We had mixed feelings about touring Kakadu. Karen was very keen to have a look around, but Daniel needed some encouragement. He had taken on board some of the negative attitudes he had heard over the past few years – “Territorians say kaka-don’t” “Litchfield is better, and you don’t have to drive as far” “Too many tourists, not that much to see” and so on……
Kakadu is an amazing place, filled with beautiful waterfalls, forests, escarpment views and wetlands. An astonishing variety of wildlife make Kakadu their home, and you would have to be mad to miss it. If you are in the area…..of course.
Daniel’s encouragement came as an approach from Camper Trailer Australia magazine. The deputy editor mentioned that they had nothing for Kakadu in their upcoming Northern Territory issue, and that wasn’t right. We offered to sacrifice ourselves, to assist with rectifying this dilemma. The article had to be submitted by the first week of August, so this would turn the trip into a whirlwind adventure. “By the way Daniel, can you do a quick story on Katherine on your way through?” she asked. “Sure, no problem” was the response, and internally “How on earth are we going to do that!”
We stopped overnight at a Top Tourist Park in Katherine and had a look at the Katherine Hot Springs. Fortunately, we had already been to Edith Falls and Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk) so writing the story wasn’t too difficult. The next day we met up with Lyn and John Hobbs, whose back yard we stayed in before leaving the Sunshine Coast. In previous adventures, we had met Lyn and John while they were in Tasmania, so now we are going to travel through Kakadu together as well. Excellent, we love travelling with friends.
Our first stop was Gunlom Falls (pronounced Goon-lom). The road is supposed to be open for two wheel drive vehicles, but how they could survive the corrugations and rocks is beyond my imagination. The campsite was excellent with hot showers and flushing toilets. We didn’t make it to the ranger talk and slide show, but I am sure it would have been interesting anyway. John is driving an old Bedford truck with his home made motorhome on the back, and the steering mechanism was malfunctioning upon arrival. He spent some time under the truck fixing it and adjusting the loose wheel bearings. He declared “that road is about as rough as we want to do, OK!”
The plunge pool at the bottom of the falls looked very inviting and the ranger had told us it was safe for swimming with no crocs. Instead, we opted for the 1km walk to the top of the falls for a swim on Kakadu’s famous edge pool. At the top, there is a swimming hole that looks directly over the edge of the main waterfall, or at least, it looks like it does. There is a series of small, cool and crystal clear pools overlooking the distant mountains. The swim was a very refreshing cool down after the walk straight up the side of the mountain. We are pleased we did this walk in the morning; the afternoon would have had the sun beating down on us the whole way, and it would have been a completely different experience.
We packed up quickly and headed for the Mardugal campground, with a quick stop at the Bukbukluk lookout (Book-book-look). I only included it here because the name sounds so funny. We spent a short time at the Gungurul campground for lunch, and Lyn and John arrived a bit after us with no brakes. When we finished lunch, we drove off with Johns legs sticking out from under the truck again. At the Mardugal campground we quickly set up, and went to book onto the Yellow Waters cruise. Alas, the power in the resort was out, and we would have to come back at 3:30pm to make the booking. We shouldn’t have gotten distracted, because when John and Daniel arrived back it was 3:50pm, and there was a long line of people waiting to book. We had to be ready for the cruise at 4:15pm, so there was no time to spare. We quickly picked up Karen, Lyn and the kids and headed for the dock.
The Yellow Waters cruise was excellent, but the sunset timing made it all the more special. We meandered around the South Alligator River watching the local wildlife and saw: Azure Kingfishers, White Bellied Sea Eagle, Jabiru (which caught a fish in front of us), Salt Water Crocodiles, Egrets (3 varieties), Wild Horses and Pigs, Crocodiles, Night Herons, Ibis, Brolgas, Crocodiles and more that I have forgotten the names of. Did I mention there were lots of crocodiles? The tour guide, David, was very informative and told us many stories about the animals and local indigenous people. After a typically spectacular NT sunset, we made our way back to the wharf. Daniel wanted to follow the boardwalk to see what might be at the end of it, which was not very much, but that had us walking back into the carpark just after dark. We could here a strange noise, a bit like a wild pig, coming out from the jungle toward us. The children were a bit ahead of the adults, and when a wild stallion came screaming out of the woods at them, they displayed how strong their survival skills are. And how loud they can squeal. We had unwittingly walked between the stallion and his herd, which were in the grassed area beside the carpark. The kids quickly hid behind some trees until the animal passed.
The next morning we wandered through the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre learning about how people survived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. We thoroughly enjoyed the centre, but wanted to head for Garnamarr, the campsite near Twin and Jim Jim Falls. We had been told the road was only graded 1 week before, so should be ok for the Bedford. The information was correct and nothing broke on the Bedford during this drive.
Garnamarr is another excellent campground, although 5 solar hot water systems couldn’t store enough for everyone. There is nothing wrong with a tepid shower when its 30-32 deg during the day, so it did not cause any problems. John didn’t want to take the Bedford to Jim Jim because the road is so bad, so in the morning we loaded Daniel, Josie, Connor and John into the Troopy and made the trek. The first 10km of the Jim Jim Road took 35 minutes and then we discovered the Jim Jim Creek water crossing. Running at 60cm deep, the only vehicles allowed in here are 4WD’s with a snorkel. The crossing is a concrete causeway that is simple to traverse and the remaining road to Twin Falls was in great condition. After a short walk to the boat ramp, ‘Tony’ took us up through the gorge and informed us that swimming was optional, but a medium sized salty was sunning itself on the bank yesterday. Another 500m walk along the rocks to the main beach at Twin Falls, and the end of the gorge. Photos and videos abound.
We made our way back to Jim Jim Falls after driving the the creek crossing another three times to get some better photos and then undertook the 1km walk from the carpark to the swimming hole. The walk follows the creekbed and changes from a gentle hillside slope, to a sandy path, then some small rocks to climb through, and finally find own your way over and around immense boulders to the destination. Jim Jim Falls has two ribbons of water falling over 150m into a plunge pool that is 70m deep, and rarely sees the sun. The ranger told us it doesn’t warm up until October. After a very quick swim, we headed for the carpark again and back to the campsite for lunch.
It took some talking, and persuasion, but we managed to get Karen, Lyn and Rosa into the car after lunch and Daniel drove them back to Jim Jim Falls. We had some video footage of the worst parts of the road, and even they weren’t too bad, but the ladies were delighted they had decided to make the journey. Rosa managed to get into the water, but only up to the shoulders, before scrambling for the edge again. Karen and Lyn only felt the water temperature from a water bottle, but they were disinclined to undergo the exercise. Karen took some amazing photos of the waterfall, walk and billabong. By the time we returned to camp, Daniel had completed the Jim Jim Falls walk twice and was very still for the rest of the evening.
Sunday morning we got away reasonably early and drove to Nourlangie Rock to take in an Aboriginal Rock Art track. Connor had organised the walk as part of his social studies and led the way among the galleries and caves in the area. Johns’ bathroom door had fallen off on the dirt road, so we temporarily repaired it before moving on. Then it was off to Ubirr (You-beer) and another Rock Art track, this time the walk was organised by Rosa. Both sites have some amazing rock art galleries and Ubirr has a lookout which views the wetlands. We stayed until the sun set behind a distant bushfire.
That night we stayed in the Merl Campground. If this was our first experience of Kakadu, we may have been a little less enthusiastic, but fortunately it was our last night. The lights in the amenities block were not working and the mosquitoes arrived in swarms at dusk. With two layers of Aeroguard and 5 mozzie coils burning, we only slowed them a little. That night Karen and Daniel worked till late finishing the CTA article and compiling photographs for submission the next morning. John spent the time repairing a hole that had developed in the radiator.
After the article was submitted, we packed up camp and went for a quick look at Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River. There were 4 people standing in the ankle deep water flowing over the crossing, when a 4m croc appeared upstream. As they were catching a few fish, they were unperturbed and we decided we didn’t want to watch any more, so we left.
We are parting ways today as Lyn and John are headed for Howard Springs and we are going into Darwin. As fantastic as Kakadu was, it was enhanced by travelling it with good friends, and we hope to spend more time together soon…..