Home to a World Heritage National Park, this area is a paradise for nature lovers with a myriad of magical places to camp.
The secret to discovering Kakadu is to take your time as many who have heeded Kakadu’s call will attest to. This was so for us, in July 2021, when our leisurely journey took us through Katherine, then Edith Falls on the outskirts of Katherine, in Nitmiluk National Park, before arriving at Kakadu, the largest National Park in Australia.
It was the dry season, which generally runs through until late September, when the waterfalls in Kakadu stop flowing, but that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of vistas. Our first stop in Kakadu National Park was the Bowali Visitor Centre to pick up a Top End booklet and become familiar with all areas of the National Park before setting off on our Kakadu adventure.
Staying in Kakadu
Jabiru was our base, a perfect place from which to explore the major attractions. This modern purpose-built town caters for the workers of the ERA (Energy Resources of Australia) Mine as well as residents and visitors. It has all you need including a well-stocked supermarket and a range of caravan parks. The town’s big attraction is the Mercure Crocodile Hotel which was built in the shape of its namesake, 250 metres long and 30 metres wide.
We stayed at the Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park, a large park with over three hundred camping sites and a huge lagoon style swimming pool with an alfresco bar and bistro located in the centre of the park. Sites are grassy and shaded and suitable for all size rigs. Facilities include a camp kitchen, coin operated barbecues, laundry and souvenir shop. Across the road the Anbinik Kakadu Resort is smaller but has a peaceful ambience with ensuite sites, a pool surrounded by tropical gardens and a fantastic Thai outdoor restaurant on site (where we enjoyed Doug’s birthday dinner).
As well as the serviced caravan parks Kakadu has campgrounds in all seven regions of the park – the Mamukala Wetlands, Ubirr, Jabiru, Nourlangie, Yellow Water, Jim Jim Falls and Gunlom. Here you can immerse yourself in the landscape and the special time of dusk and dawn when the country comes alive. So too can the mozzies, so be prepared. Choose from managed campgrounds with toilets, fire pits and picnic tables or get right back to basics at a bush campground. Camping in Kakadu National Park is not included in your National Park pass and can cost between $6 - $15 per person per night. Many campsites are remote so familiarise yourself with the area by dropping into the Bowali Visitor Centre.
Getting around Kakadu
The Bowali Visitor Centre is also a good place to check up on current road conditions throughout the park, as many of the attractions are off the beaten track. Over four days we visited Gunlom, a clear rock pool high on the Kakadu escarpment, made famous in Crocodile Dundee and Maguk Gorge, another favourite monsoon rainforest walk that culminates in a crystal-clear rock pool for a refreshing dip. Our favourite however was Jim Jim Falls but it’s a trek to get in there.
Set in the red ochre of the Arnhem Land escarpment it’s 50kms of bumpy corrugated road, a few kilometres of four-wheel driving and then a rugged two kilometre walk and a final scramble across rocks to reach the falls. The end destination however is well worth it: towering two hundred metre cliffs, pristine rock pools and a spectacular sandy beach. In the wet the falls thunder down the rock face and this walking track is inaccessible. In the dry however, the falls are barely a trickle, but the views are still breathtaking. The water is refreshing after our long walk, and free of crocodiles. Two indigenous rangers working and swimming there, are testament to that. They know these waters.
There’s a strong feeling of connection to country within Kakadu where nineteen aboriginal clans live. The art sites of Ubirr and Nourlangie bear witness to this, home to about 5000 rock sites with some of the oldest paintings found in Ubirr, Nourlangie and Nanguluwurr. The best time to visit is at sunset. You can learn more about the culture and connection with the land at the Warradjan Aboriginal Culture Centre.
At Ubirr lookout
Kakadu is home to a huge amount of wildlife in and around the waterways. There’s over 1000 plant species, a quarter of all Australian freshwater fish species and over one third of all bird species can be found in the park. Watching the sunrise at Mamukala Wetlands is peaceful and if you book one of the popular Yellow Water cruises you’ll see firsthand many of these species, including crocodiles, buffalo on the plains and a multitude of birdlife. We spent Doug’s birthday out on a Yellow Water morning cruise, followed up by a memorable lunch of crocodile pizza afterwards at the Barra Bar and Bistro at Cooinda Resort.
On the cruise that morning our indigenous guide, Dennis, proved to be an entertaining and informative Boat Master. Part larrikin and part storyteller he was also a bit of a philosopher and his parting words on the cruise stirred me. “You are beautiful people, respect yourself, respect others, look after your family and enjoy this land. This is not just our backyard. It’s your backyard too.”
Litchfield is one of the jewels of Australia’s Top End and is located an hour and a half from Darwin or four hours from Kakadu. Where Kakadu is huge and sprawling, Litchfield is a compact park and easily negotiable. For us, after enjoying Kakadu and then spending eight days in Darwin, Australia’s northernmost capital city, we were looking forward to this lush and green wonderland.
Litchfield attracts upwards of 250,000 visitors a year and it’s easy to understand why. With its tropical waterfalls and pristine swimming holes, monsoon rainforests and crazy 4WD tracks, not to mention giant termite mounds and historic sites, there’s something here for everyone.
A termite mound
We spent five days in this beautiful landscape which allowed us plenty of time to enjoy the scenic beauty and waterfalls that make it famous. Wangi Falls is undoubtedly the most popular with the largest swimming hole, picnic area, cafe on site and lush picnic grounds. It can be especially busy around lunchtime in peak periods but don’t let that put you off. At Florence Falls 135 steps lead down to the bottom where it’s clear and shallow and especially popular with young families. There are other water holes at the Cascades, the plunge pools of Blueys Waterhole and Surprise Creek Falls. My favourite was the lower cascades through a gentle stunning rainforest walk.
Access to some of the more remote areas of the park is by 4WD only. One of the best is to The Lost City and it was here we headed on our day when I was feeling a bit crook and needed some time out of the water. The 10.5km track is open during the Dry Season and leads to an impressive site that looks like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The natural free standing sandstone blocks and lofty pillars, created over the years by natural erosion, give an impression of some long lost ruined city.
Another four-wheel drive day trip is along the Reynolds Track, accessed before the Wangi Falls turnoff. It’s 44kms and along the way you can turn off to visit the Blyth Homestead ruins or Sandy Creek Falls before traversing through some extraordinary magnetic termite mound country. Our final stop on the track was at the Surprise Creek Falls, where we enjoyed a refreshing swim at the end of the trail, at the waterfall and pristine waterhole. The biggest surprise was realising hours later back at camp that we’d left our Go Pro on the rocks!
Caravanning at Litchfield
Batchelor, near Litchfield National Park is the gateway to Litchfield National Park and one of the greenest towns in the Territory.
There are some great caravan parks to choose from in Batchelor including the Batchelor Holiday Park, a lush tropical oasis, within walking distance to town and where wild birds fly in for feeding daily. Long term Top Enders and current owners of the park, Jim and Julie Leach, go out of their way to offer friendly top end hospitality with laid back charm. Our powered site was nestled by shade and palms, the perfect place to string up our hammock and relax. And those birds flying in daily, well they were a real highlight.
There are powered, drive through sites and ensuite sites, with washing machines. Another excellent option, just 4kms from Wangi Falls, is the Litchfield Safari Camp which offers spacious powered sites and shady grassed camping areas, wood barbecues in steel fireplaces and an above ground pool for those hot territory days. It’s the closest accommodation to the park attractions.
There are many other caravan parks to choose from at Litchfield including Pandunus on Litchfield, Banyan Tree Caravan Park and Litchfield Tourist Park. For those who prefer camping within the National Park itself there are options including Wangi Falls Campground, Florence Falls 2WD Campground and Walker Creek Campground. All campsites in Litchfield are paid for on arrival at the campground and are on a first come first serve basis.
Kakadu or Litchfield
Many ask, which is better? Kakadu requires a fee to enter the park and Litchfield is free. Litchfield is more compact and easily accessible with most of the waterholes, attractions and waterfalls within easy driving distance whilst Kakadu requires more driving and in the wet season many places are not accessible from the ground. In my opinion they both offer an equally spectacular touring destination. You could easily spend a week or more in Kakadu as there’s so much to see and do, and it’s spread over a larger area. Litchfield on the other hand can be seen over a busy weekend if you’re short on time.
View from above the Edith Falls walk
Both Litchfield and Kakadu offer larger than life landscapes and Mother Nature’s best work. There’s so much magic here that will fill your heart with overwhelming happiness and your mind with unforgettable experiences. Natasha Nadji from the Buntj Clan in Kakadu sums it up beautifully, “People need to come here and relax, sit on country, feel the spirits of the country and go home and feel the same way.”
To find out more about experiences, caravanning and road trips in the Top End visit tourismtopend.com.au or telephone 1300 138 886
Park passes are required for Kakadu and can be purchased online at parksaustralia.gov.au/book/
Plan you next trip to the Top End National Parks Map: Litchfield, Katherine & Kakadu with HEMA MAPS