Australia // Northern Territory //

Kakadu National Park

Some 150km east of Darwin lies KAKADU NATIONAL PARK, one of the most spectacular and varied wilderness areas in Australia, and World Heritage listed for both its natural and cultural riches. Kakadu derives its name from the Bininj/Mungguy people, the area’s traditional owners, who jointly manage the park with the Australian government.

Covering over 20,000 square kilometres, Kakadu is a challenging place to appreciate in a short visit; allow a minimum of three days, either rent a 4WD or join a 4WD tour, and consider a river cruise to get to more remote areas. The dry-season months are the most popular times to visit, with little or no rain, acceptable humidity and temperatures, and fairly conspicuous wildlife. Towards the end of the Dry, birdlife congregates around the shrinking waterholes, while November’s rising temperatures and epic electrical storms herald the onset of the Wet. To see Kakadu during the Wet, which sees up to 1600mm of torrential rainfall between December and March, or the early Dry is, many argue, to see it at its best. While some major sights are inaccessible and the wildlife dispersed, the waterfalls are in full flow and the land possesses a verdant splendour that can be quite breathtaking.

Kakadu’s 20,000 square kilometres encompass a huge range of habitats from sandstone escarpments topped with heathland to savannah woodlands, wetlands and tidal mangroves all changing throughout the seasons. Within these habitats an extraordinary diversity of wildlife thrives, including 2000 different plants, over 10,000 species of insect, 68 mammals, and 120 different reptiles including thousands of saltwater and freshwater crocodiles (the park’s main watercourse, the South Alligator River, was misnamed after the prolific croc population on its banks). You’ll also find a third of Australia’s bird species within Kakadu, including the elegant jabiru (black-necked stork), the similarly large brolga, with its curious courting dance, and white-breasted sea eagles, as well as galahs and magpie geese by the thousand. Mammals include kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, 26 species of bat, and dingoes.

With so many interdependent ecosystems, maintaining the park’s natural balance is a full-time job. Burning off has long been recognized as a technique of land management by Aborigines who have a safe, effective process that involves lighting small, controllable fires in a patchwork quilt-like pattern to stimulate new plant growth. Today, rangers imitate these age-old practices, burning off the drying speargrass during Yegge, the indigenous “cool weather time” season from May to June. Managing introduced species, from water buffalo to troublesome grass species and cane toads, is also a major priority in order to preserve the park’s environment.