To enjoy Kakadu take your time says Kakadu Guide, Roger Smith
“Rushing Kakadu doesn’t work. Spend at least two full weeks in the Top End. Stay a few days in Darwin acclimatising, it’s a city like no other in Australia, vibrating with culture, markets, wildlife and scenery. It is by far my favourite Australian city, use it as a base for your Top End travels.” Roger Smith, Kakadu Guide
As a Wildlife Guide for 30 years I have been fortunate to guide guests into many of Australia’s wildest places and I’m often asked which one is the best.
Kakadu is astonishing, the wildlife, the Culture and the spirit of the land capture your soul; everywhere you look, everything you touch is embedded with….history, dreaming, presence, spirit, existence, time … there is no single English word that adequately describes Kakadu.
Kakadu’s sheer power will change you – whether it’s a good experience relates to how you visit the place. You will get the best experience if you travel with an experienced Kakadu Guide who knows where to take you and what time to do it; too many people are frustrated by Kakadu because they think they can do it themselves.
I don’t blame innocent travellers, they are victims of endless Kakadu promotions that give the appearance the park is a pushover. It’s not, it can smash you, but if you give it time you will want to visit over and over again, like I do.
Here’s a few timely tips to make your journey to one of the world’s greatest national parks fulfilling, rewarding and fun:
Tip#1 Respect 50,000 years of knowledge
If you drive into the park thinking you can pitch camp beside some idyllic waterfall you’re in for a surprise, it won’t happen and there are good reasons.
Firstly Aboriginal People have been custodians of this land for 50,000 years and they have a right to tell you where you can camp. Why? It’s really simple: Aboriginal Knowledge (*bininj mayali) demands that the land is nurtured and you don’t know what needs nurturing. Without the knowledge of the Elders you are like a blind person walking towards a cliff — you could hurt yourself and they’d prefer you didn’t because that also hurts the land.
Secondly the waterfalls are only big in the wet season and at that time it’s difficult to get anywhere near them except, maybe, by plane or helicopter — on a good day!
Tip#2 Time of year
Travel rewards you if you’re prepared to step a little outside your comfort zone; we all have different levels of tolerance and Kakadu will test them all. Remember, you will be in the tropics near sea level which means that it gets hot and humid at any time of year. Bininj (Aboriginal People of Kakadu) recognise 6 seasons. Use these seasons to work out the best time for you — I’ve added my personal opinion as guidance.
Late Wurrkeng and early Kurrung (late August to early September) is my favourite time and it’s also the time we run our Wild Top End tours because it offers the best opportunities for wildlife before the weather starts to heat up in the “build-up” to the monsoon. My personal preference is Kudjewk because The Wet can be spectacular and I don’t mind unpredictability.
Find more climate information on the Kakadu National Park website.
Tip#3 Time of Day
Days start and finish fast in Kakadu, the sun rockets up in the morning and crashes back like a rock dropped into a lake in the evening — if you blink all you’ll see is the ripple of the afterglow! You need to know the best times, where to go and how to get there. (Hint: we Kakadu Guides can help you with that!)
Early afternoon is slow, the sun takes over and sensible folk seek shade in the cooling breeze off the leeward side of a billabong — not too close though in case a crocodile likes the look of you!
So get cracking early then ease off in the middle of day before heading out again in the late afternoon. You will feel the land embrace you because you have begun to understand its story….
Tip#4 Take your time
The Top End is not only Kakadu – if you spend the time and money to get there, take you time and visit other places in the region using Darwin as your base. Our 7 day Wild Top End trip is a great way to get started. There’s more suggestions about other things to do at the end of this article.
Tip#5 Fly and Save time
Fly to Darwin rather than attempting to drive. Then either go on a tour OR hire a vehicle. Darwin is a long way from anywhere so don’t waste your time driving thousands of kilometres from the south. Get there quickly and use your hard-earned cash to enjoy yourself in the tropics.
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT IN THE TOP END
- Mary River National Park, between Darwin and Kakadu is one of the richest places for wildlife I’ve encountered in Australia. It’s biodiversity is mind blowing.
- Katherine, only 3 hours south of Darwin, is where the Katherine River has carved massive gorges through Nitmiluk National Park and you have a great chance of seeing a Gouldian Finch.
- En route to or from Katherine spend some time in Litchfield National Park, it’s a popular park but you’ll have it mostly to yourself if you use Tip#3 above.
- Lastly, if you really want to do something that most Australians have never done, go west to Judbarra National Park. You’ll need lots of time to do that park – it is vast (13,000 km2) and phenomenal for plants and wildlife and scenery with a grandeur beyond comprehension at times.
VISIT THE TOP END WITH ECHIDNA WALKABOUT
- Join our 7 day Wild Top End trip one of our best wildlife tours.
- We also design and operate special extended wildlife tours throughout the Top End that include all 5 national parks mentioned in the story: Kakadu, Mary River, Litchfield, Nitmiluk and Judbarra
- read more stories about the Wild Top End
*ABORIGINAL PEOPLE OF KAKADU & THE TOP END
We pay our respects to the Traditional Custodians (Bininj) and language groups of Kakadu National Park and other lands in the Top End and thank them for sharing some of their knowledge (Mayali) with us and for giving us the opportunity to run tours on their country(s).
View more of our Multi-day tours #ConservationTravelAustralia