Wow, a vast place of extremes! Kakadu is completely different to what I had imagined. We entered from the southern end of the park via the Kakadu highway, and was somewhat surprised by the dry open eucalyptus woodlands/scrub. I had expected something greener and lusher – perhaps rainforest? I got a couple of quick photos of the larger termite mounds in the bush, expecting plenty more further north, but these turned out to be the biggest we saw in Kadadu!
We had our 4wd’ing ‘fun’ soon after arriving, as already mentioned late in this post! Unfortunately most of the campsites and walks in the lower region are 4wd access. Further north, dropping into a couple of campsite for a look (Gunrurul & Mardugal), we were surprised by more dry somewhat barren land, and we actually starting to feel like this place was a dud!!!
We stayed that night at the caravan park at Cooinda Lodge to cheer us up (at least they had some green grass…). A walk the next morning (10/8/14) down to the Yellow Water Wetlands (where the similar named cruise operates from), left us with a better feeling – now this was nice!
We spent a while looking around Warradjan, the Aboriginal Cultural Centre, before traveling to Muirella Park campsite, where we spent the night.
Next day (Mon 11/8) was a big day of walking! We started with the nearby Bubba wetlands walk. More beauty! It was finally starting to dawn – what makes Kakadu Kakadu is the wetlands! This was meant to be a 4-5km circuit, but a short section of track closure at around the 3km mark turned it into a 6km return walk! Seems they didn’t want people walking through a 20m section of long grass amongst [potentially] hidden crocs!
Starting to appreciate the place, we drove to the Nourlangie region, and started that area with the 2.5km walk around the Anbangbang Billabong. This billabong wasn’t quite as pretty as what we’d seen on the Bubba walk (but a lot more people – none at Bubba wetlands at all!), but has some nice rocky backdrops and plenty of bird life.
Then it was the aboriginal artwork in the caves (Anbangbang gallery), as well as Nawurlandja lookout.
We’ve now seen quite a lot of aboriginal rock art during our 6 weeks of travels, and this may not be the politically correct thing to say, but I’m not that thrilled by it (there paintings for sale are usually Ok though, due to different content and brighter colours). The rock paintings are rather primitive, as was there culture/lifestyle. However I do recognise and respect their skills in knowing the plants and animals of the land, and how to live off them.
One thing I hadn’t realised till now, as it wasn’t as explicitely stated as it is here in Kakadu, is that the Bininj/Mungguy (aboriginal people) believe that they are the direct descendants of the dreamtime beings that created the land. Of course that means Balanda (non-aboriginal people) aren’t. This is somewhat different, somewhat ‘more’, than just having inhabited the land for a long time and hence being ‘connected’ to it; it must create a much greater sense of entitlement – of the land belonging to only them.
The majority of people in Australia of course do not believe that aboriginals are direct descendants of Nayuhyunggi – the people/Gods who they believe created the landforms, plants animals etc. Most Australians have their own alternative belief systems, whether that be a different religion (Christian being the largest in Aus), or science/evolution (though I don’t equate evolution with straight science – it takes some science and theorises/extrapolates from it…).
I presume young aboriginals are still taught dream-time stories as being factual. I wonder how much of the problems they face as a group – societal, health, crime etc – can partially traced back to a sense of ‘entitlement’ due to their ‘dream time ancestry’? I’m sure there are many other issues involved too (I’m not going to simplify it that much!!!), yes of course many due to white people and their actions. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on these issues, just throwing some ideas out there based on what I have observed!
Anyway, back to Kakadu…. Following the Nourlangie region (just in case that wasn’t enough for one day!), we headed north (out past Jabiru) to the East Alligator region. We reserved a spot at Merl campground (ie. left a table and couple chairs in a clearing somewhere, lol) before heading out to Ubirr.
Now this place is beautiful! There is lots more aboriginal art, but on some interesting rock formations. What really makes this place though is the rocky outcrop and the lookout/view from it. Check out the below photos – this place has 360 degree views – beautiful green wetlands for about 180 degrees, with interesting rocky hills/outcrops for the other half. It is a beautiful place to enjoy the sunset. In the wet season, that whole wetlands area turns into a massive sheet of water – must be an awesome sight!
The only problem with this place is that you have to share it with about 100-200 other people who all want to see the awesome view and sunset too! And then you have to leave just after the sunset – can’t hang around for the pretty colours in the sky – as the park closes and a ranger choofs you all off…. Oh, and the mozzies that night at Merl campground were bad!
Next morning (12/8) we were off on the Bardedjilidji walk, for 2.5km, to which we also added the 6.5km Sandstone and River bushwalk. The sandstone rock formations were pretty cool.
It was on the extended walk that we spotted our first crocodile in Kakadu, in a billabong. We’ve named him Kakodile. He’s only a littley, and a bit of a sook – went and hid in the water after he saw us staring at him!
This walk goes along some billabongs, some dry creek beds, and then the East Alligator River. Check out the contrast between the wetlands, and the scrub that we are walking through (right next to each other).
The East Alligator River is rather different from the Yellow River/Billagong that we saw over at Cooinda. Here the banks are sandy, a bit further downstream they are muddy!
There are two different cruises available in Kakadu, the Yellow Water Cruise, and the East Alligator River Cruise. Having seen the two, we decided the Yellow Water Cruise would be the more interesting one for us even though it is more expensive. This was also confirmed after speaking to the ranger staff, who advised that the Yellow Waters one is more about the wildlife, whereas the Alligator River one is more an aboriginal cultural cruise.
Then it was on to Manngarre rainforest walk. Just a small one at 1.5km, but finally some small sections of [dry] rainforest!
This walk is on the banks of the East Alligator River also, and down here it is crawling with crocs! We stood on the bank near the boat ramp, and must have seen at least 10 diffferent large crocs swimming around in the murky muddy water. Daniel jumped when one suddenly chased another in fairly close to the bank (couldn’t see either prior to the commotion!)!
Having seen the sites and walks in this area, we headed back to towards Cooinda and booked the four of us onto the evening/sunset cruise for 4.30 that evening. It was a great cruise, but I’ve split it off into a separate post, otherwise this one will be massive! You can find it here.
Afterwards we stayed that night at Mardugal campground, and attended an outdoor slideshow by a ranger on the six seasons of Kakadu (as the Binnij/Mungguy (aboriginal men and woman respectively) know the seasons). It was an interesting talk – well worth seeing. Would be nice to come back and see Kakadu in the wet sometime. Sure, we wouldn’t be able to get to some of the places, but it’d just be great to see the extremes between the dry brown landscape, and the flooded green landscape, and perhaps experience some of the monsoon weather and lightening displays (it is the most active place for lightening in the world!!).
After some big days with lots of walking (the boys are complaining about having to walk more than 10km’s every day….), we had a big sleep in and then set off in the direction of Darwin, via Jabiru and the Arnhem Hwy (Wed 13/8). Stopped in for one last walk at Mumukala, where we stayed at the bird hide / observation deck for some time. There was an older English couple there, who were obviously serious about there birdwatching – bino’s, books and even a telescope! They even wear those old people green clothing – you know the serious nature lover look – just to complete the picture…. They found and showed us a couple of Rainbow Bee Eaters through the telescope, and well as a Kingfisher. Both very pretty! We also watched a number of other birds, and then set off of the short 3km walk (to the boys disgust – no more walking allowed apparently…) to see even more birds and wetlands.
So despite our initial misgivings about the place, we ended up having a lovely time in Kakadu. The wetlands are beautiful, and are what really makes this place special. Anybody is free to put a boat into any of the rivers I’ve mentioned (there are plenty of boat ramps) – that would be the best way to see this place – bring your own boat and wildlife/birdwatch at close quarters till your heart is content. Oh, and if you want to see the beautiful waterfalls,/rockpools then bring a 4wd! We couldn’t visit Maguk/Barramundi Gorge, Jim Jim Falls/Billabong, Twin Falls and other places, but I think we also learnt that these would just be an added bonus rather than the main show put on by Kakadu!