Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park is by far Australia's most famous national park, both nationally and internationally. It is also one of northern Australia's most visited places, attracting over 250,000 people annually from all over the world. What they come to see is Kakadu’s dramatic landscape, its Aboriginal cultural sites and its diverse and abundant wildlife.

There are many beautiful waterfalls and gorges within the Park that are popular with visitors such as Maguk, Gunlom, Twin Falls and Jim Jim Falls. Kakadu National Park has some of the best examples of Aboriginal rock art in Australia. The sites of Nourlangie and Ubirr are among the most visited locations in the Park. It is possible to view some of Kakadu’s diverse wildlife at places like Yellow Water Billabong, Cooinda on board a wildlife cruise or at Mamukala Wetlands or Anbangbang Billabong. The Kakadu region is one of the world’s best for bird watching as approximately 30 percent of Australia’s bird species can be seen here.

About Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park is located within the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory, 171 km southeast of Darwin. It covers an area of 1,980,400 ha (4,894,000 acres), extending nearly 200 kilometres from north to south and over 100 kilometres from east to west. It is the size of Israel, about one-third the size of Tasmania, or nearly half the size of Switzerland. The Ranger Uranium Mine, one of the most productive Uranium mines in the world, is contained within the park.

Kakadu National Park was established at a time when the Australian community was becoming more interested in the declaration of national parks for conservation and in recognising the land interests of Aboriginal people. A national park in the Alligator River region was proposed as early as 1965, but took until 1978 for the Australian Government to make arrangements to acquire the titles over various tracts of land that now constitute Kakadu National Park.

Aboriginal rock art sites

The art sites of Ubirr, Nourlangie and Nanguluwur are internationally recognised as outstanding examples of Aboriginal rock art. These sites are found in rocky outcrops that have afforded shelter to Aboriginal inhabitants for thousands of years. Ubirr is a group of rock outcrops in the north of the Park, on the edge of the Nadab floodplain. There several large rock overhangs that would have provided excellent shelter to Aboriginal people over thousands of years. Nourlangie is located in an outlying formation of the Arnhem Land Escarpment. There are a number of shelters in amongst this large outcrop linked by paths and stairways. The shelters contain several impressive paintings that deal with creation ancestors. The stories connected to these artworks are known only to certain Aboriginal people and remain secret.

Anbangbang Billabong lies in the shadow of Nourlangie Rock and is inhabited by a wide range of wildlife which would have sustained traditional Aboriginal people well.

Nanguluwur is a small art site, near Nourlangie, which displays several rock art styles. These include hand stencils, dynamic figures in large head-dresses carrying spears and boomerangs, representations of Namandi spirits and mythical figures, including Alkajko, a female spirit with four arms and horn-like protuberances. There is also an interesting example of ‘contact art’ depicting a two-masted sailing ship with anchor chain and a dinghy trailing behind.

Flora

Kakadu's flora is among the richest in northern Australia with more than 1700 plant species recorded which is a result of the Park's geological, landform and habitat diversity. Kakadu is also considered to be one of the most weed free national parks in the world. The distinctly different geographical areas of Kakadu have their own specialised flora.

Fauna

The diverse environments of Kakadu National Park support an astonishing array of animals, a number of which have adapted to particular habitats. Some animals in the Park are rare, endangered, vulnerable or endemic. Responding to the extreme weather conditions experienced in the Park, many animals are active only at particular times of the day or night or at particular times of the year.

About 60 mammal species - marsupials and placental mammals - have been recorded in the Park. Most of them inhabit the open forest and woodlands and are nocturnal, making it difficult to see them. Others, such as wallabies and kangaroos, are active in the cooler parts of the day and are easier to see. Among the larger more common species are Dingos, Antilopine Kangaroos, Black Wallaroos, Agile Wallabys, and Short-eared Rock Wallabys. Smaller common mammals are northern quolls, brush-tailed phascogales, brown bandicoots, black-footed tree-rats, and black fruit bats. Dugongs are found in the coastal waters.

Kakadu’s many habitats support more than 280 species of birds, or about one-third of Australia’s bird species. Some birds range over a number of habitats, but many are found in only one environment. Two species of crocodile occur in Kakadu: the Freshwater Crocodile and the Estuarine, or Saltwater Crocodile. Freshwater Crocodiles are easily identified by their narrow snout and a single row of four large bony lumps called ‘scutes’ immediately behind the head. Estuarine Crocodiles do not have these scutes and their snout is broader. The maximum size for a ‘freshie’ is 3 metres, whereas a ‘saltie’ can exceed 6 metres.

Despite the fact that Kakadu supports more than 10,000 species of insect, these creatures are often overlooked by visitors. The great variety of insects is a result of the varied habitats and relatively high temperatures throughout the year.

Perhaps the most striking insect-created features in the Park are the termite mounds. The mounds in the southern part of the Park are particularly large and impressive.


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Getting there

Kakadu National Park is linked to Darwin by the Arnhem Highway and to Pine Creek and Katherine by the Kakadu Highway. Both roads are sealed all weather roads although may be cut off periodically during periods of heavy rain. The road journey from Darwin takes around four hours. Jabiru has a small airport from which scenic flights operate daily. There are no scheduled air services between Jabiru and Darwin however.

Getting around

Many of the Park’s sites are accessible by standard two wheel drive vehicles, but areas like Twin and Jim Jim Falls and Gunlom require four wheel drive vehicles. Visitors can experience Kakadu National Park via the Nature’s Way tourism drive which is a loop from Darwin to Jabiru then onto Katherine and back to Darwin covering approximately 900km. Visitors can also experience Kakadu National Park with a recognised tour operator or they can drive themselves.

Accommodation

There are several accommodation options in the Park, mostly found in the town of Jabiru, as well as a range of services to cater to visitors' needs. The town of Jabiru has several accommodation options, a service station, police, a medical clinic and a shopping centre with a range of outlets. Jabiru was built for the Uranium mine that was established prior to the founding of Kakadu National Park and provides infrastructure for the mine’s workforce as well as the national park activities and tourism.

Planning your visit

As already stated, Kakadu National Park is vast so allow plenty of time if you want to see plenty of what it is all about. It is a 3-hour drive from Darwin to the main tourist centre of Jabiru, and 3 hours back again so a day trip will amount to nothing more than a token visit and the opportunity to say you have been there, but little else. A two night stay allows you to see the essentials; a week gives you a change to really get to understand and savour what Kakadu is all about.

Other small tourism centres such as Cooinda and South Alligator provide limited facilities. Cooinda, 50km south of Jabiru on the Kakadu Highway is the site of Gagudju Lodge Cooinda, Yellow Water Cruises and the Warradjan Cultural Centre. Fuel and limited provisions are available at Cooinda and there is also a small airstrip for scenic flights. South Alligator approximately 40km west of Jabiru on the Arnhem Highway includes a hotel and service station. The Border Store near Ubirr Art Site and Cahill’s Crossing, 50km north of Jabiru, is a general store.

There are a wide variety of designated camping sites throughout the Park. Jabiru, Cooinda and South Alligator all have commercial camping areas and are in close proximity to most of the important natural attractions in these areas. Some of the Park’s campsites charge a nominal fee as these have shower and toilet facilities, others are free, however they have limited or no facilities. A list of the sites can be obtained from the Kakadu National Park’s Glenn Murcutt-designed Bowali Visitor Centre or from their website.

Best Time To Go

Kakadu is located in the tropics, between 12° and 14° south of the Equator. The climate is monsoonal, characterised by two main seasons: the dry season and the rain season. The ‘build up’ describes the transition between the dry and the rain. During the dry season (from April/May to September), dry southerly and easterly trade winds predominate. Humidity is relatively low and rain is unusual. At Jabiru, the average maximum temperature for June-July is 32 °C. During the 'build up' (October to December) conditions can be extremely uncomfortable with high temperatures and high humidity.

The rain season (January to March/April) is characterised by warm temperatures and, as one would expect, rain. Most of the rain is associated with monsoonal troughs formed over Southeast Asia, although occasionally tropical cyclones produce intense heavy rain over localised areas.

Indigenous peoples

Aboriginal people have occupied the Kakadu area continuously for at least 40 000 years. Kakadu National Park is renowned for the richness of its Aboriginal cultural sites. There are more than 5000 recorded art sites illustrating Aboriginal culture over thousands of years. The archaeological sites demonstrate Aboriginal occupation for at least 20 000 and possibly up to 40 000 years. The name Kakadu comes from the mispronunciation of ‘Gagudju’ which is the name of an Aboriginal language spoken in the northern part of the Park.

The Aboriginal traditional owners of the Park are descendants of various clan groups from the Kakadu area and have long standing affiliations with this country. Their lifestyle has changed in recent years, but their traditional customs and beliefs remain very important. About 500 Aboriginal people live in the Park; many of them are traditional owners. All of Kakadu is jointly managed by Aboriginal traditional owners and the Australian Government’s Department of the Environment and Water Resources through a division known as Parks Australia. Park Management is directed by the Kakadu Board of Management.

Approximately half of the land in Kakadu is aboriginal land under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 and most of the remaining land is currently under claim by Aboriginal people. The areas of the Park that are owned by Aboriginal people are leased by the traditional owners to the Director of National Parks to be managed as a national park.

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