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The Best Ways To Explore Kakadu National Park

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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 delight in its diverse flora and fauna. It’s also a famous cultural icon of Australia with ancient cave paintings and indigenous rock art.

Best Ways to explore Kakadu National Park

You can learn much about the aboriginal culture and traditions dating back hundreds of thousands of years in Kakadu. To get the most out of your experience here, you must give yourself sufficient time to observe and explore. 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 fantastic Kakadu Facts

When looking at its map, it is tough to fully realize the park’s size. Many travellers do not understand this aspect when planning the itinerary and eventually feel disappointed if they cannot see all the attractions.

That’s why it’s best to plan your trip to Kakadu, considering its distances and the different seasons 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, this protected national park is enormous and spans over 19,000 km, nearly half the size of Switzerland. With so much 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 City. Before becoming a national park, Kakadu was occupied by Aboriginal people for thousands of years. They first opened as a national park on 5th April 1979.

The early Aboriginal tribes 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.

The Kakadu National Park World Heritage Site

How Kakadu National Park became a World Heritage Site

After being recognized as a national park in 1979, there was a need to conserve this precious landscape. Therefore in the year, 1981 Kakadu was named a heritage site. In 1987 and 1992, more portions of the land were included under its valued heritage status. The Koongarra land’s proximity to Nourlangie Rock was added later in 2011 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 Darwin’s distance to Kakadu of about 250 km. Once there, you can opt for a few different ways of exploring it.

From Darwin to Jabiru Kakadu

Exploring Kakadu on a self-driving trip

A self-driving trip might be the best choice if you travel with companions. Driving in Kakadu gives you more freedom to see everything at your own pace. No taxis, buses or trains can be used; therefore, you will have to rent a vehicle. 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 need to hire a campervan or four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Darwin to Kakadu Self Drive Trip

Going on a guided Kakadu Tour

Another option for your Kakadu explorations is to take a guided tour. It saves you the time you would have spent booking a vehicle, searching for a particular place in the park, or asking questions. The guided tours of the National Park always offer enjoyable activities and usually have a very efficient schedule. The Kakadu park entry fee of 25 dollars is also included in the cost of the tour.

Kakadu Tours from Darwin

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, an excellent time to visit 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 camping, as insects will not annoy you. You are more likely to see crocodiles 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 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 fewer crowds to share the space with. The only problem is that the heavy rains might hamper your travel plans because of road restrictions.

Only by understanding the seasons will you know when are the best months to travel in Australia.

All Kakadu Seasons

Things to do in Kakadu National Park throughout the year

The Kakadu 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 the seasons are meant in terms of the wet and dry seasons, there are six Kakadu seasons that the indigenous people follow.

This six-season calendar that they use is the Gum-Djenhim Calendar.

1. Gudjewg is from January to March
The monsoon season is when the humidity is high, and thunderstorms are frequent. The greenery is lush, and a few park areas have become floodplains this season. You can still go on a wet season cruise or fly over some dazzling Kakadu attractions during this time.

2. Banggerreng takes place in April
It is called the storm season because of the heavy rain that signalled the wet season’s end. This is a splendid time to join some 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 cruise time since it is more friendly 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 to take a four-wheeler drive since the creeks and floodplains are drying out. This is the best time for bird-watching enthusiasts to get glimpses of 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 rain and lightning are beautiful to witness. You can still access many roads but must watch for early rain showers.

What to do in Kakadu National Park

There are so many things to do in Kakadu during either season. With the wet season’s unpredictable weather, there are still many things to do in Kakadu National Park.

You can cruise The Yellow Waters, which lets you see its floodplains covered in lush green vegetation. It is a beautiful sight, along with the crocodiles, kingfishers, and animals moving about during this time.

During the wet season, you can visit Kakadu’s rock art sites. There is so much to see in these galleries that you will not experience a moment of boredom.

What to do in Kakadu

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 you might have never seen in your entire life.

The dry season is also an excellent time 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 allow you to spot sandstone rock formations beside the East Alligator River, see Aboriginal stone art and see unique plant life.

Swim in the Kakadu Waterfalls

Take your pick from some of these dazzling Kakadu waterfalls:

  • Gunlom Falls

    This stunning and pristine spot is excellent for hiking, swimming, and picnicking. You can set up a fun picnic on the grassy area next to Gunlom Lake and enjoy the peacefulness of the green emerald Gunlom Falls. It is also an excellent place to set up your camp if you plan to spend the night there.

    Gunlom Lookout Kakadu National Park

  • Jim-Jim Falls

    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.

  • Twin Falls

    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 falls base. Twin Falls is a great place to spend a day.

    Kakadu Waterfalls

  • Maguk Falls

    The Maguk Falls are dazzling waterfalls surrounded by lush vegetation and beautiful wildlife.  To get to the falls, you must hike through the monsoon forests. You can follow a trail along the river to get to the clear plunge pool. An immense stone amphitheatre is also situated there.

Go on a Kakadu Wetlands Cruise

Kakadu has many attractions for you, but the Corroboree Billabong is something 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 significant habitat for birds like the Azure Kingfisher, Pelicans, Jabiru and many bird species that can only be found in that area of Australia.

Kakadu Wetlands

To enjoy the Corroboree Billabong, you can take a cruise down it. There are plenty of cruises 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 wetland banks. And indeed, 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 excellent camping sites to pick from all over the park. You can also take a Kakadu 4WD Safari, a fun way to see the place and combine it with an authentic camping experience.

It is also a way to inject 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.

Going on a Kakadu Safari Camping

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.

  • Crocodiles
    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 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.Crocodiles Kakadu N.P.
  • Flying foxes
    These tiny and loud vegetarian bats live in the park’s forested areas. Vast colonies of fly foxes are in the mangroves, the paperbark forests, and the park’s monsoon rainforests. Because of their feeding habits, they are helpful in pollination and help 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 Rock Wallaby and Wallaroo
  • Kakadu’s Birds
    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 are 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 storks, Magpie geese, and egrets.

Seeing flora and fauna is one of the fascinating things 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 highlight crucial national park paintings.

Kakadu Rock Art

  • The Majestic Nourlangie Rock
    This location comprises three sites: Burrungkuy, Kuwarddewardde Lookout, and Anbangbang Shelter, the primary site. The main gallery at Nourlangie in Kakadu National Park is always open from dusk to dawn. You can browse through much information about the ancestors, people’s languages, beliefs, and values.
  • Nanguluwur beautifully painted rocks
    Located on the northern side of Burrungkuy (Nourlangie), tourists often overlook this incredible rock art site. It contains hand stencils, some of the earliest forms of rock art available in the park. In earlier times, the Aboriginal people painted by crushing pigments and mixing them with water to make a paste.
    Many times these wet pigments were blown around objects as if they were stencils. This kind of unique stencil can only be seen at the Ubirr and Nanguluwurr sites. Here the first interaction of the Aboriginal people with the Europeans is displayed in 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 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, believed to have become extinct thousands of years ago. After spending time here, you can also take a 15-minute walk up Ubirr’s lookout with the best views in Kakadu.
  • Bowali Visitor Centre
    This visitor centre lies five kilometres to the west of Jabiru. It is named after Bowali Creek, which flows nearby. It houses the Marrawuddi Gallery, with 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

A tour to explore Kakadu’s beauty and diversity is a great way to pack a lot into your trip. There are 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 fantastic national park. If you take one of Darwin’s tours to Kakadu, there will be an early pick-up from your accommodation quite early in the morning. After 2.5 hour’s drive, you reach the park entrance and tour the sights.

A few 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 visit the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre, cruise on the 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 time 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.

Kakadu guided Tours from Darwin

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 national park area comfortably 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 Adventure.

4 to 5-day Kakadu Tour

Many tours range 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, 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 much more affordable than staying at a hotel or resort. You can also choose to be a part of a safari camp where you can see Kakadu’s wildlife up close to 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 from.

The Anbinik Kakadu Resort and the Aurora Kakadu Resort are two luxury resorts you can choose to stay in.

If you are looking for comfortable budget accommodation, then The Kakadu Lodge is the best place to stay in Kakadu.

The Aurora Kakadu Resort, the Kakadu Lodge and the Cooinda Lodge Kakadu are some places that have powered gen-suite sites for caravans and campervans.

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How to explore the Kakadu National Park

Exploring Kakadu National Park as a solo traveller

More Travel Guides for Northern Australia

Check out our guide on what to do in Darwin and our guide to the Top End of Australia.

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First published in 2015, last updated in December 2022