Exploring Kakadu and Arnhem Land

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Exploring Kakadu and Arnhem Land 

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Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land comprise more than 110,000 square kilometres in the north-east corner of the Northern Territory, up in what's known as The Top End.

The landscapes are diverse and set the scene for outback adventure travel, aboriginal culture and nature activities. Nature and wildlife is abound in this area, which is known for its level of biodiversity.

Kakadu National Park is the largest national park in Australia. It contains one of the highest concentrated areas of aboriginal rock art sites in the world; the most famous examples are at Nourlangie Rock and Ubirr. While wholly aboriginal owned land, Arnhem Land is known for its strong aboriginal culture, towering escarpments, wild coastline, savannah woodlands, lush wetlands and prolific wildlife.

Nourlangie Rock, Kakadu National Park ©Peter Eve

Famous area for backpackers

If you're going to Australia you have to visit the Northern Territory and Kakadu National Park. It's one of the most popular backpacker 'Things to do' and the biggest reason most people visit Darwin, from where the backpacker tours to Kakadu depart. If you've seen the film Crocodile Dundee and always dreamed of seeing 'that' outback side of Australia, this is where it was filmed. You thought it looked great on film? You wait until you're standing there, breathing in the air, experiencing the colours and living it for real!

Nowhere on Earth looks, feels or sounds like the Kakadu area. Apart from seeing the odd croc the size of a bus (ok, a little exaggerated, but you might pee a little when you see your first one), you can see Aboriginal rock art, waterfalls, beaches and a landscape that hasn't changed much for thousands of years. Suffice to say that the memories, photos and stories from Kakadu are some of the main ones from your trip that will stay with you forever.

Best time of year to go

Backpackers visit the region all the year around. Don't let yourself be put off by the rainy / monsoon season too much if this coincides with your visit, as what this means is the odd shower of rain now and then through the day, usually for a brief period of time. In truth the heavens truly open for maybe 10-20 minutes and there is enough water to turn you into a fish, but then the sun reappears and all is well again. If you're from the UK you'll probably find this quite pleasant. Just pack a mac!

'Get CeNTred' Journey, Central Australia - Quad Bike Riding ©TourismNT

Best way to see Kakadu and Arnhem Land

As a backpacker there are two ways to see Kakadu, either 'self-drive' or with a tour. The tours that run from Darwin are the most popular because they are easy (you get picked up, fed, taken places, shown stuff and dropped off), you're with other backpackers, they're geared towards backpackers as opposed to older holidaymakers, most include some great deals and above all, they're a great laugh!

If you 'self-drive' or sort out your own trip you generally get a more relaxed, 'back to nature' experience and quite often you'll spend longer in the area as time is your own. The camping, bush walks and your ability to tune in to the Great Outdoors are limited only by your time and your imagination. Our only advice would be to team up with someone who has done a bit of this before if you are a novice, and also someone with a car helps! To find room in a car put messages up at the hostels in Darwin, although the usual safety checks on the driver and the other passengers need to apply here as you can be a little remote.

Arnhem Land c.TourismNT

About Kakadu National Park and Arnhem

Kakadu National Park is one of only a handful of World Heritage sites which is listed for both its natural and cultural values. Spanning 1,980,400 hectares, the park is ecologically diverse and dynamic in landform.

A sheer and spectacular escarpment frames tidal flats, floodplains, lowlands and plateau, providing a habitat for 1600 plant species and over 200 species of birds. Kakadu is a place with no fences or boundaries, where crocodiles, snakes and other wildlife exist virtually uninterrupted by the activities of man.

Arnhem Land, which is nearby, is home to lush greens wet with colour, engulfed by white sandy beaches and wide blue skies.

Think Crocodile Dundee! While much of the classic film (staring Paul Hogan as the bushman himself) was set in America, the scenes dedicated to Australia were filmed in some of the Northern Territory's most picturesque sites. Visitors to Kakadu National Park will feel like they're in the movie when they visit Ubirr and Gunlom Falls.

Equally astounding are Kakadu's caves and rock overhangs, richly decorated with Aboriginal rock art, some dating back 50,000 years, telling the stories of life of the early Aboriginal inhabitants to those still living in the park today.

From vast horizons and pristine environments to rich characters and the world's oldest living culture, Kakadu captures the essence of Australia.

Like Australia itself, Kakadu National Park is BIG! To truly appreciate the majestic beauty and spirit of Kakadu we recommend spending around 5-6 days there.

Getting there

Getting to the Northern Territory is easy. The vibrant capital city of Darwin is closer to Asia than any other capital city in Australia and, in the centre, Alice Springs only a 2-3 hour plane ride from most Australian capital cities.

There are many flights into Darwin from Australia and overseas. You can also travel by road and rail via the Stuart Highway and the Ghan respectively. 

Mt Borradaile; Arnhemland; NT; c.Tourism Australia

Seasons of Kakadu

Kakadu National Park changes dramatically with the seasons and one visit just won't be enough.

The local Bininj (indigenous) people interpret 6 different seasons. Their year starts with the scent of blossoming paperbarks, overflowing into thundering waterfalls and dazzling lightning displays, then trickling into billabongs filled with magpie geese and waterbirds.

This malleable scenery can be explored with a sweeping flight over the landscape or up close on a billabong or river cruise.

  • January to March: Gudjewg - Monsoon season (Wet)
  • April: Bang-Gerreng - Knock 'em down storm season (Wet)
  • May to June: Yegge - Cooler but still humid season (Dry)
  • June to August: Wurrgeng - Cold weather season (Dry)
  • August to October: Gurrung - Hot / dry weather season (Dry)
  • October to December: Gunumeleng - Pre-monsoon storm season (Dry / Wet)

Things to remember about Kakadu

Kakadu offers a wealth of nature and culture experiences as well as adventure experiences, such as: swimming in waterfalls and waterholes, hiking and trekking, aboriginal art and culture tours, fishing, learn about bush tucker and medicines, take a 4WD tour, learn how to play the didgeridoo, translate ancient rock art, take a boat cruise along the wetlands and marvel at the bird and wildlife or go camping.