The majestic Kakadu National Park in Australia is a renowned tourist destination for a reason. This exceptional landscape is not just for nature lovers who can take delight in seeing its diverse flora and fauna. It’s also a famous cultural icon of Australia with ancient cave paintings and indigenous rock art.
In Kakadu, you can learn so much about the aboriginal culture and their traditions dating back hundreds of thousands of years. To get the most out of your experience here, you must give yourself sufficient time for observation and exploration. It’s the largest national park in Australia with abundant sightseeing opportunities. So be sure to include this spot on your bucket list.
A few amazing Kakadu Facts
When looking at its map, it is tough to realize the Kakadu National Park size fully. Many travellers do not understand this aspect when planning the itinerary and eventually feel disappointed if they are unable to see all the attractions. That’s why it’s best to plan your Kakadu trip keeping in mind its distances and the different season and weather conditions. Here you can download the official Kakadu Map on PDF.
Here are a few intriguing facts about Kakadu worth knowing.
Where is Kakadu National Park and what does Kakadu mean?
Located at the Top End of Australia Northern Territory, this protected national park is enormous and spanning over 19,000kms which is nearly half the size of Switzerland. With so much for you to cover during your trip, you will need at least three or four days to do it justice. This national park is 2 hours drive from the East of Darwin. Before becoming a national park, Kakadu was a region that had been occupied by Aboriginal people for thousands of years. They first opened as a national park on 5th April 1979.
The early Aboriginal tribes that lived in this region spoke a language called Gagudju. The name Kakadu refers to a mispronunciation of the name of that language, according to a legend. This name was also suggested in an attempt to recognize the land rights of the Aboriginal people.
How Kakadu National Park became a World Heritage Site
After being recognized as a national park in 1979, there was a need for conservation of this precious landscape. Therefore in the year, 1981 Kakadu was named as a heritage site. In 1987 and 1992 more portions of the land were included under its valued heritage status. The Koongarra land with its proximity to Nourlangie Rock was also added later in 2011 as a way to preserve the Aboriginal rock art site.
Darwin to Kakadu: how to get there and visit the park
Driving on the Arnhem Highway is the best and fastest way to bridge the distance from Darwin to Kakadu of about 250 km. Once there, you can opt from a few different ways of exploring it.
Exploring Kakadu on a self-driving trip
A self-driving trip might be the best choice for you if you are travelling with companions. Driving in Kakadu gives you more freedom to see everything at your own pace. There are no taxis, buses or trains that you can use; therefore, you will have to rent a vehicle for yourself. Some of Kakadu’s sights lie on off beaten paths and can only be accessed on a four-wheel-drive vehicle. If you want to visit locations like the majestic Twin Falls, the Jim Jim Falls, or Maguk you will need a 4WD.
Going on a guided Kakadu Tour
Another option for your Kakadu exploration is to take a guided tour. It saves you the time that you would have spent booking a vehicle, searching for a particular place in the park, or asking questions. The guided tours of Kakadu National Park always offer delightful activities and usually have a very efficient schedule. The park entry fee of 25 dollars is also included in the cost of the tour.
Best time to visit Kakadu National Park
Understanding the best time to visit Darwin and Kakadu is something that you should do with careful planning. Here’s what you should know about when to visit Kakadu.
The Dry Season
The dry season is from late April to August and is a good time for visiting Kakadu because the weather is reliable. At this time, the weather is pleasant with rare showers, and the waterfalls are still in full force. The dry season is an excellent time for you to go camping as insects will not annoy you. You are more likely to see crocodiles during this time when they come out to warm themselves. The late dry season from September to mid-October is the best time to see the birds and other wildlife.
The Wet Season
November to April is a time when you can expect heavy rain and storms here. During this time, the landscape is stunning, waterfalls are roaring, and the tropical thunderstorms are spellbinding. Travelling to Kakadu in the wet season ensures that there are fewer crowds to share the space with. The only problem is that the heavy rains might hamper your travel plans because of the restrictions placed on roads.
Only by understanding the seasons thoroughly will you be able to know the best time to visit these destinations in Australia.
Things to do in Kakadu National Park throughout the year
The Kakadu National Park landscape is diverse and vibrant with opportunities for adventure. It is impossible to experience the beauty of this magnificent park in a single visit, especially if you do not understand its seasons. Although Kakadu’s seasons are meant in terms of the wet and dry season, there are six Kakadu seasons that the indigenous people follow.
This six-seasons calendar that they use is the Gum-djenhim Calendar.
1. Gudjewg is from January to March
It is called the monsoon season, and it is a time when the humidity is high, and thunderstorms are frequent. The greenery is lush, and a few areas of the park become floodplains in this season. During this time you can still go on a wet seasons cruise or fly over some of the dazzling Kakadu attractions.
2. Banggerreng takes place in April
It is called the storm season because of the heavy rain during this time signalling the end of the wet season. This is a splendid time to join some of the Kakadu fishing tours and see the vast schools of fish congregating in specific areas.
3. Yegge lies in May and June
This is the best time for you to take a cruise since the weather is nicer with cooler temperatures. You can see the beautiful Kakadu wetlands full of sprouting water lilies and enjoy the early morning mists.
4. Wurrgeng is the cold season that spans mid-June to mid-August
It is a good time for you to take a four-wheeler drive, around since the creeks and floodplains are drying out. This is the best time for bird watching enthusiasts to get glimpses of the wetland birds.
5. Gurrung is the hot, dry season of late August and September
Temperatures can range from 23-37 degrees Celsius. This dry season signals lots of heat but more accessibility through the different areas of the park.
6. Gunumeleng is the pre-monsoon season from October to December
These early showers of rains and lightning are beautiful to witness. You can still access many of the roads, but you still have to watch out for early showers of rain.
What to do in Kakadu National Park
There are so many things to do in Kakadu during either season. With the unpredictable weather of the wet season, there are still many things to do in Kakadu National Park. You can cruise The Yellow Waters which allows you to see its floodplains covered in lush green vegetation. It is a beautiful sight to behold, along with the crocodiles, kingfishers, and animals moving about during this time. During the wet season, you can pay a visit to Kakadu’s rock art sites. There is so much to see in these galleries that you will not experience a moment of boredom.
If you have been wondering what to do in Kakadu in the dry season, the best option is to go bird watching. Kakadu National Park has some of the most incredible birds that you might have never laid sight on in your entire life. The dry season is also a great time to go for long walks throughout the park. If you are up for a long walk, the hikes from the Yurmikmik parking lot can stretch to 14 kilometres. Shorter trails like the Bardedjilidji Walk are also available. It will give you a chance to spot sandstone rock formations beside the East Alligator River, see Aboriginal stone art, and unique plant life.
Swim in the Kakadu Waterfalls
Take your pick from some of these dazzling Kakadu waterfalls:
This stunning and pristine spot is great for hiking, swimming, and picnicking. You can set up a fun picnic on the grassy area next to the Gunlom Lake and enjoy the peacefulness of the green emerald Gunlom Falls. It is also an excellent spot to set up your camp if you plan on spending the night there.
The majestic Jim Jim Falls can only be accessed with a four-wheeler drive. They are located in the Arnhem Land escarpment and have beautiful beaches for you to see. It requires quite a bit of walking to get to the central part of the falls but taking a dip in the clear water makes it all worthwhile. The only hitch is that these falls become inaccessible during the wet season.
Like the Jim Jim Falls, the Twin Falls are located in the Arnhem Land escarpment. It is one of Kakadu’s most prominent waterfalls with a height of one hundred and fifty meters. To get to Twin falls, one has to take a shuttle service to the base of the falls. Twin Falls is a great place to spend a day.
The Maguk Falls are dazzling waterfalls surrounded by lush vegetation and beautiful wildlife. To get to the falls, you need to take a short hike through the monsoon forest. There is a trail that you can follow along the river to get to the clear plunge pool located nearby. An immense stone amphitheatre is also situated there.
Go on a Kakadu Wetlands Cruise
Kakadu has so many attractions for you to choose from, but the Corroboree Billabong is something that you cannot miss. Located on the Mary River Wetlands, the Corroboree Billabong is one of the largest billabongs of the river spanning twenty kilometres. It is a large habitat for birds like the Azure Kingfisher, Pelicans, Jabiru and many bird species that can only be found in that area of Australia.
To enjoy the Corroboree Billabong, you can take a cruise down it. There are plenty of cruises for you to pick from, each offering a unique perspective of its calm waterways. There is an excellent view of the water lilies and the flora that dot the banks of the wetland. An certainly there is no excuse to miss this cruise.
Join a fun Kakadu Camping Safari
When travelling through Kakadu, many people opt for a camping trip. There are ample camping sites to pick from all over the park. You can also choose to take a Kakadu 4WD Safari, which is a fun way to see the place and combine it with an authentic camping experience. It is also a way to inject some adventure and excitement into your trip. You can get the chance to stay at a private campsite that comes fully equipped with all your necessities. Or you can be closer to the wilderness by staying in the Australian swag tent.
See the unique Kakadu Wildlife
Kakadu’s distinct landscape allows many species of animals and birds to thrive all year round. To enjoy the park’s wildlife to the fullest, you should take advantage of the early morning and sunset periods. You can carry a pair of binoculars to get the best views of all the animals and birds scurrying about.
Kakadu is famous for its crocodiles, and it has almost 10,000 of these prehistoric beasts. The East Alligator River and the Yellow Water Billabong are two places where you can take a cruise to see the crocs up close. There are also high viewing platforms like the Cahills Crossing platform or the Yellow Water boardwalk to see the crocodiles.
- Flying foxes
These are the tiny and loud vegetarian bats that live in the forested areas of the park. Vast colonies of fly foxes are in the mangroves, the paperbark forests, and the monsoon rainforests of the park. Because of their feeding habits, they are useful in pollination, and they help to make Kakadu’s landscape beautiful and lush.
- The Rock Wallaby
Kakadu’s rock wallabies can be found in its thriving woodlands. The feisty wallabies are very common, especially around the Aurora Kakadu Resort. They can grow up to 80 centimetres long and have long tails. You can also see these short-eared Rock Wallabies at Ubirr early in the morning.
- Kakadu’s Birds
The birdlife is another sight to behold with more than two hundred and eighty species of birds found at the national park. Some of the beautiful Kakadu birds of the region are the Comb Crested Jacanas. They are also called the Jesus bird and to be seen on the Yellow Water. They get their name from their ability to walk on water as they have long toes. Along with the Jacanas you can also find Jabiru stork, Magpie geese, and egrets.
Seeing the Kakadu flora and fauna is one of the fascinating things to do at the Top End of Australia.
Admire the ancient Aboriginal Rock Art
Kakadu is well-known for its indigenous rock art that stretches back thousands of years.
The three rock art sites open to the public are Ubirr, Nourlangie, and Nanguluwur. When taking a tour of these fascinating sites, an indigenous guide will give you information and point out crucial national park paintings.
- The Majestic Nourlangie Rock
This location is made up of three sites that include Burrungkuy, Kuwarddewardde Lookout, and Anbangbang Shelter, which is the major site. The main gallery at Nourlangie in Kakadu National Park is always open from dusk to dawn. You can browse through a multitude of information about the ancestors, the languages of the people, their beliefs, and values.
- Nanguluwur beautiful painted rocks
Located in the northern side of Burrungkuy, (Nourlangie) this is an incredible rock art site that is often overlooked by tourists. It contains hand stencils which are some of the earliest forms of rock art available in Kakadu. In earlier times, the Aboriginal people made paint by crushing pigments and mixing it with water to make a paste. Many times these wet pigments were blown around objects as if it were a stencil. This kind of unique stencils can only be seen at the Ubirr and Nanguluwurr site. Here the first interaction of the Aboriginal people with the Europeans is displayed in the form of a two-masted sailing ship with an anchor chain.
- The Spectacular Ubirr Rock
This is the largest and most popular Kakadu Aboriginal art site with some of the most outstanding rock art seen in the national park. It has x-ray art that dates back to the freshwater period. This kind of ancient art is fascinating and depicts animals by painting their skeletal structures and internal organs. The main gallery especially has a beautiful painting of the Tasmanian tiger, which is believed to have become extinct thousands of years ago. After spending time here, you can also take a 15-minute walk up to Ubirr lookout which has the best views in Kakadu.
- Bowali Visitor Centre
This visitor centre lies five kilometres to the west of Jabiru. It is named after the Bowali Creek which flows nearby. It houses the Marrawuddi Gallery which has beautiful Aboriginal art and craft on sale. You can choose from handcrafted paintings, beautiful woodwork, books, homewares and more. The Marrawuddi Gallery is also the cultural jewel of the Kakadu National Park.
How to choose the best Kakadu Tours
Taking a tour to explore the beauty and diversity of Kakadu is a great way to pack a lot into your trip. There are so many tours to Kakadu from Darwin catering to different time frames, adventure needs, and attractions.
One Day Tour
A one day tour is perfect for travellers who do not have as much time to spend during their trip but still want to soak up the beauty of this amazing national park. If you take one of the tours from Darwin to Kakadu, there will be an early pick-up from your accommodation quite early in the morning. After 2.5 hours drive, you reach the entrance of the Kakadu and tour the sights of the park. A few of the spots on your tour might include the Ubirr Rock Lookout, the East Alligator River, and Arnhem Land’s unique terrain, with a final drop off at Darwin.
Our pick with the best Kakadu Day Tours from Darwin and Jabiru:
A 2 Day Tour
The two-day tour is a splendid way to experience Kakadu if you have a little more time. You can pay a visit to the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre, take a cruise on Kakadu’s Yellow Water Billabong, and see the Aboriginal rock paintings at Nourlangie Rock. On these tours, there is information about the history of the area. You can also take a tour with an Aboriginal guide if you visit the Gunbalanya Art Centre on the second day of your trip. During these overnight tours, accommodation is provided to you.
A 3 Day Tour
A 3-day tour is one of the best Kakadu tours for travellers who are in no rush to see all the sights. You can traverse a larger area of the national park at a comfortable pace during a three-day trip. You will have time to see the incredible Fogg Dam. If you enjoy bird watching, you can take the Corroboore Billabong Cruise. On the next day, go on a trip to Gunlom Falls. There will also be time for you to experience the indigenous culture of Kakadu National Park. The Window in the Wetlands is an aboriginal cultural centre.
Read more about a 3-day Kakadu Camping Tour.
4 to 5 day Kakadu Tour
Many tours are ranging from 4-5 days as well. A popular trip to take is the Kakadu-Katherine-Litchfield Tour which allows you to visit the three most significant attractions of the Top End in one go. This is the best opportunity to see the splendid sights of Kakadu, along with the Katherine Gorge at Nitmiluk National park, while enjoying a relaxing camping experience in Lichfield National Park.
The perfect accommodation for the Kakadu National Park
There are so many fantastic lodgings that you can choose from during your Kakadu trip.
Camping in this national park is an experience unlike any other. A few camping spots like Djarradjin, Mardugal, and Gunlom have paid shower facilities.
Camping is also a much more affordable option vs staying at a hotel or resort. You can also choose to be a part of a safari camp where you will be able to see Kakadu’s wildlife up close from your private accommodation.
Another great option is renting a caravan or a campervan. Renting a way of staying caravan gives you more comfort and freedom of movement during the day.
How to choose the right place where to stay in Kakadu
If camping is not your thing, there is no reason to fret.
There is a full range of comfortable Kakadu National Park hotels and lodges that you can choose.
The Anbinik Kakadu Resort and the Aurora Kakadu Resort are two of the luxury resorts that you can choose to stay. If you are looking for comfortable budget accommodation, then The Kakadu Lodge is the best place where to stay in Kakadu.
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Last updated in August 2019