After leaving the gorgeous and enchanting Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park it was time to head for the ever popular and for good reason Kakadu National Park as a prelude to our Arnhem Land mega adventure. We were not only looking at visiting the popular Kakadu spots that are frequented by the masses of tour buses that traverse the roads up here, but we also wanted to visit some of the lesser known and less frequented attractions on offer. As Kakadu is world renown we would inevitably have to endure the crowds at some of the more popular campsites and attractions but our first nights camp was that bit off the beaten path, with there also being several pre-requisites. Firstly our campsite had to be pre-booked well in advance as a permit is required and numbers are limited. Secondly it is gated access and you require a key. Thirdly the access track to the camp is 4wd only and although not difficult the higher ground clearance certainly does help. After picking the key up at the ranger station (which we had already organised and booked months beforehand) along the Kakadu Highway in the south of the park (the main route through Kakadu is all sealed road but there is still plenty of opportunities to get onto the dirt, several of these being very rough, corrugated dirt roads due to the volume of traffic but all are a must if you wish to fully explore the grandeur that is Kakadu National Park) we turned off towards the signposted Gunlom Falls and our eventual destination for the night, Jarrangbarnmi (Koolpin Gorge). After almost 30km of rough corrugations (with the tyres deflated somewhat) the road finally smoothed out slightly before we got to the locked gate. A rough 4wd track then leads about 8km to the small, partly shaded campground. There were few others camped down here for the night but it was far less crowded than many of the other campgrounds scattered throughout Kakadu. A short walk from the campground leads to 3 beautiful rock pools along the river. Although the pools are very inviting, there is a crocodile trap in the lowest pool, swimming is not recommended here and we were not about to take any chances. It is a beautiful spot though nonetheless.
After our first night in Kakadu it was back out to the corrugations and onto Gunlom Falls. A steep climb from the carpark brings you to the plunge pool which is seated at the top of the falls with the view being simply spectacular and a real highlight.
There is also a large, well dispersed campground at the base of the falls for those choosing to stay a bit longer. Following a refreshing dip in the plunge pool (swimming is allowed here which maybe why it is quite a popular spot) it was back down the steep decline and out the battering corrugations to the highway. drop the key off back at the ranger station then up to the well publicized, Cooinda Lodge Campground. Isn’t this a popular spot! We had our patch of grass to park on and set up camp. Although not our favored type of camping having neighbors at your door it was a necessary evil. We were booked onto a breakfast cruise of Yellow Water Billabong which is pretty much just down the road with shuttle buses relaying visitors to the boat launch area. We also had washing to catch up on, the usual mundane stuff that still needs to be done. Although very much a tourist attraction we cannot recommend highly enough taking a Yellow Water Breakfast Cruise. It is a real highlight of Kakadu, watching the sunrise and mist ascend on the Billabong then wildlife, bird and croc spotting for the next couple hours on the serene waters before being returned for our buffet breakfast at Cooinda Lodge.
After a hearty breakfast and packing up camp we headed out and along another very rough, corrugated dirt road towards the fabled Jim Jim and Twin Falls. After almost 6okm is Garnamarr Campground and the starting point for the 4wd track to both falls. We decided to drop some gear off and pick our site at the campground whilst we had some lunch. It was Friday night and although it didn’t feel like it we were advised by the camp caretakers that it would fill up for the weekend as we were not that far from Darwin, something we hadn’t given much thought to at that stage. After lunch we decided to head down to Twin Falls which was the farther of the two and then head back into Jim Jim Falls the following morning before we left. Although a 4wd track, it is easy going out to Twin Falls apart from the deep causeway crossing of Jim Jim Creek. Keep an eye out for 4wd tour buses along the single lane track as these guys make regular trips out here as well. At Twin Falls a boat shuttle takes you partway up the gorge after which it is a walk over rocks and along a floating platform to a pretty beach at the base of the falls. Only flowing during the wet season there was still a small trickle here but it is still a beautiful spot.
Next morning after a rowdy night in the campground (yes the camp hosts were right and it certainly did fill up for the night) we headed back into Jim Jim Falls. This is a longer walk much of which is across and between boulders, so rock hopping is a prerequisite with the reward at the end well worth the aching muscles and joints. The falls again weren’t flowing however the plunge pool is quite deep and swimming is allowed so there is no better way to cool off after the strenuous walk in.
Backtracking out to the bituman we then headed further north and toward our next camp for the night. We settled for the small yet idyllic albeit quite busy Sandy Billabong, 4wd only accessible. Not far off the beaten track this campground is right beside the picturesque waters of Sandy Creek Billabong. A quiet, serene spot to watch the changing colours of the evening sky reflect off the surface, that was until a rather inquisitive and large croc showed up who seemed to be eyeing us off from the still waters, we all of a sudden didn’t want to be right at the waters edge after dark.
From Sandy Creek it was out and up to the only town within Kakadu, Jabiru. We had planned on another nights bush camp but with our auxiliary battery struggling due to the heat we decided a couple nights with a powered site was in order to charge up prior to heading into the real wilderness that is Arnhem Land in a couple days. Jabiru has all the facilities of a small outback town including supermarket with limited supplies, bakery, bank and fuel station as well as accommodation options if you are after a bit more luxury. The next day we took a trip to the ever popular rock art site of Nourlangie Rock and the less visited but just as impressive maybe even more so Nanguluwurr Rock, a real treat.
We also took a trip out to Ubirr Rock with its art sites and impressive outlook over Arnhem Land, simply awe inspiring.
After a week in Kakadu we were really getting a taste for the Top End and looking even more forward to our 3 weeks in Arnhem Land, the adventure had only just begun. Jump on board next time as we head into the true wilderness of the Top End and the amazement that is Arnhem Land.