Kakadu is massive. It’s Australia’s largest national park, and at over 20,000 square kilometres, it is half the size of Switzerland. The park is home to an incredible diversity of plants and wildlife, as well as to the oldest living culture on earth. The park entry is around 1.5 hours drive from Darwin, although it will take several hours to drive through the park itself. Many of the top attractions are accessible with a regular 2WD passenger vehicle, although if you want to experience everything Kakadu has to offer, you’ll want to get yourself a 4WD off-road vehicle. Entry to the park costs AUD$25 (US$18) per adult, although the entry fee has been waived in 2020 to assist with tourism recovery efforts from COVID-19. Entry permits can be obtained online.
There are endless adventures you could have in Kakadu National Park, and you could easily spend weeks here without getting bored. Kakadu is also a perfect component of a week-long road trip through the Top End – check out our itinerary for that here. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the official Kakadu guidebook for a full idea of everything there is to do in this amazing part of the world. As a sampler, here’s 7 incredible experiences you can have in Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Yellow Water Billabong
Yellow Water Billabong is home to an abundance of rich wildlife and spectacular scenery. From salt water crocodiles, buffalo and brumbies that graze on the floodplains and around 60 species of birds, there is never a dull moment on this unique and intimate cruise. The tour guides are extremely passionate and knowledgeable of the natural environment and indigenous culture. They will provide commentary and a few jokes along the way making it an informative and entertaining experience.
The cruises run throughout the day with the sunrise and sunset times being the most popular so book in advance to secure your spot. It is not uncommon for people to do multiple cruises in one day to see the change in wildlife. Many passengers also stay at Cooinda Lodge which is only 1km from Yellow Water making it convenient for early morning cruises. A free shuttle bus runs from the lodge to Yellow Water, and the 2 hour cruise costs AUD$90 (US$66) per person. Bookings are available through the Kakadu Tourism website.
Not the most visited part of Kakadu, but this short 300m moderately steep hike up a solid rock face is well worth it for the extraordinary vistas at the top. After a quick hike up the rock, you’ll be treated to 360 degree views over the Nourlangie region including the impressive Nourlangie Rock (Burrunggui) – a perfect spot for sunset!
Near the border with the largely autonomous Arnhem Land, Ubirr is widely considered to be one of the most impressive rock art sites on earth. The location features rock art by the local indigenous people created as recent as a couple of hundred years old, but the oldest artworks are thousands of years old. Incredibly, the site features a painting of a thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), which became extinct in mainland Australia more than 2,000 years ago!
Once you’ve finished admiring the extraordinary artwork on this site, make your way up to Ubirr Lookout, another incredible lookout and the perfect place to view sunset over northern Kakadu and Arnhem Land.
Gunlom Falls is one of the most popular spots in Kakadu – no doubt helped by it featuring in the film Crocodile Dundee. Featuring an infinity-style plunge pool at the top of the waterfall overlooking the vast Kakadu landscape, Gunlom Falls is the perfect spot to enjoy a quiet afternoon and soak in the atmosphere. Gunlom Falls can be reached by a 40km unsealed road. This road itself is reasonably well maintained and passable by most passenger vehicles, however some rental cars may exclude travel on unsealed roads so keep an eye on your terms and conditions if you’re driving a rental.
East Alligator River flows between the boundary of Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land. Cahill Crossing is the only road access between the two sides and is a great place for crocodile watching from the safety of an elevated viewing platform. It is well known as a dangerous crossing because of the high water levels and strong tides. The best time to watch crocodiles is at high tide when they gather downstream to catch fish. Willy Weather is a useful resource to check tidal patterns. At certain times of the year, usually dry season between April to October, you can also watch vehicles attempt the crossing which may require a few honks to clear the crocodiles from the path. Refer to the Kakadu road access report for daily advice.
Jim Jim Falls
Kakadu’s largest waterfall, Jim Jim Falls, is an extraordinary experience. The falls feature an overpowering waterfall thundering down gigantic cliff faces, which tower 200 meters above the pristine, crystal clear plunge pool. Jim Jim Falls is the perfect mixture of adventure, excitement, awe and relaxation. The plunge pool is perfect for a relaxing swim at the bottom of this impressive waterfall, though be conscious of crocodile warnings – as they say in Kakadu, if the water is wet, there’s crocodiles in it!
This one is unfortunately strictly 4WD only due to a rough 60km dirt track drive that will take you 2 hours one way in the best of times. In the wet season, forget all about it – the road becomes impassable. And seriously, if you don’t have a suitable vehicle, don’t even think about it – even if you do make it past the first 50km of rough dirt track, you’re guaranteed to get stuck on the last 10km of soft sand. The turnoff to Jim Jim Falls is just off the Kakadu Highway, on the opposite side of the road to the nearby Cooinda (Yellow Water) turnoff. As long as you have the right vehicle, the conditions are good, and you have a full day to dedicate to the experience, though, we couldn’t recommend this one enough!
Bonus: Arnhem Land
For the ultimate way to expand your Kakadu adventure, consider booking a tour to Arnhem Land. Arnhem Land is home to 16,000 mostly indigenous people, and ancient indigenous culture runs strong in this vast region. If you thought Kakadu was big, you haven’t seen anything yet – Arnhem Land is a whopping 97,000 square kilometres in size with extraordinary cultural diversity and biodiversity. Take a day trip or longer to fully experience this final untouched frontier of indigenous culture.
Arnhem Land is owned by the First Nations people and in many ways is a de facto separate country. It is strictly accessible by permit only, and generally visitors must travel on an organised tour. To our knowledge, tours have been largely cancelled in 2020, though hopefully will resume in 2021 once the wet season ends and the COVID-19 situation is more stable.
One final note…
The global travel situation is constantly evolving throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Most domestic Australian borders have reopened, and we’re looking forward to the day when Australia reopens to the world. We’re frequently researching the best options for travel once it’s safe again, so be sure to check out our articles on 5 places to travel to once borders reopen, and follow our blog and our social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) for the latest updates. Thanks for reading to the end, here’s to another Better Break soon!