The Top End...Kakadu National Park

Trip Start Apr 05, 2011
Trip End Nov 15, 2012

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Whilst we had enjoyed our time in Darwin we were itching to get back out into the bush and on to the next stage of our journey. We were en-route to the small town of Jabiru, in the heart of Kakadu National Park where we would set up camp for a few nights whilst we explored this amazing part of Australia.

As we drove east along the Arnhem Highway we delighted at seeing the stunning wetlands, an abundance of birdlife busy feeding in the shallows.  Having reached the end of the dry, the floodplains and billabongs had contracted, causing a higher concentration of birds in the current wetlands. 

At 'Window on the Wetlands' we were able to learn more about the vegetation of the area, in particular the importance of wild rice and the wildlife which inhabits the wetlands.  Perched atop a hill, from this modern structure we had sweeping views of the surrounding farmland and floodplains.  There were buffalos grazing below and an array of birdlife off in the distance.

At Jabiru we were pleased to find the centerpiece of our chosen campground was a large lagoon style pool and with temperatures in the high thirties we knew we would be frequenting it regularly to cool down.  To delight us even further we found a number of Ta Ta lizards also enjoyed the pool and they again entertained us scurrying around the pools rim, giving their little wave as they did so.

In an attempt to avoid the heat of the day we were off early to explore Ubirr, located on the western side of the East Alligator River.  It was here we witnessed the most incredible outdoor art gallery.  The aboriginal art is so interesting; some having been identified as upwards of five thousand years old.  Who said Australia only has a recent history on the world stage!  The paintings depict images from their lives over time and thus serve as a historical diary.  We were intrigued to see a painting of a Tasmanian Tiger; fancy them having lived in the Northern Territory!

Continuing along the walk and up to Nadab Lookout we were in awe of the breathtaking view that greeted us.  There were little rock pools scattered across the surface, sweeping views over rocky outcrops and lush green wetlands extending into the distance.  This was such a tranquil location and having just witnessed some of the most amazing rock art we couldn’t help but ponder what life must have been like all those years ago. 

We dragged ourselves away and continued on to do the Manngarre Walk through monsoon rainforest.  It was remarkably cooler under the canopy of green vegetation.  Here bats were in abundance, hanging from branches amid lush green foliage, their screeching and squealing was almost deafening.  We spotted a couple of saltwater crocodiles, one in particular sunning itself on the river bank opposite (thank goodness!) was huge and looked most intimidating.

We drove across Cahills Crossing, a causeway across the East Alligator River and into Arnhem Land.  We only stayed momentarily for we didn’t have the required permit to visit this land, we were however so close we couldn’t resist.  Back across the river we enjoyed views over the crossing from the picnic area, all the while keeping an eye on the big crocodile sunbaking on the opposite bank.

At the Mamukala Wetlands we were blown away by the bird life.  There were hundreds of Magpie Geese accompanied by Egrets, Brolgas and Jabirus to name but a few… (we are far from ‘birdies’!) all foraging for food.  In the distance we could see a mass of tall white birds, the image more like a postcard than a sight we were witnessing through our own eyes.  All of this in the most stunning setting; long vivid green grasses, lily pads with flowers of pink and white, Lotus birds so gently stepping from one pad to the next seemingly weightless.

In awe of the visual splendor we had absorbed during the day we decided rather than overload it was time to give our eyes a rest and head back to camp for the day.  This also gave us the opportunity to take advantage of the pool and cool down.  Whilst we had carefully chosen a shaded site, we later regretted that decision enduring the sound of nuts dropping on the roof of our van throughout the night.

We were off early again the next morning.  Our first stop was at Nourlangie, home to more rock art.  Once again this was a pretty drive with the early morning sun flickering through the trees as we drove along.  Following the walking trail past the ancient rock shelters and art galleries we once again pondered our new found appreciation for the length and depth of Australia’s history.  Generally being so caught up in our busy city life it is really not something we have ever given much thought to.  We both now wish we had paid attention during our history classes all those years ago!  Yet this was better than any classroom, here we were seeing and experiencing it firsthand.  The images were so clear and to think they were all painted so long ago with all natural materials, we have so much to learn.

We admired a couple of wallabies grazing away oblivious to the people hiking past.  The walk took us up over a rocky outcrop which afforded us stunning views of massive escarpments dominating the hazy blue sky, the sun radiating from its surface bringing the rich red rock faces to life. 

Continuing the short distance on to Anbangbang Billabong, we took the opportunity to do another walk.  The path followed the edge of the billabong and we were once again delighted to see such an abundance of birds.  Here, the billabong had a stunning backdrop, picture this… a mass of rock faces rising up behind the distant trees, the foreground filled with the lush green grasses of the billabong and a diverse range of birds all busy filling their stomachs, and now take a deep breath to soak up the pristine fresh air…

We continued on to Yellow Water and took a stroll along the boardwalk.  Once again we found this area to be beautiful.  Here there were birds, fish, brumbies and a big saltwater crocodile which peaked our interest, and so we decided we may just have to invest in a cruise.  We went next door to the Gagudji Lodge at Cooinda and found it had a really nice resort like feel about it.  With an amazing swimming pool, had we known we would have only done the two nights at Jabiru to do the northern area of the park and then relocated down to Cooinda for our third night to do the south.  Next time…

We booked our ‘Sunset’ Yellow Water cruise and then set about filling in the four hours until it departed.  Visiting the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre we were educated on the six local seasons with really informative and creative displays.  This was also a great opportunity to cool down in the much welcomed air-conditioning!  Though tempted we couldn’t spend the whole afternoon there and so we explored the immediate area which included drives to Mirral Lookout, Jim Jim Billabong and Mardugal.

We boarded our boat and started our trip through Yellow Water, out onto the South Alligator River and finishing with a ride over the floodplains.  It wasn’t long before we spotted our first saltwater crocodile, on the banks of the river shaded by a tree with its mouth agape.  There was a smaller one in the water just in front lying low.

And so was our journey, croc after croc, bird after bird, there was an abundance of both.  The Lillie pads added to the beauty as they sat atop the water in the shadow of large Pandanus palms.  Lotus birds danced gingerly from one pad to the next, so light footed they didn’t even ripple the water.

There were Brolgas, Jabirus, Herons, Kites, Eagles, ducks, geese etc… The list could just go on and on, it was a birdies nirvana!  We even saw brumbies and wild cattle grazing; the long reeds on the floodplain being a haven for them all.

Some of the crocodiles we were privy to see were so large even the boat operator was surprised.  The reflections that bounced back off the dark green waters were exquisite as were the red lilies with their massive green leaves.  It was such a wonderful pristine paradise, ever changing with the water levels and climate impacting on the activities of the inhabitants and the growth of the vegetation day by day.

Now verging on dark we drove the fifty kilometers back along the Kakadu Highway to Jabiru.  A wallaby stood tall in the middle of the road, mesmerized by our headlights making only a last minute escape back into the dense woodlands.

We had not long arrived back at our camp when we started to see lightening cracking across the sky and hear the mighty roar of thunder, it wasn’t long before the rain followed.  Kakadu was just a fabulous place to witness this sensational storm.  As we drifted off to sleep, the ground rumbled as the thunder roared, the sound of the rain drops pounding our roof were a welcome change from the nuts!

We left Kakadu having thoroughly enjoyed it.  The biodiversity of the park, the visual splendor it generates so naturally…  This ever changing pristine environment offers such a great opportunity to observe the flora and fauna survive and thrive through the differing seasons.  We had far from covered the park and were happy to leave some things for next time… a great excuse to come back!

Now if only we can get all these green ants off the van before we drive off…

Highlights of Kakadu:

-          The rock art

-          The wetlands – floodplains and billabongs

-          The variety of birdlife

-          Yellow Water and cruise – large saltwater crocodiles
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