Kakadu National Park is huge! It covers almost 20,000km2 being just a fraction smaller than the country of Wales and has been listed as a world heritage listed site for both its outstanding natural and cultural values.
You can find further details about Kakadu National Park from the air, in particular, here in this blog.
Here we will cover further details about Kakadu National Park and why you should visit. We’ll cover off some of the amazing places you can stop and camp at overnight whilst you are exploring the fantastic lush Top End, and is part of our Top End series of blogs. You can read about Katherine and Nitmiluk National Park here, Mt Bundy Station here or Litchfield National Park here; each of these blogs provide useful and helpful tips on travel routes and ideas on where you can stay and the types of things you can do while you are there.
In our last blog, we were in Katherine and Nitmiluk National Park – for those exploring the Top End, and are ready to head north, or to carry on with the lush tropical Top End loop, you’ll find yourself heading up the Stuart Highway. At Pine Creek you can leave the Stuart Highway which is the direct way to Darwin, and head north east on the sealed Kakadu Highway towards Jabiru which cuts through the Kakadu National Park.
There are a places to stop along this stretch of the highway, however our two favourite places are Cooinda and Jabiru.
There is a permit required to enter the Kakadu National Park – the easiest way to get this is online, otherwise you can obtain one at the information centre at Bowali, or some local shops/campgrounds. The cost of the permit supports Kakadu’s traditional owners and helps preserve the park for future generations. The rates vary depending on time of the year visiting and last for 7 – 14 days.
Camping is permitted in the national park in designated areas and does attract an extra cost. The sites cannot be booked online, so is on a first in, first served basis. There are also a range of commercial camps which some can be booked in advance – those that don’t accept bookings are large, and usually have options available, although can be busy. If you want a powered site and swimming pool, you will need to stay in a caravan park. The national park camps offer managed campgrounds with toilets, showers and fire pits (unpowered) or more basic facilities such as pit toilets, BBQ and picnic tables. The cost varies, and those with an onsite campground manager will collect your fees. Those without will have instructions on how to pay the small fee.
Heading from Pine Creek to Jabiru, you’ll first come across a National Parks campground – Mardugal One campground and Mardugal Two campground. These campgrounds are seasonal and offers all the facilities you’ll need to set up a comfortable base and explore Kakadu. Check accessibility if you’re planning on heading here as generally camps are closed during the wet season (summer months). Mardugal campsite has separate areas for tents and caravans, you’ll find this one also has showers and a boat ramp.
Not far up the road from Mardugal, you’ll see Cooinda sign posted on your left – follow this road for about 4.5 km and you’ll come across Cooinda Lodge. This is a village style campground located beside Yellow Water Billabong and offers more creature comforts in the way of an inviting shady swimming pool, dining, bars, fuel and a convenience store, and of course powered camping sites.
If you were to continue along the highway from Cooinda for about 50 km, you’d reach Jabiru. There are a couple of campgrounds to stop at in Jabiru, our preferred choice is at Kakadu Lodge.
Between Cooinda and Jabiru – regardless of where you stay, you won’t be at a loss for things to do. Here’s some of the highlights that you can reach on a sealed roads
- Aboriginal Cultural Centre Warradjan – just five minutes from Cooinda; free to enter and highly recommended
- There are touring activities such as a cruise on the Yellow Water Billabong providing you the opportunity to see the flora and fauna of Kakadu’s World Heritage wetlands. The boat ramp for this is just located a few minutes’ drive from Cooinda Lodge and we would recommend this as a must do while in Kakadu National Park
- Nourlangie Rock Art site has provided years of shelter for the canvases that have held Aboriginal rock art for many many years! The paintings at the base can be reached by a 1.5 km circular walk and is accessible for most of the year and during the dry season (April – October) park rangers are usually on hand and provide informative talks about the area, Aboriginal art and culture. There is a lookout that is well worth the climb for sweeping views of the escarpment and for those feeling somewhat more energetic and fitter, might want to consider the moderately steep climb to Gunwarddehwardde Lookout which provides incredible views of both Kakadu’s escarpment and Nourlangie Rock. This precinct is definitely a must do while in Kakadu National Park
- Anbanbang Billabong is an easy 2.5 km circular walk and is situated at the base of Nourlangie Rock. This is a picturesque and scenic spot and is a haven for water birds during the dry season.
- Ubirr is a magical place for us and is one of our favourites to visit. Situated just outside of Jabiru you’ll find one of Kakadu’s two most famous rock art galleries and the site can be reached via an easy 1 km circular walking track. During the dry season you’ll find that park rangers hold regular art site talks out at Ubirr. There’s also a moderately steep 250m climb that will take you out to Nadab Lookout that provides you with stunning views across the floodplains but 100% worth the effort. Whilst you are here you can enjoy a spectacular tropical sunset, if you do this, make sure you have a torch for the walk back to the car park
These places are accessed via unsealed roads. For an average traveller exploring in a 2WD motorhome hire, you will feel as though you have had a very good look at Kakadu National Park by exploring the above areas. If you are more adventurous and have a 4WD and time on your hands, these may appeal. If you are in a 2WD motorhome and want to access these places, you may find it is more cost effective to jump on a day tour from places like Cooinda and keep the comfort and convenience of your motorhome for the rest of your travels.
- Jim Jim Falls is a majestic waterfall and a sight to behold (access to Jim Jim Falls is via an unsealed road suitable only for 4WD or you could catch a helicopter or scenic fixed wing flight during the wet season and witness it from the air)
- Twin Falls with its towering red escarpment, white sandy beaches with crystal clear waters. Access to these falls is continuing along the 4WD track (with river crossing) from Jim Jim Falls – the final stretch to get to the falls is via a shuttle boat (cost applies) with the local rangers. Absolutely stunning if the road is open (usually opens later in the dry season once water levels subside) and you are travelling in a 4WD. The road is a rough slow track, but worth the effort.
- Gunlom, situated on Waterfall Creek, is the magical combination of waterfall and serene plunge pool. You’ll find shady gum trees surrounding the picnic areas which can offer a welcome break from the intense heat. This spot is the only escarpment waterfall that is accessible by an unsealed road during the dry season. There is a walking track to the top of the falls, along with lookouts and will take around an hour but it is over a steep terrain, but we feel is worth the effort as you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful infinity pool and panoramic views of the southern most part of Kakadu National Park. A good option if you have a vehicle which can travel on unsealed roads
- Jarrangbarnmi (Koolpin Gorge) in also known as the jewel in Kakadu’s crown! This gorge has significant cultural and natural values. To protect these values, only a limited amount of people are allowed in at any one time and a special permit is required, again this one is a 4WD access only
If you know where you want to travel to and know your dates, drop us a note here and we can get back to you with an idea on costs for the most suitable vehicle to suit your needs for your travel requirements.