Red Dust and Water Holes
Red Dust and Water Holes
15 May 2018
We slow down and turn off the bitumen of the Kakadu Highway… it’s time to introduce the Amarok to the Outback. I put my foot down and feel a gentle but solid push as the machine quickly gains momentum, throwing the odd rock and a lot of dust into the air.
Kakadu has always been high up on my list of amazing Australian destinations to visit – a wild and huge expanse of nature crammed with history, culture and wildlife. Photos I’d seen of the area first piqued my interest – jagged sandstone escarpments and boulder-strewn streams; gushing waterfalls and water holes speckled with peacock colours; birds and crocs aplenty; and some of the most remarkable rock art drawings in the world. I was drawn in.
We started our road trip in Darwin, taking National Highway 1, then Kakadu Highway, before stopping off for a coffee at Wirnwirnmila Mary River Roadhouse. The turn off to Gunlom came soon after entering Kakadu National Park.
Like many roads in Kakadu, this unsealed road is recommended for 4WD use only. With hubby in the front seat and our bub having a nap in the back, this is probably the most fun I have driving in years. I whizz past craggy hills and exposed rocks, then slow down to take in the spectacular landscape vistas. As I change speeds I kick up dust, leaving red-powder puffs behind me. Thirty kilometres of fun and games – and I get to do it all over again when we turn back (or maybe I’ll give hubby a go).
Gunlom Falls is one of Kakadu’s most legendary sights – a mammoth waterfall that bounces down almost 90 metres. Although it looks stunning from down below, if you hike to the top you reach a collection of beautiful water holes. These natural rock pools overlook the gushing waterfall and sprawling bushland below, making for one of the country’s most ravishing wonders. There aren’t too many places in the world where you can splash around with a backdrop this spectacular. My husband carries the backpack with our swimmers, snacks and water and I sling the baby. Within 30 minutes we’ve reached paradise.
Kakadu is crammed with unique experiences such as this one and the best way to get around is by self-driving. Some places are made to be explored by foot, others by bicycle, and then you’ve got Outback Australia – the land of the 4WD. Apart from access to areas such as Gunlom, self-driving gives you the freedom when it comes to time too. With nowhere else to be except our accommodation for the night, we’re in no rush. We chill out in the incredible infinity pools and then we take it slow exploring back on the road… yes, this time hubby gets to drive along that dusty red road. Eventually, hunger calls and we make our way to the lodge.
Cooinda Lodge is the tourist centre of the Yellow Water region – an accommodation, dining and tour-booking hub. There are 48 good-sized rooms for people who want to lux it up (yep, that’s us), most of which have just undergone a tasteful renovation. For those on a budget, the Cooinda Campground & Caravan Park is the place to stay. And then in peak season (from mid-June to mid-September) flash camping is another accommodation option.
We’ve arrived just in time for dinner and decide to try some of the local delicacies – barramundi, kangaroo and crocodile. We both sleep well that night, although we’re not sure if its thanks to our adventurous day or the delicious Northern Territory food.
We’ve arrived just in time for dinner and decide to try some of the local delicacies – barramundi, kangaroo and crocodile.
Weather conditions (and therefore access to attractions) varies from year to year in Kakadu. Most people know the seasons simply as the Wet and the Dry, but Kakadu’s traditional owners break the year down into six seasons defined by rainfall, skies, flora and fauna. We’ve come during Banggerreng – which basically means stormy season. I guess we luck out because every day for us is picture-perfect – clear, hot days followed by evenings with spectacular skies… and no rain at all. However, not all of the attractions are opened yet. We don’t get to visit Jim Jim Falls – a magnificent waterfall that surges from a height of almost 200 metres. It’s most glorious during the Wet season, when access by road is impossible and the only way to see it is from the air. As it dries up access is via an unsealed 4WD-only road, so we plan to bring the Amarok back another time for this escapade.
Instead, we spend the day cruising the national park. There are many offshoots leading to picturesque spots, so we get into a routine of driving, going for a bush amble, then jumping back in the Amarok to keep exploring. Of course, we only hike where permitted and steer clear of croc-infested waters.
No visit to Kakadu is complete without a guided tour of those same croc-infested waters, and the best way is with Yellow Water Cruises. We head back to Cooinda for our sunset cruise, touted as one of the best experiences in the park.
We know we’re in for a treat as soon as our guide Tristian starts talking (he knows his stuff) and the billabong looks like nothing I’ve ever seen – lanky trees bow over reflections of themselves and water lilies hover with only the slightest of movements. As our boat purrs along Tristian points out white-bellied sea eagles, black-necked storks, magpie geese and plumed whistling ducks. Not even 10 minutes has passed and we see a croc… then another one and another one. “You need to look beyond the trees,” he explains.
We spend the next two hours spotting birdlife and crocodiles slithering their way through the murky waters. It’s estimated approximately 10,000 crocs call Kakadu home and we’re just cruising in a small fraction of the park. Of course, bub falls asleep – like she always does when the most exciting things are happening.
The next day, as we drive further into the park, we slow down as we cross one of the many little creeks that knit their way through the park – winding down the Amarok’s windows (almost in a joking manner) wondering if we’ll see any more crocs. And we do – the biggest one yet – its glistening snout poised above the water as if waiting for us. I automatically put my foot down and close the windows.