Written by Paul Hunstead (AKA Russell Coight)
I wasn’t sure what to expect driving into Kakadu. For some reason, I thought it would be an oasis of lush green vegetation following the wet season. We drove into Kakadu with grass fires burning throughout the park, often on either side of the road which made us a little anxious. We would later be informed that the fires were control burns coordinated by local indigenous people employed by the state government. This practice is relatively new in Kakadu as the past the government had banned the practice despite the park reaping the rewards from this thousands-of-years-old indigenous tradition. In the last 15 years the it was identified parks were becoming bare, and when the local fauna became scarce they engaged members of the local indigenous groups. Their response was simple, they explained how the practice of burning the grass fires brings life to the park and as a trial the restrictions were lifted. Soon enough after the native plants rejuvenated bringing with it new life and the return of the wildlife. As we drove into the park these fires slowly crept across a dry landscape of native bush, red earth and randomly placed termite mounds standing around waiting for an invitation to move on.
"The process for doing so involved setting traps to catch these eusterine beasts and using night vision goggles to scope the area."
We arrived relatively early in the season and the status of access into the various areas via road was changing daily based on the falling water levels. Even if you were able to access a campsite or water hole, the National Parks would not officially open them until they were able to deem the area free of salt water crocs and safe to enter. The process for doing so involved setting traps to catch these eusterine beasts and using night vision goggles to scope the area. Their criteria to open an area and regard it safe for swimming involved two consecutive nights of no sightings of crocs at night and none in the traps. Coming from a quality and safety background in health, I felt there could possibly be a more robust process particularly given we would be the first few tourists to swim there!
Kakadu is enormous, close to 20,000 square kilometers, which means there is a fair bit of driving between water holes. Unfortunately a number of these water holes were still closed due to either issues with access or crocs. We did however still manage to swim at some of the more spectacular gorges and holes. Our favourite would have to be Gunlom falls. We drove 60 odd kms along a dirt road to find a large open campsite which we had almost to ourselves. This was one of the major benefits of being there so early in the season as there were not too many people around, and reading some of the blogs from people travelling throughout Kakadu during their peak season it can be difficult to find yourself a patch of land to pitch a tent, and the cost of accommodation within the park has lent to the saying “Kaka-don’t”.
"It was the infamous scene from Crocodile Dundee, where Linda Kozlowski takes a dip in a rather revealing swim suit (or so I’m told)…"
A short walk from the campsite was a 200m waterfall with a beautiful sandy bottom plunge pool at the base of the falls surround by pandanus palms. It was the infamous scene from Crocodile Dundee, where Linda Kozlowski takes a dip in a rather revealing swim suit (or so I’m told)…
The following day we walked to the top of the falls to find a number of cascading plunge pools, one of which sits close to the ledge of the falls, effectively allowing you to sit in the pool as you look over the national park.
Our other highlight in Kakadu was Ubirr, famous for one of the worlds greatest concentration of rock art with some paintings dated to be over 20,000 years old. Despite its age, the clarity in some of the artwork most of the art appeared like it had been recently painted. Ubirr is also famous for its sunsets over Arnhem land, and it did not disappoint. We climbed up the ridge and quietly watched the sun setting over the Arnhem flood plains of land as Kakadu soaked through our pores.
The girls were desperate to see a ‘saltie’ in the wild so we felt the safest way to do so would be by boat and our trusted and reliable solar panel holder (aka 4 person kayak) was not going to get wet in Kakadu unless it rained! We went on an indigenous cultural tour “Guluyambi Cultural Cruise”, which took us along the east Alligator river where we saw 5 huge salt water crocodiles.
"Around the corner were a father and son standing in the river up to their knees fishing for barra on the Cahills crossing. Neville our local guide referred to this as madness, whereas I like to refer to it as “The Darwin Awards”.
Neville was a special bloke, he was so passionate about his people, the land on which we had the privilege to visit, as well as handing down the stories and culture to younger generations. He has made a name for himself as an artist both on screen (soon to be released film with Nicole Kidman) and bringing his paintings to life using technology. He spoke of how much he loves the paperbarks that cling to the banks of the river. He was wrapped in a paperbark when he was born as they cut his umbilical cord with a freshwater clam and would then go on to using the bark to make canoes as a child.
"I could almost feel him shaking his head at the simple “white fella”!
Whilst on the cruise we were fortunate enough to venture onto Arnhemland, where he spoke about bush tucker, bush medicine and some of the methods used to hunt for food. The night before we were slaughtered by mosquito’s in our camp resulting in a very early night in the camper so I felt it appropriate to ask Neville how he deals with mosquitos. He informed me that “mozzie coils are pretty handy” then continued delivering the rest of the tour without missing a beat! I could almost feel him shaking his head at the simple “white fella”!
As we were on limited time we made a dash over to Litchfield National Park. Often referred to as Kakadu’s smaller sibling, it is often not as well-known particularly to our overseas visitors. Although Litchfield is a lot smaller in size than Kakadu it certainly is not to be outdone in drama and beauty by its bigger brother. The swimming holes were beautiful, and unlike Kakadu where the water comes primarily from rains of the wet season, many of the waterfalls and swimming holes are fed from underground springs and therefore run all year round. Unfortunately, like Kakadu there were also several camps and water holes still closed following the wet season. Having said that we were able to see most of the “must do” sites including Buley Rockhole, the magnetic termite mounds as well as Tolmer, Florence and Wangi Falls.
As we were heading out of Litchfield, Sar nearly hit a Jabiru whilst driving. It was standing by the side of the road and when it caught a glimpse of us it took off across the road right in front of the car. It is a large bird somewhere between the size of an emu and a pelican, and as it madly attempted to gain some elevation with the grace of a roller skating gorilla, it virtually sat on our windscreen. We were later told by a local that harming a Jabiru will land you a night in the slammer! Thankfully both the Jabiru and Sarah made it out of Kakadu alive...