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Kakadu National Park is the largest national park in Australia and one of the few UNESCO World Heritage sites to be listed for both its cultural and natural features. It’s an enormous park famed for its biodiversity, wildlife, and aboriginal heritage.
Made up of wetlands, rivers, water holes you can swim in, impressive rock formations, aboriginal rock paintings, prehistoric monuments, and an abundance of wildlife, you can bet there are many things to do in Kakadu National Park to keep you busy.
Sunset at Ubirr
It is a profoundly spiritual place that offers adventure, cultural experiences, stunning landscapes, unique flora and fauna, and a bit of star-gazing.
If you’re thinking of visiting Kakadu National Park and are not sure what there is to see and do, then read on to learn about the park’s top attractions.
How Many Days Do You Need at Kakadu?
Yellow Water Billabong
I once heard about a writer who had visited Kakadu National Park on a group tour after visiting Litchfield National Park on the same day!!
Two outstanding national parks separated by a good three-hour drive.
I was sad that people might read that review and think Kakadu is nothing but a place that is hot with lots of mosquitos and a magical sunset that you can’t fully appreciate because you’re on the great Top End race to see it all in a day.
The minimum number of days you need to spend at Kakadu National Park is three days, but if you can spend longer, I would suggest spending an entire week there.
If you don’t have the means and time to experience Kakadu properly then I suggest holding off until you can, otherwise, you’re just wasting your time and money.
Kakadu is Australia’s largest National Park and covers more than 19,000 square kilometers, in other words almost half the size of Switzerland. You can’t get to know it if you race in for a night. There is a lot of ground to cover and so much to see and do.
How To Savour the Kakadu Experience
Kakadu National Park is not far from Darwin, so you can easily fly in and hire a car. To really make the most of your experience, I suggest you skip the tour, grab a bunch of friends, and split the costs of hiring a car and doing it yourself.
Once you’re in Kakadu, besides your camping and entrance fees, your costs are minimal as it’s just nature you’re exploring.
After traveling around Australia for 18 months, Kakadu was in my top 5 highlights.
Where else in the world can you come and see towering red rugged escarpments, impressive gorges, floodplains, art galleries thousands of years old, pockets of rainforests, billabongs dotted with lotus flowers and lurking crocs, waterfalls cascading into plunge pools?
It is also home to over one-third of Australia’s bird species, and thousands of plant species such as pandanus and cycads.
Wow! To really savour the experience, I recommend you do the following:
Camp in the park in one of the several campsites. Sleep under the stars and let the sounds of nature lul you to sleep. We camped for five nights at Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park in Jabiru, the main town.
Drive it yourself. Don’t bother with a tour, they will drive past some of the most beautiful landscapes. To make sure you don’t miss anything, do it yourself.
Take a scenic flight. Once you have explored the park on the ground, you can really appreciate its size and magnitude by taking a scenic flight and seeing it from above.
Get a 4WD vehicle as there are some areas you cannot access without one.
Make sure you visit both Cooinda and Jabiru separately and stay in each town for a couple nights. Both give you access to different parts of the park and will save driving long distances to get to the various sites to explore.
When To Visit Kakadu National Park
We visited Kakadu at the end of the dry season, when it wasn’t at its full green and wet glory, but still beautiful with much to enjoy.
The best time to see the national park is after a big wet season, when the waterfalls are full and the water holes are at their fullest.
The wet season is during the tropical summer from November to April. This is also the cheapest time to visit.
The dry season is from May to October, which has cooler temperatures but you’ll find many of the waterfalls have dried up.
Now you know a little bit about how to experience the national park, it’s time to show you the top attractions in Kakadu National Park. We’ll divide each section by North, South, East, and West.
Things to Do in Southern Kakadu National Park
As we had arrived from Katherine Gorge, Cooinda in the Southern part of the park would have been a great first base for us.
Cooinda has a lodge and camping for accommodation and offers daily activities which may include bush-tucker talks, stargazing, bush walks, bird-watching tours, slide shows, and bingo nights.
Camping prices depend on whether you book a powered site or a non-powered site. You can also book a lodge if you don’t want to camp. Most campsites are pretty well equipped with hot showers, toilets and WiFi.
From here, you are perfectly based to explore the following attractions in Kakadu National Park…
1. Yellow Water Billabong Cruise: A Journey Through Kakadu’s Wetlands
The mist floats above the water as the sun gently rises casting a soft yellow and pink glow over the billabong.
Slowly it wakens, flocks of egrets soar above, and magpie geese come into land, sea eagles perch above looking for their morning feed, while all eyes in the boat actively seek out the ancient example of perfect evolution.
Our guide points ahead to a one-metre tail swaying back and forth barely making a ripple in the water. This is what most of us have been waiting to see in the Kakadu wetlands – a croc stealthily hunting for his breakfast.
We’re sure to keep our hands and heads inside the boat knowing that they’ve survived for millions of years because they are master predators.
We see this later when our boat glides past the pink lotus flowers and water lilies, and we’re startled by a sudden snap. We turn and only just see the hungry monster slide back into the water with its barramundi breakfast.
The Yellow Water Cruise was one of our favourite experiences in Kakadu. We highly recommend visiting at sunrise when the air is still and the weather pleasant.
The billabong is abundant with wildlife and sunrise is when you see it wake up. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed seeing and learning about all the bird life.
I would love to do the Paul Arnold sunset photography tour – the perfect place to learn how to improve your nature photography.
Yellow Waters Billabong Cruise is featured and run by Gagudji Dreaming, which is based at the Cooinda Lodge. They also offer a range of other tours such as fishing on Yellow Water and cruises under the stars. You can also camp here or stay at the lodge.
2. Gunlom Falls, Kakadu
Gunlom was one of my favourite places in Kakadu and one of my favorite places in the world.
The road in was a little rough in places, but we managed it in our Ford Territory. We drove through grass fires to get there so were a little nervous as the area was closed only days before because of fires.
When we arrived the ranger kind of shook his head at the city folk warning him that there were fires around.
“It’s only grass fires. Nothin’ to worry about!”
There’s a steep walk up to Gunlom Falls from the car park, but the kids managed it okay. It’s well worth going up there, even if you have to carry your young children.
The sweeping views out to the valley are just spectacular, which can be appreciated straight from nature’s best infinity pool.
The waterhole is surrounded by shady gums and perfect for a refreshing swim and a spot of lunch.
I just felt like I was an angel standing at the edge of the world from up here. It was such a serene and magical place. It’s by far my favourite waterhole in Australia and possibly my favourite view.
The kids had a ball swimming here with their friends Jack and Scarlett. I can still hear their squeals of joy now!
There is a plunge pool at the base of the falls, but that was closed with a croc warning sign, so I’d just stick to taking the walk up the top for your swim!
3. Maguk (Barramundi Gorge)
The beauty of Maguk | Credit: Tourism NT/jack.and.megan
We did our very best to get to this waterhole late in the afternoon after our huge day doing the wetlands cruise and Gunlom.
Our friend Laurence from Finding the Universe who drove 60,000 kilometres around Australia said Maguk was his favourite swimming hole in the country.
Unfortunately, for us we got bogged halfway in on the 150-metre soft sand section. Our car doesn’t have high clearance. You need a high clearance 4WD to access Maguk.
By the time we dug ourselves out, looking like a bad science experiment gone wrong, it was too late to try again using the hard bush road beside the sandy bit. Yeah, we had no idea this was there until a local in his beat up commodore came driving by and inquired why we did not just use that road instead!
Maguk, formerly Barramundi Gorge, is a pristine natural waterfall and plunge pool at the base of steep gorge walls.
A 14km four-wheel drive track off the Kakadu Highway to reach Maguk, followed by a one kilometre walk through monsoon forests, crossing Barramundi Creek.
4. Warradjan Cultural Centre
Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre | Credit: Tourism NT
A great place to learn about the aboriginal culture and the tribes who live in the park, the Bininj and Mungguy people, is to visit the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
It has a really fascinating free museum that tells the story of all the people who have lived here for thousands of years, as well as some historic changes that have taken place more recently.
An extensive exhibit explains the complicated kinship laws, read traditional owners stories of growing up in Kakadu and see tools, message sticks, artworks and live demonstrations from local artists.
Around the centre are a few short walks you can do too.
Things to Do in Northern / Eastern Kakadu NP
When visiting the North or Eastern side of Kakadu, you should base yourself in Jabiru. From here, it’s an easy drive to many of the top things to do in Kakadu National Park on the northeast edge.
Jabiru is the main town within Kakadu National Park. You’ll find services such as a supermarket, post office, and bank.
Jabiru doesn’t have as much accommodation as Cooinda, but there are still some great campsites and lodges you can choose from.
Kakadu lodge and campground
The Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park are one of the most popular places to stay. This is a great place to camp to explore Ubirr and Nourlangie. The Kakadu lodge and campground here often has evening ranger talks and a great restaurant and pool.
If you want somewhere with a bit more luxury, consider staying at the Aurora Lodge which has a refreshing outdoor pool.
From Jabiru, it’s easy to explore the following attractions in Kakadu National Park…
5. Bowali Visitor Centre
Credit: Tourism NT/Shaana McNaught
If you stay at Jabiru campground, I recommend riding along the 4-kilometer return nature trail to Bowali Visitor Centre.
The visitor centre is beautifully designed and hosts extensive displays and information about Kakadu. It’s a great first stop to help you plan your stay in Kakadu.
Kalyra and I enjoyed an afternoon bike out here winding through the woodlands. It starts opposite the Gagudju Crocodile Hotel.
You will find many other walking trails near the visitor center too.
6. Explore The East Alligator River Area, Kakadu
Guluyambi Cultural Cruise on the East Alligator River.| Credit: Tourism NT/James Fisher
The East Alligator river area takes you to the border of Kakadu and Arnhem Land.
Take some time to stand at Cahill’s Crossing and watch the cars cross the Alligator River with saltwater crocodiles swimming up and down nearby. There were several people standing near the edge of the river fishing. No thanks!
If you drive across, you have to time the tides right to get across this river.
7. Visit The Border Store
Check your Kakadu event guide as sometimes there are talks and art sessions at the border store.
We sat with two Aboriginal men one afternoon as they painted their artworks. It was a great experience for the kids to see and we loved talking to the men to hear their stories and traditions.
8. Check Out Ubirr Rock Art
If you want to see some aboriginal rock art galleries, then you’ll find the best aboriginal rock art sites in Ubirr.
Guided talks on local Aboriginal culture and rock art often run over an afternoon through the Ubirr rock art gallery. An Aboriginal ranger will tell you many of the stories behind the paintings on the wall of the 1km circular walk.
One of the most iconic paintings is the Rainbow Serpent gallery, which is one of the oldest pieces of rock art and an important piece to the park’s traditional owners. It even inspired the logo for the national park.
These tours can be quite popular and we found it difficult to hear the softly spoken guide. It was also a challenge having to manage the kids at the same time. They did love seeing the rock art though!
9. Witness the Spectacular Sunset over the Nardarb Floodplains
Time your tour at the Ubirr rock art for the afternoon so you cand then head straight up to the top of the rock for one of the most beautiful sunsets you could hope to see over the Nadarb floodplains and Arnhem Land.
This is one of the best things to do in Kakadu, so don’t miss it.
Your hair will stand on end as you sense the great spiritual essence that exists here and has been untouched for millions of years.
If you have kids they will love this chance to run around or even just rest for awhile and soak up the beauty.
Things to Do in Kakadu’s Nourlangie Area
Head to the Nourlangie region for more exciting attractions in Kakadu. Visit the Rock art, walk around the Billabong and then enjoy the sunset.
10. Take A Nourlangie Rock Art Tour
There was nobody else in this incredible rock art gallery when we visited. The art sites and Aboriginal shelter can be explored along a 1.5km loop walk. It also takes you to Gunwarrddehwardde Lookout viewing platform with spectacular views of the escarpment.
We loved the painting and story of Nabulwinjbilwinj, a dangerous spirit who likes to bang females on the head with a yam and then eat them.
Another important piece of rock art at Nourlangue is Namarrkon, a picture depicting the creation ancestor named Namarrkon, who the aborigines believe is responsible for the lightning storms that occur every tropical summer.
11. Catch the Sunset at Nawurlandja Lookout
Another impressive sunset, without the crowds, is at Nawurlandja. It’s a short 600-metre climb and gives views over Nourlangie, the escarpments of Arnhem Land, and the Anbangbang Billabong, which is popular to walk around.
The sunset is not as striking as Nadarb, as you are looking away from the setting sun, but just as serene and beautiful. The kids had a ball playing hide and seek here with Jack and Scarlett.
12. Birdwatch at Mamukala Wetlands
On the way out of Kakadu, heading towards Darwin the Mamukala Wetlands is meant to be a great short 3km walk to explore the wetlands.
It’s said to be spectacular during the dry season with an influx of migratory birds.
There is an easy walk to an observation platform in the paperbarks at Mamukala wetlands and is one of the best places to go bird watching.
You can see many of Australia’s bird species from here, including kites, comb-crested jacanas, cormorants, purple swamp hens, finches, and kingfishers.
Four Wheel Drive Adventures in Kakadu
If you’re lucky enough to get a 4WD, be sure to add the following things to do to your Kakadu bucket list!
13. See Jim Jim Falls, Kakadu
Jim Jim Falls | Credit: Tourism NT
Jim Jim Falls is said to be one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Kakadu.
It has a deep plunge pool and is surrounded by 150 metre high cliffs. Check with the visitor centre as the falls will probably have dried up by the end of the dry season.
During the wet, the road becomes impassable so you’ll have to see it via a scenic flight.
14. See Twin Falls
Twin Falls | Credit: Tourism NT/Sam Earp
10km further on from Jim Jim Falls is Twin Falls, accessed through a deep creek crossing (croc beware). You can walk (6km) up to the plateau above Twin Falls, and enjoy some beautiful views.
You can bush camp out in this area.
15. Check Out Koolpin Gorge (Jarrangbarnmi)
image credit: MrDays
Everyone raves about Koolpin Gorge (Aboriginal name Jarrangbarnmi,) and it’s easy to see why. The gorge, which is the handiwork of the Koolpin Creek over thousands of years, is also known as the Giant’s Staircase.
Access is seasonal and requires a permit and a high clearance 4WD. It’s real wilderness camping and hiking, but if you’re up for it, you’ll almost have the waterfalls and swimming holes to yourself!
image credit: MrDays
Tips for Visiting Kakadu National Park
Before you visit Kakadu National Park, be sure to consider the following:
Take mosquito repellent. It was only one night we noticed they were particularly vicious.
If you have kids, check out our tips for hiking with kids.
Rest during the heat of the day and walk/explore during the morning and evening.
Pack plenty of snacks, water, and food.
IMPORTANT: It’s essential you speak to the rangers and pay attention to ALL signs in Kakadu. Crocs can be found in all rivers and most waterholes. Don’t risk it.
Getting to Kakadu
We arrived from Katherine and so entered the park from the Southern section at Pine Creek (150 km from Katherine)
If coming from Darwin, you can enter from the northern section of the park from the Arnhem Hwy (240 km from Darwin)
Unleaded and diesel fuel is available from Kakadu Resort (at South Alligator), Jabiru, Cooinda, and Goymarr Tourist Park.
Entrance fees into the park cost between $25-$40 for 7 days, depending on whether you visit in the wet or dry season.
Here are a few longer stay tours for Kakadu
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Kakadu
So there you have it, those are all the top things to do in Kakadu National Park, and as you can see, there’s so much to see and explore in this park.
Whether you’re looking to see wildlife, learn about aboriginal culture and rock art, or run around pretending to be in a Crocodile Dundee movie, you’ll find it all here.
Whichever of these attractions you decide to visit, be sure to give them plenty of time. This is a truly special place in Australia and deserves to be explored wholeheartedly.
More Northern Territory Inspiration
Are you visiting other parts of the Northern Territory? Then you may find the following guides useful:
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Have you visited Kakadu National Park? What was your highlight? Let us know in the comments!