Kakadu National Park, NT

Kakadu at the end of the dry season, Stunningly beautiful.

We came to Kakadu intending to stay three nights but extended to seven. Covering 19,804km² (Litchfield National Park covers 1,458km²) Kakadu is the second largest national park in the world after Greenland. The park fees cover daily Ranger-guided walks and talks, which we found to be fabulous and attended a number of.

We stayed at Kakadu Lodge Caravan Park in the town of Jabiru, and our camp site was the loveliest we have had for a very long time. Situated under an enormous strangler fig tree near a café, swimming pool, with water and power to the van and good Internet and phone service, this was the perfect location. It was clean, well maintained, peaceful and quiet, lots of large trees, a scattering of other campers (being the end of the tourist season), no mosquitoes or other bitting insects, and the park is set out in a circular pattern so every site feels very spacious. We would definitely come back here again.

Even though the park is fenced on all sides, feral pigs enter via the front entrance having no respect for boom gates or key codes. We saw two sows with 3 or 4 piglets most nights to start with, but then not at all. They kept their distance, only causing trouble to people who fed them. But as with all feral animals they destroy the environment, causing destruction of native flora and the habitats and food sources for native animals. In National Parks through out Australia the park rangers cull feral animals. Jabiru is completely surrounded by Kakadu National Park but is not part of it, so it’s not so easy to get rid of them.

We were horrified to see a cane toad in the park.

Jabiru is owned by the Commonwealth (that is, until late last year when it reverted to the traditional owners ) and is home to the Ranger Uranium Mine (since 1980), the richest uranium mine in the Southern Hemisphere, selling uranium to nuclear power plants all over the world. The mine lease expires in 2021, with the land of Jabiru returned to the Aboriginal peoples. Half the land in Kakadu National Park is owned by Aboriginal peoples and half by the Commonwealth.

Places we visited in Kakadu.

Mercure Crocodile Hotel in Jabiru where there is an art gallery. We met a young Aboriginal artist and were able to purchase one of his works. He has also done the murals on the pillars in the Hotel.

Gunlom Falls, the picnic day area is green with lovely shady trees and a swimming area 100 metres away at the base of the falls. There is also a camping area, but it requires 4WD to get into. Because a lot of these places are not accessible except in a 4WD, many travellers drive as far as they can in their 2WD and then hitch a ride into the gorges. We gave several lifts and got to meet some wonderful people from all over the world, this time  from France and Portugal.

The climb up to the infinity pool is via some very new stairs, still quite strenuous, especially in the heat, but easier than clambering over boulders. And the views were lovely, especially over the swimming area below.

We spent a long time enjoying the coolness of the infinity pool and met some lovely people from the Netherlands who we exchanged travel stories with until well into the afternoon.

Yellow Water Cruise is on the Yellow Water Billabong, land locked in the dry season, but in the wet it is a tributary of South Alligator River. It’s called Yellow Water because when the trees along its banks flower, they drop their yellow flowers which cover the water. A great place to see birdlife and crocodiles.

We did a ranger guided tour of Burrungkuy (Nourlangie)  rock art sites. The style of art is different in each area of Australia. ‘Dot painting is specific to the Central and Western desert. Cross-hatching, rarrk design and x-ray paintings come from Arnhem Land. Wandjina spirit beings come from the Kimberley coast’.

Grinding holes used over thousands of years to mix traditional paints.

Artefacts found in Madjedbebe rock shelter date back 65,000 years.

Namarrgon (Lightning Man). “Namarrgon is an important creation ancestor who is responsible for the violent lightning storms that occur every tropical summer. The band running from Namarrgon’s left ankle to his hands and head and down to his right ankle represents the lightning he creates. He uses the axes on his head, elbows and feet to split the dark clouds and make lightning and thunder.”

The particular range where Namarrgon lives is high in iron ore and other miners including uranium. Jeffery Lee  is the lone surviving owner and custodian of Koongara, which includes the range where Namarrgon lives. A French Uranium company Areva, offered him several billions of dollars to buy the land but he refused. He went to the United Nations in France and put his case forward about how important the land is to his culture and his people. His land is now World Heritage Listed and part of Kakadu National Park. Even after Jeffery Lee passes away, the land cannot be mined.


We can see the history of the land through rock art. Various sites around Australia  depict megafauna and changes due to climate change and rising sea levels after the last ice age.

We also did a ranger guided tour of Ubirr rock art sites. They have an amazing collection of Aboriginal art styles, including cross-hatching, X-ray and contact art. X-ray paintings are when the bone structures and internal organs of the animal are painted anatomically correct.

Grounding or pounding holes are present at all rock art sites.

Rainbow serpents are not usually painted in the shape of a rainbow, but in this case it is.

Mimi spirits are good spirits.

Tasmanian Tiger, which has been extinct from mainland Australia for about 3,000 years, surviving only in Tasmania until 1936 where early Europeans put bounties on it to eradicate  them.

Flying fox’s  hanging upside down on a branch.

“The Menu” is a large piece of art work extending right across the shelter wall. A great example of X-ray art.

Instructional Art.

Contact art, the white man with hands in his pockets, and a man with guns. Contact Rock Art is from the era when Aboriginal peoples first came into contact with Europeans. Depictions of ships, people in clothes, guns, horses, cattle etc.. This type of rock art can be seen all over Australia,  the oldest on Wessel Island, Northern Territory.

The landscape is stunning.  Nadab Lookout (at the top of Ubirr Rock) is where Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) made his ‘phone call’  in the movie “Crocodile Dundee II”. Tim tried but he really needed a Bullroarer,  which was used in the movie, and has been used by Australian Aboriginal peoples and other cultures all over the world since the paleolithic period for music, communication and ceremonies.

Watching the sunset, along with 100 year 11 students from a Victorian high school.

Even though we went on the rangers’ tours of Ubirr and Nourlangie, we found this book really useful in deciphering the artwork.

Warradjan Cultural Centre Is one of the best cultural centres we have ever seen. A ‘must do’ if you visit Kakadu, give yourself well over an hour to explore it. Photos are not permitted inside.

Jim Jim Falls, beach swimming hole and plunge pool. A beautiful place to swim. We swan from the beach to the plunge pool under the waterfall, which was not falling. Karnamarr/Garnamarr  bush camp ground is about 18km from the Jim Jim Falls and is only accessible by 4WD. We gave a lift to a young couple on their honeymoon from Milan in Italy who want to take us to Lake Como near there home when we go to Italy. (G and K in some Aboriginal language groups is interchangeable)

A crocodile trap. During the wet season in particular, but anytime really, salt-water/Estuarine crocodiles travel through the flooded rivers and creeks and can walk over land for up to a kilometre. They have been seen climbing up water falls. Check out these other fun facts. Prior to swimming areas being open to the public after the wet season, rangers monitor each area and trap any saltwater/Estuarine crocodiles.

Guluyambi Cultural Cruise on East Alligator River.

Some crocodiles having lunch.

Our two guides, traditional owners of the land, explained how spears and woomeras (throwing sticks to give the spears extra distance) are made and then demonstrated throwing them. Both got there spears to the other side of the river. We went over on the way back to collect them from the bank. The spears used for fishing are made from bamboo so it floats, we saw how it bounces back up to the surface.

Cahills Crossing is the road across the East Alligator River, the only road access between Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park. During low tide the crossing is dry, but as the tied changes it can become quite deep with high flowing water. Saltwater/Estuarine Crocodiles gather around the crossing to catch the barramundi as they swim across. We saw some large fish crossing the road, more hopping than swimming. Up to 50 large crocodiles can be seen there at any time. We counted at least 30.

Lots of them crossed over the road, this one really didn’t want to move.

People come to view the tide coming in, so there is a high viewing platform on the Kakadu side. While the crocodiles are waiting they float with their legs splayed out to the side. Apparently this stabilises them and stops them rolling over.

We also went on a cultural  tour of West Arnhem Land (“Arnhemlander“). Special permission is required to enter into Arnhem Land as it is not part of Kakadu National Park. It is private land owned by the Aboriginal  peoples of that land. We stopped off at the Border Store for a toilet break and coffee and then crossed into Arnhem Land via Cahills Crossing just as the tide was coming in.

Arnhem Land has some beautiful country. Some of the oldest rock shelters, artefacts and art in the world have been found there, dating back 65,000 years and more.

Aboriginal spear heads have been found, using high resolution cameras, in the crevices of this rock. Apparently the story is that young Aboriginal men threw their spears up to this rock to prove their skill or, less likely to win their choice of bride.

Salt water / Estuarine Crocodile tracks. We couldn’t work out if there was one that went in varying directions, or three. The rule is never go closer than 6 metres to any shore line because salties can jump their body length and they can grow to 6 metres.

Green tree ants nest, they taste like sherbert and are very high in vitamin C.

Visited some rock art sites. There were many grinding holes, the absence of pigment in this one suggests it was used for seeds rather than paint. Some of the rock art has been dated back 28,000 years. And more rock art sites are being discovered all the time.

Contact Art, this particular ship is believed to be Portuguese .

A blue ship, the blue coming from Reckitts Laundry Blue when the Aboriginal peoples come into contact with Europeans. It was used by Europeans when washing clothes to make whites whiter. I remember it from my childhood.

We thought this wasp nest was rather elaborate. About the size of  two tennis balls together, under a rock that was on the ground. We couldn’t find out what type of wasp it was, if anyone reading this knows please let us know.

Injalak Art Centre is located in the small community of Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) in West Arnhem Land. Paint brushes are made from Sedge Grasses collected locally, which allows for various thicknesses, particularly for painting the fine lines. This is an interesting article about the Injalak Artists, their culture and art techniques: Manme Mayh: Gardens of the Stone Country. 

Women were weaving baskets. They collect the pandanus leaves which they shred into desirable widths, then dye them with various natural dyes. The root pictured here is one they use for yellow dye, the pots are boiled over the fire. Here are two Hunting for Colour  videos made by Injalak artists to show how they find and process the colours for their baskets.

Fabrics have been part of the Arnhem Land, Norther Territory Aboriginal peoples’ life for  hundreds of years pre European settlement. Their strong trade routes throughout Australia and with peoples from overseas saw  cloth being traded by the Macassans  from Indonesia. There is also evidence to suggest trade with the Chinese for a similar length of time. Today they are very talented screen printers. A copper metalic paint was being used in the screen printing we saw being done. The cloth is then put into an oven to set the paint. This particular one was a special order from Sydney for covering a lounge suite. All the fabric prints are designed by local artists.  If you would like to see or purchase their work (including lengths of screen printed cloth) there is an online store as well as an Etsy Store  (they don’t use any synthetic cloth only cotton, silk, linen etc)

Travelling around Australia and learning more about our Aboriginal culture, art, oral history, spirituality, kinship laws, and way of life, we see this country differently, with more connectedness. Not just the physical landscape but the history of our past and the history being created today.

This is a diagram of the Kinship/Marriage system for this area. All over Australia the Kinship/Marriage systems are complex, enabling blood lines to stay pure and strong. . You  don’t get to be the oldest civilisation on earth without complex and well thought out laws.

This is an extract from Skin, Kin and Clan. The Dynamics of Social Categories in Indigenous Australia

Those who have studied the kinship and social organisation systems of Indigenous Australians have been equally astounded by their crystalline beauty and frustrated by their impenetrable complexity. Significantly, those impressed by the mathematical elegance of Indigenous kinship and social organisation systems are often viewing them through the prism of social category systems (skins), such as moieties, sections and subsections.”

We are now back in Darwin, stocking up on supplies.  Also having a new lithium auxilliary battery put in the car with the hope that it help to keep our car fridge and van fridge cold while we are travelling. We’ve been battling with warm fridges since hitting the humid weather. The monsoon season is on the horizon with clouds building up and humidity rising, so we need to head east before the rains start and block the roads.

Cheers til next time, Helen and Tim.