About a four-hour drive from Northern Territory capital Darwin, Kakadu is one of Australiaís most celebrated national parks, and is one of only about 25 places on the planet to have been granted World Heritage status for both its natural beauty and cultural significance. Indeed, along with Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the Great Barrier Reef it is one of the big three must-see travel destinations in Australia.
Made up of swamps, mangroves and rainforest, Kakadu boasts an unbelievable diversity of wildlife. The park can be accessed by normal car, but many of Kakaduís most stunning sights are down unsealed roads, meaning you should hire a 4WD vehicle or travel with a guided tour, both of which are easy to organise in Darwin. If you hire a car, make sure you check the rental companyís vehicle insurance to see exactly where you are permitted to travel. A three-day tour, preferably with an Aboriginal tour operator, is the best option for seeing what Kakadu has to offer. Most of the accommodation within Kakadu is camping. There are some hotels, however, mainly in Jabiru and Cooinda.
Things to do in Kakadu National Park
Kakadu is one of the best places in Australia to see Aboriginal rock art, some of which is 10 times older than Egyptís pyramids. Two of the best and most accessible Aboriginal art sites within Kakadu are Ubirr, which featured in Crocodile Dundee and is on the eastern side of the park, and Nourlangie, which has the Anbangbang Gallery.
The two most impressive waterfalls to visit in Kakadu are 150m-high Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. You can usually swim at Jim Jim Falls, but not Twin Falls due to crocodiles. Look for the warning signs. Both feature on almost all Kakadu tours, but require a 4WD vehicle and canít be reached in the Wet Season. Taking a boat tour among the crocodiles and incredible bird life of Yellow Waters is another Kakadu highlight. If you travel to the Northern Territory in the Wet Season (November to April), much of Kakadu will be off-limits but it is still possible to take a limited tour. Itís a great time to take a helicopter scenic flight over Kakadu as most of the parkís waterfalls will be at their most spectacular.
Litchfield National Park
Nearer to Darwin than Kakadu, Litchfield is generally a quieter option and a good place to spend a day or two. Just 100km from Darwin, you can travel around most of it without a 4WD. There are plenty of impressive waterfalls. Itís also one of the best places in Australia to see cathedral and magnetic termite mounds. Swimming is also safer than in Kakadu due to the lack of crocodiles. Again, tours, car hire and helicopter scenic flights are easy to arrange in Darwin.
Aboriginal-owned Arnhem Land is a huge area to the east of Kakadu. Itís one of the best places in Australia to experience Aboriginal culture (and is supposedly where the didgeridoo originated from). Tours and safari camp stays are possible to arrange from Darwin, however visitor numbers to Arnhem Land are strictly controlled through travel permits, which can make the tours quite expensive.
Like the Arnhem Land, Bathurst and Melville Islands are also Aboriginal-owned and are great places to experience Aboriginal culture. To get there you have to take a 30-minute flight from Darwin. Tours, including flights, can be booked in Darwin.
If you travel south from Darwin to Alice Springs by hire car or The Ghan train, Katherine Gorge is the main stop along the way and has lots of hotels. Just outside town are 13 gorges, plenty of freshwater crocodiles and 100km of walking tracks set in rugged terrain. Helicopter scenic flights over Katherine Gorge are available, however, to be honest, there are much more dramatic places in Australia to do a helicopter scenic flight if your travel funds are limited. A better (and much cheaper) option it to take a boat tour or, even better, hire a kayak. If you are travelling through the Northern Territory on The Ghan train it will stop in Katherine for several hours, giving you plenty of time to take a tour.