kakadu comes from an Aboriginal language, Gagudju, spoken in the north of the park at the beginning of the 20th century. Although no longer spoken by Aboriginal people in the area, surviving dialects include Kunwinjku (in the north), Gun-djeihmi (in the centre) and Jawoyn (in the south). Aboriginal people of the region know themselves as Bininj (pronounced Bin-ning).

Kakadu is jointly managed by the Bininj/Mungguy people and Parks Australia. The main Aboriginal rock-art sites are at Ubirr Rock and Nourlangie Rock, while an excellent understanding of Kakadu’s Aboriginal culture can be gained by visiting the Bowali Visitor Centre and Warradjan Cultural Centre.

Natural features

The eastern boundary of the park follows the East Alligator River and the 140-million-year-old Arnhem Land escarpment, which is the western edge of the Arnhem Land Plateau, an imposing geological feature that stands some 300 metres above the tropical woodland of the park and extends for more than 500 kilometres.

Scientists believe the sandstone escarpment was created either by the continual wave action of a vast sea that once stretched inland or by volcanic uplift. The escarpment is the edge of the ‘stone country’ of Arnhem Land and many rivers in the Top End have their headwaters here, including the East and South Alligator, which flow through the tropical woodland of Kakadu, across the flood plains and out to the Van Diemen Gulf. The plains are broken up by impressive rocky outcrops, or outliers. Areas of the escarpment and massive rock formations, such as Nourlangie Rock, were shelters for Aboriginal people, who often used the rock walls and overhangs as a canvas on which to depict their daily lives and spiritual beliefs.

Compared to the escarpment, which dominates the landscape in the east of the park, the rivers and coastal areas are more modern formations, built up over thousands of years as silt was carried out of Arnhem Land. During the wet season rivers and creeks break their banks and flood the plains, creating Kakadu’s famous wetlands that also include monsoonal rainforests, swamps and billabongs. It is these areas, rich in plant and insect life, which make Kakadu National Park one of the most abundant areas for wildlife in Australia. In the north, where the park meets the sea, estuaries, tidal flats and dense mangrove forests rim the coast.

Native plants

Biologists have recorded more than 1600 plant species in the park. Most of the woodland is dominated by eucalypts such as Darwin stringybark and woollybutt, with an understorey of bunch speargrass and native sorghum. Large paperbark trees grow in swampy wetland areas and around billabongs, while colourful waterlilies – including the majestic lotus lily – blanket the flooded plains and waterways after the wet season. More than 30 mangrove species grow along the coast and in the estuaries. All three species of pandanus are found here, while palms such as the Carpentaria are common in monsoonal forests. Many of the lush monsoon forests lie hidden in deep gorges that have been carved in the escarpment. 

Allosyncarpia ternata, a species restricted to western Arnhem Land, is an evergreen tree found in varying habitats, from monsoon rainforest on ravine floors to open forest and woodland on cliffs, ridges and hilltops. Other hardy trees include the native kapok and red kurrajong, while the rarely seen and aromatic plant, Pityrodia jamessii (found near Nourlangie Rock), is the only plant to attract Leichhardt’s grasshopper, Australia’s most colourful insect.

Wildlife

In the park there are over 280 bird species, more than 50 fish species, over 120 reptile and amphibian species, 60 mammal species, 100 species of termite and more than 300 species of ant.

The beautiful Oenpelli rock python can be found on the escarpment, along with the chestnut-quilled rock-pigeon, black wallaroo, northen dibbler (sandstone antechinus) and a variety of bats including the orange leaf-nosed bat and the ghost bat. The open woodland is home to a variety of parrots, honeyeaters, finches, and raptors such as the whistling kite that rides the thermals looking for prey. The agile wallaby and antilopine wallaroo are two common mammals seen during the day, along with reptiles such as the frilled lizard, Gould’s sand goanna and various geckos and skinks.

The rivers and coastal areas of Kakadu are populated by saltwater crocodiles and visitors are warned to stay out of the water, unless there is clear advice to the contrary. The only places likely to be free of these dangerous reptiles are located up in the escarpment country. Keep children away from the water’s edge in crocodile-prone areas.

Introduction

There are tours of wild places and Aboriginal cultural sites, as well as scenic walks, some swimming away from crocodiles, and camping. Many waterways are open to boating and fishing, and there are unsurpassed views from spectacular lookouts or scenic flights. In order to get your bearings, the notes below offer a guide to specific attractions and walks in each of the main areas of the park.

South Alligator area

Turn south off the Arnhem Highway, 7 kilometres east of the South Alligator River, to reach Mamukala wetlands. Mamukala is open all year but is at its most dramatic in September and October when thousands of magpie geese and other birds gather to feed as the waters dry up. There is an excellent observation platform and a 3-kilometre walk along the wetlands. Allow 1 to 2 hours. Another option is Gu-ngarre Walk (3.6-km circuit, 2 hours), which leads through savannah woodlands and monsoon forest and along the edges of a waterhole. Access is near the Aurora Kakadu Resort.

There are two 4WD tracks in this area, which will interest birdwatchers and boating enthusiasts: Waldak Irrmbal track leads from the Arnhem Highway to Waldak Irrmbal (West Alligator Head) and provides access to Two Mile Hole and Four Mile Hole; while the Red Lily and Alligator Billabong track runs north–south between the Arnhem Highway and Old Jim Jim Road. These tracks are open only during the dry season.

Jabiru area

Bowali Visitor Centre, on the Kakadu Highway just west of Jabiru, is the park headquarters and a wonderful starting point to understand Kakadu and Aboriginal culture. There are audio-visual displays and a ranger is on hand to answer questions. Bowali Walking Track (4 km return, 1–1½ hours) starts opposite the Gagudju Crocodile Holiday Inn and winds its way through open savannah woodland to the visitor centre (the track is also a bike trail).

East Alligator area

Ubirr is one of the best art sites in the park; good views of the rock art are provided by a 1-kilometre circuit walk. Another track (500 metres return, 1 hour), involving a moderately steep climb, leads to a rocky vantage point with a spectacular view – particularly at sunset – over the Nardab flood plain. Bardedjilidji Walk (2.5 km, 2 hours) is a short but fascinating trail that meanders through the sandstone outliers. Branching off this track is the Sandstone and River Walk (6.5-km circuit, 4 hours, easy), a leisurely walk that leads past Catfish Creek, the flood plains, billabongs, sandstone cliffs and the East Alligator River. Manngarre walk comprises three short circuits through monsoonal rainforest, with the longest (1.5-km circuit, 1 hour) trailing beside the river. There are commercial boat tours of the East Alligator River available.

Nourlangie area

In this area is the picturesque Anbangbang Billabong, and the renowned Nourlangie Rock, a vast rock-art gallery and an inspirational place that projects a sense of how Indigenous people once lived. The turn-off to Nourlangie is 19 kilometres south of Bowali, on the Kakadu Highway. A circular walk (1.5 km) winds through some of Australia’s most spectacular art sites and ancient living areas. Other walking trails include Nawurlandja Lookout Walk (1.2 km return, 40 minutes), involving a moderate-grade climb for views of the escarpment and Anbangbang Billabong; Nanguluwur Art Site Walk (3.4 km return, 2 hours, easy), through open savannah woodlands to a secluded art gallery; Gubara Walk (6 km return, 4 hours, easy) through woodlands and along a string of lovely forest-rimmed rock holes to interesting rock art; Bubba Walk (3.5-km circuit, 2 hours) starting at Muirella Park camping area and trailing through wetlands; and 30 kilometres south of Bowali, Mirrai Lookout Walk (3.6 km return, 1½ hours, medium difficulty), with a steep uphill climb to a lookout on top of Mount Cahill and a view of the escarpment and surrounding plains. A longer trail, Barrk Walk (12-km loop, 6–8 hours, difficult), in the Nourlangie area, traverses the sandstone country, passing the Nanguluwur art site along the way.

Yellow Water area

Yellow Water is one of the most accessible and beautiful wetland areas in northern Australia. When the waters recede in the dry season the wildlife is concentrated in this one area that is part of the South Alligator flood plain. Commercial boat tours travel through the wetlands and guides provide commentaries about the landscape and wildlife. A boardwalk offers another perspective of the wetland during the dry season. A boat ramp gives public access to those with boats.

Warradjan Cultural Centre near Yellow Water is a fascinating place with outstanding displays of Aboriginal culture. A little to the south, Mardugal Billabong Walk (1 km return, 30 minutes) is a dry-season walk that starts at Mardugal camping ground and follows the edge of the Mardugal Billabong. Gungardun Walk (2-km circuit, 1 hour) leads through tropical savannah.

Jim Jim Falls area

This area is 43 kilometres from Kakadu Highway along a 4WD road and is only accessible during the dry season. Jim Jim Plunge Pool, at the end of a 1-kilometre walk from the carpark (1–2 hours return, medium difficulty – it involves some rock-hopping), is one of the most beautiful swimming areas in Kakadu. Although generally considered safe, swimmers are warned that there is still a threat of saltwater crocodiles venturing into the area during the dry season. It is surrounded by 150-metre-high cliffs and fed by a powerful waterfall that stops flowing during the dry season. Nearby, Budjmi Lookout Walk (1 km return, 45 minutes) is a dry-season trail that starts at Jim Jim camping area and involves a moderate-grade climb to the top of a rocky outcrop for expansive views of the Arnhem Land escarpment. Barrk Marlam Walk (6 km return, 3–4 hours, difficult) is another dry-season track that branches off the Jim Jim Plunge Pool track and goes through rugged sandstone country. Ten kilometres further on from Jim Jim Falls is Twin Falls, where a spectacular waterfall feeds a beautiful rock hole, rimmed by a white sandy beach. Access is by a boat shuttle service and swimming is not allowed because of saltwater crocodiles but there is a lovely walk, Twin Falls plateau trail (6 km return, 3–4 hours, difficult), which climbs the cliffs above the falls.

Mary River area

Access to Gunlom is via a gravel road (check wet-season access). The Gunlom plunge pool is wide, deep and scenic. With its wispy dry-season waterfall, this is the most popular place in the southern part of the park. A steep walking trail (2 km return) leads to the top of the falls and some beautiful rock pools that are probably the safest place to swim in Kakadu. Stay clear of the edge.

The Yurmikmik walks are several separate but interconnected walks that provide a wonderful experience of the Kakadu landscape (for access, turn off the Kakadu Highway onto the Gunlom road and travel 21 kilometres). These walks include: Boulder Creek Walk (2 km return); Yurmikmik Lookout Walk (5 km return); Motor Car Falls (7.5 km return); and Kurrundie Creek Walk (11 km return).

Fishing

The South and East Alligator rivers and Yellow Water are popular fishing destinations and there are boat ramps at the South Alligator near the Arnhem Highway, the East Alligator River, Yellow Water, Mardugal and Jim Jim Billabong. Saltwater crocodiles are present at most fishing spots and visitors are reminded not to wade in the water or to clean their catch near the water’s edge. Live-bait fishing is not permitted and catch limits apply. Contact Parks Australia for more information.

Scenic touring

The Kakadu Highway, which runs from Mary River Roadhouse in the south to meet the Arnhem Highway near Jabiru, is a scenic drive that also offers access to most major attractions. On entering the park in the south, it is not far to the turn-off to Gunlom, a large camping area and beautiful waterhole that can be reached via a gravel road. A 4WD track travels further south to Koolpin Gorge and Guratba and Gimbat day-use areas.

Lookouts and walks are dotted along the highway, including Bukbukluk, some 10 kilometres north of the ranger station. Further along is Maguk camping area (4WD access only). Old Jim Jim Road, linking Cooinda with the Arnhem Highway, is a gravel track that turns off the Kakadu Highway 90 kilometres north of Mary River Roadhouse, shortly before the turn-off to Yellow Water. Old Jim Jim Road joins the Arnhem Highway just east of the Bark Hut Inn.

The turn-off to Yellow Water is 99 kilometres north of Mary River Roadhouse and 52 kilometres south of the Arnhem Highway. Six kilometres north of the Yellow Water turn-off is a sidetrack to Jim Jim Falls, a 60-kilometre 4WD gravel road leading to a carpark near the base of the falls. From here another track leads 10 kilometres to Twin Falls. Access to Twin Falls Gorge is by prepaid, guided boat shuttle (contact Bowali).

Most bitumen roads are open year-round except when bridges and causeways are flooded. Gravel roads and 4WD tracks are usually closed in the wet season, between December and May.

Campsites

Alligator Billabong camping area (bush camping)

Reached via the track to Red Lily Billabong by 4WD, this campsite is 26 km south of the Arnhem Hwy. There are no facilities, toilets or drinking water.... Find out more


Bilkbilkmi (Graveside Gorge) camping area (bush camping)

You need to obtain a permit and book this basic bush site, which has no toilets or other facilities. The track in is suitable for experienced 4WD drivers only. You will find the camping area 44 km south-east of the... Find out more


Bucket Billabong camping area (bush camping)

No toilets or drinking water are available at this site, just 2 km past Red Lily Billabong camping area. You will need a 4WD.... Find out more


Burdulba camping area

This camping area is near the turn-off for Nourlangie Rock, which has a number of impressive rock-art sites. Various walks link these sites, and there is also a track to the Nawurlandja Lookout, which gives good views... Find out more


Djarradjin Billabong (Muirella Park) camping area

One of the largest camping areas in Kakadu, this campground has showers and drinking water, and separate areas allowing generators and generator-free. Kakadu Culture Camp is also based here – it runs cruises on the... Find out more


Four Mile Hole camping area (bush camping)

This 4WD site may be inaccessible in the Wet and has no toilets or drinking water. To get here, continue past Two Mile Hole for another 22 km.... Find out more


Gagudju Camping Cooinda

The camping here is right on the doorstep of Yellow Water Billabong. Camp in powered or unpowered sites with access to Gagudju Lodge Cooinda’s pools and dining facilities. Spectacular wetland cruises run... Find out more


Garnamarr (Jim Jim Falls) camping area

This is the closest campsite to the spectacular Jim Jim Falls. It can cater for 200 people, with showers and drinking water. It’s accessible only in the dry season, and is a 60 km journey by 4WD on gravel... Find out more


Giyamungkurr (Black Jungle Springs) camping area

You will need a 4WD to reach this basic site on the Old Jim Jim Rd, which links the Arnhem Hwy to the Kakadu Hwy, 18 km east of Bark Hut Inn. There are composting toilets but no drinking water.... Find out more


Gungurul camping area

There is all-year-round access for camping and caravans here. There are picnic tables and toilets but bring drinking water and firewood. It is a 4 km bushwalk to the South Alligator River. Access is signposted off the... Find out more


Gunlom camping area

This is a great camping spot with access to Gunlom Falls and a swimming hole, as well as a bushwalk to the top of the waterfall. There are separate generator and non-generator areas, BBQs, hot showers and drinking water.... Find out more


Jarrangbarnmi (Koolpin Gorge) camping area

You will need a special permit from the visitor’s centre to camp here, beside Koolpin Creek. Take the Gunlom Rd off the Kakadu Hwy, 11 km north of Mary River Roadhouse, and follow it for 44 km, past Kambolgie and... Find out more


Jim Jim Billabong camping area

Jim Jim Billabong is near Yellow Waters (not close to Jim Jim Falls). You will need to bring firewood and drinking water to this camping area. To get here, take the signposted access off Kakadu Hwy, 47 km south of the... Find out more


Kambolgie camping area

Camp near the creek on the way to Gunlom. The site has toilets but no drinking water. To get here, take Gunlom Rd, 11 km north of the Mary River Roadhouse, and follow it for 13 km.... Find out more


Maguk camping area

This basic campsite has a 2 km return bushwalk through monsoon forest to a plunge pool and waterfall. There are toilets but no drinking water. Take the signposted turn-off from the Kakadu Hwy, 60 km north of the Mary... Find out more


Malabanjbanidju camping area

This site has 2 areas: one suitable for tents only, with a small carry-in from the carpark, and one for camper trailers and caravans. There is signposted access off the Kakadu Hwy, about 13 km south of the Bowali Visitor... Find out more


Mardugal camping area

This large campsite has separate areas for tents and caravans/camper trailers with generators. It has showers and a boat ramp. Follow the signpost off the Kakadu Hwy, 50 km south of the Bowali Visitor Centre. Nearby... Find out more


Merl camping area

Make the most of the good facilities at this large camping area. Take the Central Arnhem Rd, 36 km north of Jabiru, then turn onto the Ubirr–Oenpelli Rd. This camping area is close to the Ubirr rock-art site. There... Find out more


Red Lily Billabong camping area (bush camping)

Popular with anglers with a tinnie, this site has no toilets or drinking water and is 20 km off the Arnhem Hwy. Take the signposted turn-off, 90 km east of Bark Hut.... Find out more


Sandy Billabong camping area

There is great birdwatching and just a few campsites at this 4WD area set alongside a billabong. Drive a further 6 km from Djarradjin Billabong to get here.... Find out more


Two Mile Hole camping area (bush camping)

There are no toilets or drinking water at this site. Follow the sign from the Arnhem Hwy, 55 km east of Bark Hut, for 12 km.... Find out more


Waldak Irrmbal (West Alligator Head) camping area

Continue by 4WD past the Two Mile Hole and Four Mile Hole camping areas to reach this remote site, 81 km north of the Kakadu Hwy. There are 2 camping areas: at Pokok’s Beach, which has toilets; and at Middle... Find out more


See Also

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