Overnight stays: Kakadu Lodge Caravan Park, Jabiru (2 nights); Kakadu Lodge, Cooinda (2 nights)
When I was in Year 4, I did an assignment on the NT, of which mum helped with, and I was incredibly proud of. I can still remember the front cover, stacked with images of frilled-neck lizards, the NT flag, and Uluru. Ever since that assignment, for whatever reason, I’ve always wanted to visit Kakadu, without knowing a single thing about it. And it’s fair to say my research hadn’t progressed drastically in the subsequent 23 years, but that itch still needed to be scratched.
New memories with old (and new) friends
We had been in contact with our dear college friend, Dan (who now lives in Darwin), for the past month or two, planning to meet up somewhere in The Top End, after only two catch-ups in the past decade or so.
As timing had it, he was having a week off, celebrating his beautiful partner Abbey’s recent new job acceptance, in Kakadu. We asked if they would mind us crashing their party for a couple of days, of which they happily obliged.
I’ll state now that there is no way we would regard Kakadu as highly as we do if it wasn’t for Dan and Abbey. This certainly wasn’t their first rodeo, and they were excited to share their favourite spots with us, which worked out tremendously as we still didn’t know what Kakadu was all about.
Once we arrived and settled in, we all jumped into Dan’s car, fishing rods on-board, bound for the famed Cahills Crossing, the entry into Arnhem Land. Before our arrival this river crossing was known for a few things:
2. Cars running the gauntlet and not making it across
Once we had left it would be forever known for a fourth reason, but I’ll come to that later.
The above attractions seem so popular that there’s actually a viewing platform on the Kakadu side of the river, where you can watch people get eaten, rollover in a Hilux (then get eaten), or get pulled in by a Barramund (then also get eaten).
There are two 4WD vehicles that now form part of the river ecosystem, laying on their roof as the water navigates around and through them; permanent reminders of the dangers of this particular crossing.
If that didn’t scare us enough, we were about to throw a line into waters that Dan described as seeing 12 saltwater crocs when he first visited it; a place where a fisherman was once decapitated by a croc, just as he was leaning over the water (his toes weren’t even wet)! And here we were, only metres from the edge, casting like we knew what we were doing, trying to land anything more than 27cm, our biggest catch of the trip so far.
Thankfully Dan is a super experienced fisherman (he even has one of those BCF shirts – the ones I wasn’t sure if people bought, or were given away as a promo), and directed us to follow his lead.
Everyone has those memorable and iconic moments in their life… the first time you fall in love; the birth of your first child; and of course the first time a Barramundi grabs your line! Holy hell, what a feeling! It didn’t take long and they were biting thick and fast – in-fact it was a rarity to throw a line in and return it empty within 2 minutes. Turns out Dan is not only a super coach, but he’d brought us to the best place to catch Barra, just before high-tide, when they’re hungry and waiting above Cahills Crossing.
This was by far and wide the best fishing experience we’d ever had, and an absolute highlight of the Wombatical. Every adult managed to land at least one fish (we didn’t let Liv fish as this was extreme conditions with the fast flow, lurking crocs, and concentration required to avoid snagging). The minimum size for a keeper Barra is 65cm, which is ridiculously huge. Dan managed to land two legal size bad boys, thus giving him the title of Dan the Barra Man from Ballina, hailing applause from the onlookers on the viewing platform, raising him to the legend of Cahills Crossing and surrounds, and adding a fourth attraction to this part of The Top End. We laughed, as it seemed that everyone we passed on our next experience asked Dan if he was the guy who caught the big Barras. He’d become an instant hero, and to add to his nobility he even threw his second catch back. The other fisherman whom we were out-catching 3:1 couldn’t believe what they were seeing!
With a monster catch washing around in the back, now wearing Dan’s BCF shirt to keep cool, we next took the short walk up to Ubirr to check out some Aboriginal rock art and 360′ views of Kakadu.
Dan raised our expectations enormously, stating that what we were about to see was his favourite view in all of Australia.
As we approached the summit it became abundantly clear what he was talking about, and we quickly agreed that this was an incredibly special place. No matter which way you looked, the views were endless. The wetlands made us feel like we were in Africa, and we expected to see a herd of giraffes passing by. And the Arnhem Land escarpment opposite was Kimberley-esq (at least what we imagined the Kimberley to look like).
It really is a special place, and I’ve never quite seen Loz feel so connected to nature as that afternoon. We all have those places where we feel a special connection to the land we’re on. Mine is Eagle Reach in the hills near Vacy in NSW Upper Hunter. I think Loz finally found her place that day, and our memory of Ubirr will forever be remembered as the time we fell in love with Kakadu.
Having Dan and Abbey as our tour-guides not only showcased the best of this misunderstood National Park, but it also gave us access to places unthinkable in a motorhome.
And so, the next day, we again piled into Dan’s 4WD, headed for the place on all the brochures and ads; Gunlom Falls.
The drive in (once off the main road) was pretty rough going by our standards, but with low-preserve tyres and an all-wheel-drive, we smashed it in the 40km of corrugation, to the bottom of the ever-so-gently spilling falls (they flow like a mofo in Wet Season).
We arrived in the hottest part of the day, so the magnificent swim at the top overlooking Kakadu was all-time, and made the steep hike there more than worthwhile.
There are a series of infinity pools atop Gunlom, flowing into one another. And with only a few people around, we were able to pick one to ourselves, gradually migrating between them as we liked. Best of all was sitting on the edge, seemingly of the world, re-enacting one of the most photographed images of The Top End.
Cruising Yellow Water
Soon enough, we said our goodbyes to the biggest legends in The Top End, and were back as three amigos, but with a taste for more of what Kakadu had to offer.
So we ventured slightly south from Jabiru, intent for a night at Cooinda (coincidently, the name of the property dad grew up on). Dan and Abbey had given glowing reviews of cruising Yellow Water, so we hastily booked a cruise for the following sunrise.
I’ve said it before, and will say it again – there’s something very special about being on the water as day breaks. We did it in the Daintree, Lawn Hill, and Katherine, and adored the serenity and stillness that happens before life begins each day.
This cruise quickly became the most photographed part of our trip, averaging a photo more than every 30 seconds, over two hours on the water.
The countless crocs, addictive reflections, diversity of birds, chilling buffalo, and coming together of this ecosystem were just mesmerising. So much so that as soon as we’d departed the boat we agreed we were to stay another night, and do the sunset cruise that night. But not before inhaling the surprise buffet breakfast, oh yeah.
And so, a couple of hours before sunset, we boarded again and enjoyed a totally different yet similar experience of Yellow Water, renowned as averaging a saltwater crocodile every 30 metres. I reckon we spotted nearly all of them too, being ever so careful not to protrude the boat in any way and tempt the kings of the billabong and river.
Watching the sun go down on Yellow Water was just as we had hoped, offering more magnificent opportunities to gasp in awe, and take another 500+ photos as wild pigs roamed, crocs stealthily hunted egrets, and floated within centimetres of our boat, as though we weren’t even there. We had spent four hours on the same boat that day, and could’ve done it all again. What a way to top off our Kakadu visit, and hold this place in the highest regard, as one of our world favourites.
Before and after our visit to Kakadu, we’ve spoken to numerous travellers who either share their hesitation to visit, or poor experience when they did visit Kakadu – thus conceiving the commonly used phrase, ‘Kakadon’t’.
To be honest I don’t really get it… Yes, some places are inaccessible (such as Jim Jim Falls when we were there), but the combination of infinite views at Ubirr, swimming on top of Gunlom Falls, smashing Barra at Cahills Crossing, all topped off with cruising Yellow Water make me sing Kakadu-do-do (to the tune of Agadoo) for days.