Australia & NZ

Complete Guide to Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National ParkKakadu National Park is located about 170 kilometers east of Darwin, Australia in the Northern Territories. It covers a vast area of about 19,800 square kilometers spanning 200 kilometers north to south and about 100 kilometers from east to west. Kakadu National Park is a diverse ecological reserve composed of major river systems and estuaries, rock formations, lowlands, and floodplains. The park is an area steeped in Aboriginal heritage and includes areas entrusted to these peoples through the Aboriginal Land Rights Act of 1976. It is believed that Aborigines have lived here continuously for over 40,000 years.

The park is naturally composed of seven areas: East Alligator, South Alligator, Jabiru, Nourlangie, Yellow Water, Jim Jim Falls, and Mary River. Each of these areas provides a unique experience within the Australian Outback. There are many experiences here that can be had nowhere else on the planet.

East Alligator

The East Alligator area is located in the Northeast of the park and includes Ubirr, a sacred Aboriginal site famous for its rock art. Some of the rock art here was created over 20,000 years ago while most of it was created about 2000 years ago. It should be noted that the Aborigines, or the ‘Traditional Owners’ as they are commonly referred to, request that no alcohol be consumed here. Getting to this site requires only a 1 kilometer hike. A short, steep hike atop a rock formation is an ideal place for viewing sunsets.

A boat tour can also be booked up the estuary to the Border Store, located near Ubirr. These guided journeys feature lectures on Aboriginal culture. Huge saltwater crocodiles inhabit the river, the largest crocodiles in the world. Other wildlife commonly viewed along the river includes water pythons, geese, herons, ibises, and spoonbills.

Other highlights of this area include The Bardedjilidji walk where beautiful sandstone formations can be viewed and the Manngarre walk through a real rain forest. There is also the Cahills Crossing picnic area over the river where the local saltwater crocodiles can be viewed. Boat ramps are located north and south of the picnic area. Camping is allowed in the area at Marl, for a fee, and there are showers, toilets and a generator located on site.

South Alligator

The South Alligator area is located in the north-central region of the park and includes the Mamukala Wetlands where thousands of magpie geese feed during the late dry season from September through October. There are two hiking trails 1 kilometer and 3 kilometers in length for experiencing the Wetlands and there is an observation platform for viewing the geese in action.

Other highlights include the Gungarre Walk through woodlands around the billabong (oxbow lake). It should be noted that saltwater crocodiles are common inhabitants of the billabong, so caution should be exercised. There is also a picnic area near the South Alligator Bridge at the Arnhem Highway where visitors can view the river. A boat ramp is located near the picnic area. There are also two four-wheel drive tracks: the Waldak Irrmbal accessing Two Mile Hole and Four Mile Hole, and the Red Lily and Alligator Billabong tracks touring the two billabongs.

The Aurora Kakadu is a full service motel complete with restaurants, bars, a tennis court and swimming pool located within the circular Gungarre Walk. Free camping, with no facilities, is allowed at Two Mile Hole, Four Mile Hole, Waldak Irrmbal, Red Lily Billabong and Alligator Billabong along the four-wheel drive tracks.


The Jabiru area is located to the east of the South Alligator area in the east-central area of the park. The Bowali Visitor Centre is located here and is an excellent place to visit for a thorough education about Kakadu National Park. Scenic tours of the area can also be booked through the Visitor Centre. The Centre is open from 8am until 5pm. Also within Jabiru is the Bowali bike and walking track through the woodlands to the Visitor Centre, the Llgadjarr Walk through the grassy floodplain along Burdulba Billabong, and scenic flights departing from Jabiru East and Cooinda airstrips.

Accommodations here range from a Holiday Inn to bush camping. The Gagudju Holiday Inn is a complete, full-service hotel with standard rooms, restaurant, and swimming pool. Commercial tours can be booked here also. There are also cabins and tent sites that can be booked within Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park. At Lakeview Park a “Bush Bungalow” can be reserved for an authentic Kakadu experience or there are cabins and van sites. Free bush camping with basic toilet facilities but no drinking water are available at Malabanjbanjdju and Burdulbe.


Nourlangie is located to the south of the Jabiru area in the east-central region of the park. Here more Aborigine rock art and an ancient Aborigine shelter can be viewed along a nature walk. A steep climb ending at the Gunwarddehwardde lookout provides an excellent vista of the rock formations including the ancient Aborigine ancestral home called Nourlangie Rock.

Nourlangie is a hiker’s paradise with several trails through diverse natural settings. These include the Nawurlandja Walk providing views of rock formations and the Anbangbang Billabong, the Nanguluwur Walk within the woodlands past some more Aborigine rock art, the half-day Gubara Walk past sandstone cliffs and monsoon forests, the Bubba Walk through wetlands, and the more difficult Mirrai Lookout Walk to the top of Mount Cahill. There is also a picnic area located near Anbangbang Billabong.

Camping is available for a fee at Muriella Park where showers, toilets, and generators are available or there is free bush camping only during the dry season at Sandy Billabong.

Yellow Water

To the south of the South Alligator area in the very center of Kakadu National Park, is the Yellow Water area located on the South Alligator floodplain. During the dry season this is an excellent area to view the local wildlife either along the boardwalk or on a boat tour. For a birds-eye view of Yellow Water book a scenic flight from the nearby Jabiru East or Cooinda airstrips. The Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre is also located here where detailed information on Aborigine is available. Aborigine art can be purchased at the gallery.

There are two nature walks: around the Mardugal Billabong, and the Gungardun through the surrounding woodlands. Boat ramps are located at Jim Jim Billabong, Yellow Water, and Mardugal Billabong. Accommodations include the Gagudju Cooinda Lodge with motel rooms and tent sites. A restaurant and swimming pool are located at the Lodge. The Mardugal Camping Area, with toilets, showers and generators, is available for a fee and free bush camping with very limited facilities is available at Jim Jim Billabong and Black Jungle Spring.

Jim Jim Falls

In the southeast section of the park is the Jim Jim Falls area. This part of Kakadu National Park is for the most adventurous and the best equipped outdoor adventurers. Access to the Jim Jim Falls area is only permitted with four-wheel drive. The journey is well worth the trip to the Jim Jim Falls Plunge Pool, a majestic waterfall and splash pool during the wet season. Although swimming is allowed here, signs are posted warning of the dangers of local crocodiles. Also here is the Barrk Malaam walk, a strenuous 4 to 6 hour hike to the plateau above Jim Jim falls.

Another trek in the Jim Jim Falls area goes to Twin Falls Gorge and is only permitted to four-wheel drives equipped with snorkels during the dry season. This is a 2½ hour journey that includes crossing Jim Jim Creek (hence the need for a snorkel). Once there, access up Twin Falls Gorge is granted through a boat shuttle. Here there is another strenuous 3 to 4 hour hike to the plateau above Twin Falls.

For those without snorkel-equipped four-wheel drive vehicles, there is a picnic area just before Jim Jim Creek. From here, the Budjmi walk along rocky outcroppings begins. Commercial four-wheel drive trips on the access roads can be booked as can scenic flights and helicopter tours over the area at the Jabiru East and Cooinda airstrips.

The Garnamarr Campground is located along the Jim Jim Falls four-wheel drive access road where, for a fee, sites with facilities are available on a first come, first served basis. Inquiries can be made about site availability at the Bowali Visitor Centre before venturing there.

Mary River

Mary River covers the largest area in the southwest portion of Kakudu National Park. Traditional Aborigine culture holds that powerful creation ancestors reside here and should not be disturbed. There is a popular camping area located here at Gunlom where there is a waterfall.

The Yurmikmik walk is composed of separate but interconnected walks that go along Boulder Creek, Yurmikmik Lookout, the Motor Car Falls, and Kurrundie Creek. The Gimbit picnic area is located near the South Alligator River at Guratba. Another picnic area, Gungurul, is located 37 kilometers north of the Mary River Ranger Station and has toilet facilities. The Maguk Plunge Pool is located along a gravel road and is accessible only during dry season with four-wheel drive. Bukbukluk Lookout is located 10 kilometers north of the Mary River Ranger Station and has picnic tables.

For accommodations, the Wirnwirnmila Mary River Road House, owned by the local Jawoyn people, is equipped with motel rooms, and offers backpacker accommodations and camping. The Gunlom Camping Area is a fee-based camping site with access to complete facilities and generators. Free bush camping is also available at Maguk and Gungurul where there are basic camping facilities and there is another bush campground at Kambolgie with no toilet facilities or drinking water.

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