Kakadu National Park

Jim Jim Falls, Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park is in the Northern Territory of Australia, 171 km east of Darwin. The national park is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Understand

The name 'Kakadu' comes from an aboriginal floodplain language called Gagudju which was one of the languages spoken in the north of the park at the beginning of the twentieth century. Gagudju is no longer regularly spoken but descendants of this language group are still living in Kakadu.

Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land comprise more than 110,000 square kilometres in the north-east corner of the Northern Territory. The landscapes of are diverse and set the scene for outback adventure travel, aboriginal culture and nature activities.

Kakadu National Park is the largest national park in Australia. It contains one of the highest concentrated areas of aboriginal rock art sites in the world; the most famous examples are at Nourlangie Rock and Ubirr.

The secret to discovering Kakadu is taking your time. You'll find stories, secrets and sights never imagined. It is impossible to appreciate the full breadth and beauty of the park in a fleeting visit – if you can afford the time, spend a week or more.

Nature and wildlife abound in this area, which is known for its level of biodiversity. Wholly aboriginal owned land, Arnhem Land is known for its strong aboriginal culture, towering escarpments, wild coastline, savannah woodlands, lush wetlands and prolific wildlife. Closer to Darwin is the Mary River region, home to millions of birds, saltwater crocodiles and fish, including the mighty barramundi, which makes it a fishing hot spot.

History

The park was established in 1981. It is governed by Environment Australia / Parks Australia and Aboriginal traditional land owners (the Gun-djeihmi, Kunwinjku, Krakeourtinnie and Jawoyn peoples). The park has recently been accepted as a World-Heritage listing.

Landscape

The park contains 1,980,400 hectacres of wetlands and other terrain. It is Australia's largest National Park and is approximately the size of Israel.

Biodiversity

Kakadu is home to 68 mammals (almost one-fifth of Australia’s mammals), more than 120 reptiles, 26 frogs, over 300 tidal and freshwater fish species, more than 2 000 plants and over 10 000 species of insects. It provides habitat for more than 290 bird species (over one-third of Australia’s birds). Its internationally important wetlands are a major staging point for migratory birds. Some of these species are threatened or endangered. Many are found nowhere else in the world and there are still others yet to be discovered. The Creation Ancestors gave Bininj/Mungguy a kinship system linking people to all things and the cultural responsibility to look after them all. They have always understood the biodiversity of country and their traditional ancestral knowledge is a vital part of managing Kakadu’s rich environment.

The Habitats of Kakadu

Within the vast landscapes of Kakadu, there are six main landforms. Each landform and the habitats it contains has a range of plants and animals. As you move through Kakadu, take the time to explore and appreciate the diversity of the areas you visit - each one is truly unique.

Savanna Woodlands making up nearly 80 per cent of Kakadu.

Monsoon forests occur in small, isolated patches.

The Southern Hills appear in the south of Kakadu are the result of millions of years of erosion.

sandstone escarpment Dominant in the Arnhem Land Plateau.

coastal and estuarine areas take up almost 500 square kilometres of Kakadu

Floodplains undergo dramatic seasonal changes. Following wet season rains, a sea of shallow freshwater spreads over the plains for hundreds of square kilometres. As the floodplains start to dry, waterbirds and crocodiles seek refuge in the remaining wet areas such as Yellow Water.

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Flora and fauna

The park's wetlands provide the greatest visual pleasure. The freshwater and estaurine (saltwater) crocodiles sleep on the banks of all rivers and the many billabongs for most of the day but can also be seen floating or swimming in the water. Birdlife abounds from the stately Jabiru to the amusing "Jesus" bird (Jacana) as it steps from lily pad to lily pad. At dusk on the Yellow Water billabong (Ngurrungurrudjba), hundred of herons circle overhead landing and taking of from half-submerged trees. Ospreys sit on termite mounds or soar on high looking for prey beneath the still waters. The billabongs of the Kakadu national park are anything but "stagnant pools of water". Wallabies are very common and are often, unfortunately, seen as roadkill. Feral horses, pigs and water buffalo also roam the park. Frilled Lizards are also present but are only regularly seen during the wet season when the park is nearly inaccessible.

Climate

Six seasons of Kakadu

The Six Seasons of Kakadu

Throughout the year, Kakadu’s landscapes undergo spectacular changes. Bininj/Mungguy recognise six different seasons, as well as subtle variations that signpost the transition from one season to another. This knowledge of nature is fundamental to the culture of Kakadu and its people. Bininj/Mungguy have lived with the changing landscape for tens of thousands of years, adapting and using the land for food, shelter and general well−being.

Yegge

Cool weather time, May to June. The wetlands are carpeted with water lilies. Drying winds and flowering Darwin woolly butt tell Bininj/Mungguy to patchwork burn the woodlands to encourage new growth.

Wurrgeng

Early dry season, June to August Most creeks stop flowing and the floodplains quickly dry out. Magpie geese, fat and heavy after weeks of abundant food crowd the shrinking billabongs.

Gurrung

Hot dry season, August to October Hunting time for file snakes and long-necked turtles. White-breasted wood swallows arrive as thunderclouds build, signalling the return of Gunumeleng.

Gunumeleng

Pre-monsoon, October to December Streams begin to run, water birds spread out as surface water and new growth becomes widespread. Barramundi move from the waterholes downstream to the estuaries to breed.

Gudjewg

Monsoon, December to March. The heat and humidity generate an explosion of plant and animal life. Spear grass grows to over two metres tall and creates a silvery-green hue throughout the woodlands.

Banggerreng Harvest time, April. Clear skies prevail, the vast expanses of floodwater recede and streams start to run clear. Most plants are fruiting and animals are caring for their young.

Get in

JMap of Kakadu National Park

Access from Darwin to Jabiru is via the Arnhem Highway. This is a reasonable quality sealed road that is usually open all year round. Access from the south to Jabiru is via the Kakadu Highway, again usually open all year round. Check road conditions before setting off. It is around 3-4 hours drive from Darwin to Jabiru.

There is now an entry fee for Kakadu National Park - $25 per person over 16 years of age. The entry pass is valid for 14 days.

You can hire 2wd and 4wd cars in Darwin, with daily distance limits. Campervan rentals often don't have distance limits. A variety Coach and small group tours are also available from Darwin.

Some parts of the park are not accessible during the wet season, or are not accessible by 2wd vehicles during the wet season. Check road conditions and closures in advance.

Get around

Kakadu is massive (the size of a small country) and 4WD vehicles are required to enter some areas. However many spectacular and popular sites are readily accessible via sealed roads.

By car

For those with a vehicle is an easy and pleasurable option. The main tourist route is east from Darwin to Jaibiru, then south-west to Cooinda, then continuing on as far as Pine Creek, with a possible deviation south to Katherine, before returning north to Darwin. Such an itinerary could be easily be covered in a few days with longer time if wanting to see things off-road.

By tour

Tours inside the Park are available with the popular destinations being a day trip to Twin Falls and Jim Jim Falls. The pick up points for such tours are typically from Jaibiru and Cooinda.

Scenic Flights

Scenic Flights in either small, fixed wing aircraft or helicopter are available. Air strips are located at Jaibiru and Cooinda.

See

The Yellow Water Billabong in July
Twin falls, Kakadu National Park
Ubirr rock art, Kakadu National Park

Do

Guide to Cultural Interaction


Bininj/Mungguy culture has its own set of social behaviours and customs, which are considered good manners. Please consider these while you are in Kakadu.

Show respect by not entering restricted areas. They may be sacred sites, ceremonial sites, burial grounds or even someone’s home.

Traditionally, Bininj/Mungguy do not greet each other every time they meet. However, most Bininj/ Mungguy are used to non-Aboriginal people doing so and may expect a ‘hello’.

Many Bininj/Mungguy do not use personal names as freely as non-Aboriginal people do and often address each other by kinship terms.

Bininj/Mungguy appreciate privacy. It is good manners not to enter living areas and not to take photographs of Bininj/Mungguy without permission.

Some Bininj/Mungguy find constant eye contact uncomfortable.

In Bininj/Mungguy culture it is important to listen carefully and consider the response carefully before giving an answer.

It is polite to say goodbye when leaving. The Bininj/Mungguy word for goodbye is Boh Boh (pronounced bor bor).

In Bininj/Mungguy culture it is often not appropriate to use the names or display images of deceased people.

Areas in Kakadu may close at short notice for cultural purposes at the request of traditional owners.

Walking is a great way to experience Kakadu. There are many walks throughout the park, including a wide variety of short and easy day walks as well as some longer, more challenging full day walks for those who are fit. Check seasonal access. A permit is required for anyone wishing to do an overnight bushwalk. Advance planning is essential, as is the ability to navigate using a topographic map and a compass. The routes are unmarked, and extend through remote and rugged country with variable climatic conditions.

A small, private cruise on the Corroboree or Yellow Water Billabongs is the best way to get a very close, safe and eco-friendly look at the biggest crocodiles in the world. Most tours include an activity like this. Shady Camp, near Corroboree, is home to one of the biggest crocodiles in the park at 6 meters in length.

Boating on Kakadu’s waterways can be dangerous due to strong currents, sand bars, submerged logs and crocodiles. For this reason use of non-motorised vessels (canoes) is prohibited.

Buy

Kakadu is an almost completely unpopulated landscape the size of a small country. There are, however, regular petrol stations, camping grounds, and outposts along the way with assorted small gifts as well as aboriginal goods.

In Jabiru there is a service station, supermarket, newsagent and post office (Commonwealth Bank agency), Westpac Bank, travel agent, medical centre and chemist (Tel: +61 8 8979 2018), police, public telephones, swimming pool, library (internet), hairdresser, golf course, restaurant, café and bakery.

The Border Store in the East Alligator region Sells food, fishing gear and souvenirs and takes bookings for commercial tours. Tel: +61 8 8979 2474

Gagudju Lodge Cooinda store: Sells petrol, LPG gas, diesel, food and souvenirs, and takes bookings for commercial tours.

Gunlom Kiosk: (Dry season only). Light refreshments, cold drinks and icecreams.

Goymarr Interpretive Centre (Mary River Roadhouse): Visitor information, food, stores and fuel.

Eat

Jabiru has a supermarket where you will find all the basic necessities. There are also a few nice little restaurants and cafes. Basic food is available at the sporadic rest stops and museums throughout the park.

The lodge at Cooinda serves food until about 9pm and drinks later (whenever things slow down, it seems). The food is really good and includes dishes like the wild goose and kangaroo pie, but neither it or the drinks are cheap.

Kakadu Bakery (close to Lakeview as well as Kakadu Lodge) serves pastries, sandwiches and pizza at reasonable prices.

Drink

It is vital that you carry plenty of water with you at all times, especially during the dry season. Some of the upper rock pools are safe to drink from, but lower level rivers are not.

Sleep

Lodging

Camping

There are many camping grounds dotted through the park. Jabiru, Cooinda and South Alligator all have commercial camping areas and are in proximity to most of the important natural attractions in these areas.

Camping with basic or no toilet facilities is available at Two Mile, Four Mile Hole, Red Lily Billabong, Bucket Billabong, Alligator Billabong and Waldak Irrmbal (West Alligator Head). Drinking water is not available. Rubbish bins are not provided, so please bring rubbish out with you. Check wet season access.

Camping with basic toilet facilities available at Malabanjbanjdju and Burdulba. Drinking water is not available.

Merl Camping Area: Showers, toilets and generator zone. Camping fees (adults only) are collected on site. Check wet season access.

Muirella Park Camping Area (Check wet season access). Has showers, toilets and is a no generator zone. Camping fees (adults only) are collected on site during the dry season.

Safari camp accommodation and night time spot light boat tour on Djarradjin Billabong (Muirella Park) provided by Kakadu Culture Camp.

Mardugal Camping Area (Check wet season access). Has showers, toilets and generator zone. Camping fees (adults only) are collected on site during the dry season.

Camping with basic toilet facilities is available at Jim Jim Billabong. Drinking water not available.

Garnamarr Camping Area (Dry season only, 4WD). Showers, toilets, camping fees (adults only) are collected on site. No generators.

Gunlom Camping Area (Gravel road; dry season only). Gunlom plunge pool is located nearby. Has showers, toilets and generator zone. Camping fees (adults only) are collected on site. Gas BBQ in day use area. Camping with basic toilet facilities, BBQ areas and picnic tables is available at Maguk, Gungurul and Kambolgie. Drinking water is not available. Please check wet season access for Maguk and Kambolgie.

Backcountry

For example you must: – Stay on public roads and marked walking tracks. – Camp only in designated camping areas. Other park rules and guidelines include: – Stay behind the barriers to protect Aboriginal rock paintings. – Protect plants — do not use tree branches as fly swats. – Do not feed or disturb wildlife. – Light fires only in fireplaces provided or use fuel stoves. Keep use of firewood to a minimum. – Do not bring pets into Kakadu.

Camping is widely done throughout the park but great care should be taken when camping near water (always atleast 200 meters from the water), particularly at the popular camping site Sandy Billabong.

When dealing with Aboriginal people, there are some cultural considerations to remember:

Please observe all rules on park signs and brochures. For details call the Bowali Visitor Centre on +61 8 8938 1120.

Stay safe

WARNING: Two species of crocodile can be found in Kakadu, the freshwater and the estuarine or saltwater crocodile. Estuarine crocodiles (Ginga), (Crocodylus porosus) often called ‘salties’ live in freshwater and estuarine areas, such as floodplains, billabongs, rivers and coastal waters. Estuarine crocodiles are aggressive. They have attacked and killed people in Kakadu. For your safety, please obey all crocodile warning signs – do not enter the water and keep away from the water’s edge.

Freshwater crocodiles (Madjarrki), (Crocodylus johnstoni) are only found in Australia, where they live in freshwater rivers, creeks and plunge pools such as Maguk and Gunlom. Freshwater crocodiles are usually shy animals but can become aggressive if disturbed, so do not approach them.

In some visitor areas access is only available after park staff have trapped and removed any estuarine crocodiles that have moved in during the wet season. These areas, known as crocodile management zones, are extensively surveyed at the start of each dry season to ensure the risk for visitors is reduced. Traps remain in place for the entire dry season as estuarine crocodiles may move in at any time.

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, September 20, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.