Kakadu National Park – Boat trips, Plunge Pools and Hiking

Gunlom infinity pool

From Edith Falls we headed into Kakadu and into the first of Seven regions that make up this National Park. img-mapWe had already picked up our parks pass at Katherine Tourist Information, but you can also get one from the Mary Road House or at the visitor centre in the park. They are valid for 7 days, with a free 7-day extension. You need to nominate the number of days you plan to stay in the park and adjust them as required. The parks pass includes free ranger lead tours and talks which you can turn up to in each region. There are also bookable day tours, we were recommended the Animal Tracks Safari, but they weren’t running for some reason this year. For advanced planning download the Kakadu National Park Visitors Guide. You also get a hard copy with your parks pass.

We decided to do both the Guluyambi Cultural Cruise and the the 2hr Sunset Yellow Water Cruise (You can re-book for the Sunrise Tour for less than half the price of the ticket, and vice versa, if you want to do both. The sunrise tour includes breakfast, back at the lodge. I also noticed depending on how busy they are the prices changed daily)

You need to be Croc aware in this park, as it has the largest concentration of Estuarine Saltwater Crocodiles. img_2837The park also has Emergency Call Devices (ECD’s) at most of the more remote areas and waterholes, but we always carry our SPOT (personal locator beacon) device too. What I also found amazing in this National Park and across the Northern Territory is the amount of birds of prey that circle the skies in such large numbers.

DAY 1 – Mary River Region

After setting up camp at lunch time, we were excited to explore our first region: The Mary River. However we waited until all the day tours had left the area and walked the 1km to the top of the hill, to the iconic Gunlom  infinity pool. It is stunning and we spent the afternoon playing in all the pools. The large pool at the top leads to a gorge which you can swim up and slide and climb over rocks to a waterfall. We spotted lots of beautiful red dragon flies and red-tailed vanzosaur’s by the pools.

A few people stayed up the top for sunset, but we headed down to cook dinner on this lovely site, probably one of our favourites. There is also a large pool at the bottom and a sandy beach area.


DAY 2- Mary River Region 

Today after packing up, we continued to explore the Mary River Region. Our first stop early in the morning was the Yurmikmik Walks. We completed the easy 7.5km return walk to Motorcar Falls and had the place to ourselves.

The pool is stunning, with these huge rocks that glowed green and the waterfall was still just running. We incorporated the Yurmikmik lookout on the way back, which gave us more beautiful views of this region. 30506160_unknown-4We spent the afternoon at Maguk, which you access along a 10km gravel road (although it says 4WD only) We walked along the banks of the river and through the monsoonal forests. It was only about 1km before we could  jump in the large pool with a lovely flowing waterfall at the end. The water was so warm and clear we spent a while swimming here.

Speaking to other people you can also access the pools at the the top of the waterfall, taking a path further down the track but we hadn’t spotted it. We set up camp that night at Cooinda Lodge campsite.

DAY 3 – Yellow Water Region 

We decided to base ourselves at Cooinda lodge for 3-nights as the unpowered sites were only a few more dollars than the bush sites which only have basic showers and toilets. We took advantage of the 3G coverage, bar & restaurant, pool, nice shower blocks and drinking water to fill the tanks.

It’s a great site with the only downside being the mozzies and some naughty Red Tailed Cockatoos that decided breakfast, lunch and dinner were in the tree above our campsite! We got bombard with discarded shells and twigs.30506528_unknown-3

We had morning around the site and then completed the 1km short walk to the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. The centre’s exhibits have been done really well, giving you insights into the Bininj/Munggy Bininji people.

The 2.6km Return walk across the floodplain was still closed so we walked down the road and along to the boardwalk viewing platform. The wetlands are just stunning and we got to see even more of this beautiful area on our yellow Water Cruise at sunset. We saw so many different birds and lots and lots of crocodiles, we even got to see two males have a fight.

Our guide Amy was brilliant and I loved how she got so excited, when we found some week old little chicks and their dad. The Kingfishers were a highlight for me seeing 2 of the three that live in the park up close. We then watched the sunset, before heading to the restaurant for some superb fish and chips.

DAY 4 – Jim Jim Falls & Twin Falls Gorge Region 

Today we made an early start to explore the Jim Jim Falls area of the park, we did this as a day trip from Coolinda as Twin Falls is still not accessible due to a late wet season this year.  Had it been open we would have camped at Garnamar situated at the end of the 50km unsealed. It took us about 45minutes from the highway and it was very corrugated, so a bit of a bumpy ride. Along the track were hundreds of huge termite hills. From the campsite access road we continued on an easy 4×4 track for 20 minutes through some sandy patches and rivers and reached the carpark at 9.30am to start the 6km Barrk Marlam Bushwalk (although after some exploring at the top end of the hike my Garmin read 8km)

It was a steep 1km start across the rocky river and up the hill,  before it opened out onto a rugged plateau. There was a couple of beautiful shallow swimming holes at the top and sandy beaches where people were camping. The path then took us to the top of Jim Jim falls with dramatic views of the valley and rock faces. We headed back down after exploring and rescued a family in flip flops that had taken a wrong turn looking for the base of the falls. We walked back to the main track with them and then headed the 1km up a rocky dry river bed to the base of the falls. It was now really hot and so we were pleased to have the shade of the towering rock faces to sit under for lunch looking out at the falls.

There was still some water tumbling down the 150m drop which we weren’t expecting. You can only access this area in the dry season, scenic flight air tours are available in the wet season and I imagine the falls look very dramatic. There was a big swimming hole at the foot of the falls where we followed the path left and following the path right took us to a sandy beach and smaller pools to swim in. This place is very beautiful and we were shattered by the end of the day with the heat and rock scrambling and wished we had more time at the base of the waterfall to relax. We headed back for a much needed shower and drink in the bar.

DAY 5 – Nourlangie Region 

After a big day yesterday we had a lie in, relaxed breakfast and pack-up and then headed just a few Km’s up he road into the 4th region, Nourlangie. We set up camp for two nights at Burdulba at the basic camping site, which had pit toilets only. This would be a great location to explore the central area of the park from if you want cheap camping, but make sure you pick a sunny spot for solar power.  We spent the morning exploring the Nanguluwur Art Site which was an easy 3.4km return walk

We had lunch over looking the Anbangbang Billabong before doing the short 2.5km walk around it. We got to see the Forest Kingfisher we missed on the boat trip and also a stunning Rainbow Bee-Eater.

We headed back to camp for a relax and then undertook the ranger Sunset Over Stone Country talk and walk at Nawurlandja. We found out lots about the plants, animals, geology and aboriginal past of the area, before watching the landscape glow red and orange at sunset. I love they way they use the kapok tree to determine when the turtles and crocodile have laid their eggs and when they hatch. The green ants nest were also fascinating to see. 

DAY 6 – Nourlangie Region & Jabiru 

Today we headed off early to walk the Sandstone Barrk Hike. The information said it was a 12km hike, but my GPS read only read 10.9km at the end.  The hike started for the first 1km through the Anabangbang rock art which is in impressive huge caves.

From the lookout we then head up the hill to do the hardest section of the hike with 4km over steep and rocky terrain to the second lookout. With dramatic view’s over the landscape below.

The hike then took us across the tops and  through impressive rock structures.

As we dropped down, we reached the start of the short walk into the Nanguluwur Art Site we had done the previous day. From this junction we were soon knocking off the Kms with an easy 4km through the Savannah landscape. 30511680_unknown-1We then had another section of about half a kilometre through stone country, before the final 2.5km easy walk back to the carpark. This was a fantastic walk with amazing views. First 6km to the second rock art took 2hrs 20 the second 5km took an hour. Total Time 3hrs 20 mins. There are ranger talks at the rock art sites in the morning (we would suggest doing these another day and setting off early for your hike as it’s hot)

We spent the afternoon relaxing in the Bowali visitors centre and cafe in our 5th region of the park, Jabiru.

We picked up supplies and fuel while in Jabiru Town.

DAY 7 – East Alligator Region

After catching up on some blogging, the 6th region of Kakadu was today’s adventure, East Alligator. Walking from our campsite at Merl to the Border Store for coffee and juice.  They do an amazing range of fruit drinks with healing properties. At night this place offers dine in and take out Thai food. It’s just a small place, but has a really nice feel. 30511856_unknownThe Manngarre hike was mentioned as a highlight in the booklet, but most of the hike was closed and the small 0.6km loop that was open was a little disappointing.

If we did this trip again we would have dinner at the Border Store to get away from the mozzies, which love these wetlands. They come out in force about 15 minutes after sunset.

DAY 8 – East and South Alligator Regions 

As we had a bit of a much needed lazy day yesterday and didn’t do Ubirr at sunset as planned. Instead we headed there this morning to explore some more rock art and shelters as well as the 360 degree stunning views at Nadab lookout. I loved the art on the walls which were made by Miami spirits. The legend says they simply lifted the rocks down, paint them and then put them back in place. The walk has been beautifully created through the caves system and then leads to the lookout.

Maybe we should have gone up for sunset as this would have been a great spot overlooking both the stone country and wetlands. But anytime you visit, the views are just gorgeous.

img_3085At 11am we joined the Guluyambi Cultural Cruise boat trip along the East Alligator River. You get so close to all the crocodiles which swim in these estuarine murky waters. Read our trip report on this tour here.

That afternoon we completed the final region South Alligator and had a late lunch at Mamukala wetlands and bird hide.

We camped at Aurora Kakadu We found the un-powered sites at this managed campground the same price as the bush-sites, but with facilities. Plus it was so nice to have a pool and restaurant/bar to hide from the bugs as well as a grassy site. Rich had a tyre change to do as we spotted some side wall damage, so a well deserved beer was needed.

Next stop Darwin ………….


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