Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest and one of its most popular National Parks. It has an abundance of wildlife and biodiversity and there is lots to do and see for all ages. If you haven’t seen Kakadu yet, it’s about time you come up and say G’Day. Just make sure you read this blog first, so that you are well prepared for your Kakadu adventure.
1. There is no need to plan ahead
This can change dramatically in the dry season, especially in June and July. These are the main months for visitations in Kakadu National Park for obvious reasons: The weather up here is not as hot, the weather down south is miserable and, of course, school holidays. Nevertheless, we do regularly get enquiries from people that would like to book a tour for June in May. Maybe people don’t realise how busy it gets up here that time of the year? If you are a single traveler willing to hop on any tour available, you might be lucky and score a spot somewhere. But if you are wanting a particular product, are inflexible with your dates, or would like to book a private tour for a group of friends or family, make sure you plan 6 – 12 months ahead. I’m serious. Otherwise, it will be very hard to get what you want. If you are travelling by yourself and not wanting to join a tour, you won’t have this issue. Just make sure you book extras such as accommodations inside the park, or popular activities such as the Yellow Water cruise well ahead, or you might miss out. And make sure you have a 4WD…
2. Kakadu National Park is an easy day trip from Darwin
Definitely not. Some tour operators do offer day trips from Darwin to Kakadu National Park, but, to be honest, you will see more of the inside of a bus than anything else. Remember that Kakadu is Australia’s largest National Park, and is over 300 km away from Darwin. Only do a day trip if you really can’t spare any extra time (or money), and are willing to spend half of the day sitting on a bus.
Even on a two day trip, you won’t be able to see much of what Kakadu has to offer, it’s more of a snapshot. Two days are enough to visit around two to four of Kakadu’s attractions, depending on your pace. At Charter North, we really recommend four days to really appreciate the park with all its different habitats and its unique flora and fauna. Especially in the dry season, when all attractions are accessible, four days in the park are easily filled. Which brings me to the next point…
3. Kakadu’s attractions are accessible all year round
Nope, unfortunately not. Many a visitor has experienced disappointment when visiting Kakadu National Park and only learning, once there, that popular attractions such as Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls are closed.
Most people know that the Northern Territory, where Kakadu lies, has a tropical climate with a wet and a dry season. In the wet season, we receive a lot of rain, which makes the landscapes nice and lush and is thoroughly enjoyed by the local wildlife. However, when rivers flood, so do many roads, making attractions at Kakadu National Park inaccessible. Most roads within the park are unsealed, meaning they receive damage from rain and storms. What many people don’t know is that, even after rains cease, many areas of the park remain closed for a few more weeks or even months.
This is because damage caused by storms has to be fixed and visitor facilities have to be reinstalled. For example, the floating walkway at Twin Falls gets flown in by a helicopter at the start of each season. But, most importantly, Kakadu’s rangers conduct strenuous crocodile surveys before they can open certain areas to tourists. As, in the wet season, saltwater crocodiles make their way up rivers and into waterholes, Kakadu’s management has to make sure all crocs are removed from popular visitor attractions before opening. This is the main reason why attractions such as Jim Jim and Twin Falls now often don’t open before May or June.
But that is not to say that there is nothing to see and do in Kakadu in the wet season, or “Green Season”, as we call it. In fact, the park holds many attractions and hidden secrets that can be visited in the early months of the year, and you are likely to have all the good spots to yourself.
4. You do not need a 4WD to visit Kakadu National Park
It’s true, you can drive to Kakadu National Park in any car you like, and you will even be able to visit some of the park’s many attractions. However, if you would like to see some of the most popular attractions, for example Jim Jim and Twin Falls, you won’t get around having a 4WD. We have seen many travelers caught out in the park because they were not aware of this fact. Some are trying to get a ride with someone else (most often without luck), some drive in anyway, just to get stuck, and some find themselves booking a day trip inside the park to get to the falls. The latter two are quite costly consequences I might add… So to avoid disappointment, make sure you have a 4WD and you know how to drive it safely. You will need quite a bit of clearance, and you will have to cross waterways and quite a few soft sandy sections. Early in the season, you should also have a snorkel on the car. If you are hiring a 4WD in Darwin, make sure you are actually allowed to take it into Kakadu, and double check what insurance cover you get. If you have never driven a 4WD before, you might want to reconsider this option. You can always jump on one of the many group tours from Darwin.
5. There will be snakes and spiders everywhere
Of course there is a very active wildlife in Kakadu National Park, but, most of the time, it remains hidden to our eyes. You will very rarely spot a snake or a large spider or scorpion while in the park, mostly because they are more afraid of us than we are of them. Once we approach and they feel the vibrations of our steps in the ground, they take off faster than a jet fighter. If you do see a snake, just stand still, warn others and wait for it to disappear. You should never handle wildlife, and that accounts for snakes, too. Remember though that Kakadu has many wetland areas and there will be snakes around, even if you do not see them. So make sure you always wear closed footwear, not flip flops, just in case…
So, with all this information, you should be ready to plan your next Australian adventure. I hope that, after clearing some common misconceptions about visiting the park, there won’t be any disappointments, only relaxed holidays and fun discoveries.