Kakadu National Park is 6,610 square miles of natural beauty and adventure. It is also one of the most remote and wild regions of the country, filled with tropical forests, the huge sandstone cliff, known as Arnhem Land Escarpment, torrential monsoons, flash floods, birds, reptiles and mammals by the thousands, billabongs (ponds), and relatively few human beings.
The only nearby town of any size is Darwin, named for Charles Darwin, who explored this region while aboard the “Beagle“, about 3 hours away by road. Local lodging is available right in the heart of Kakadu, at Jabiru Township’s Kakadu Lodge, in either lodge rooms with communal bath, or self-contained cabins, complete with basic cooking facilities, television and air conditioning.
My personal favorite lodging in Kakadu is the Gagudju Lodge, Cooinda. Cooinda is just about Gagudju’s Mimi Restaurant has a menu you probably can’t find anywhere else, all served perfectly, and at a great price too! Try the local favorites, crocodile, buffalo, and barramundi (fish, compared to perch, but much larger!). Gagudju Lodge also offers the only take-out liquor service in the park, at Barra Bar. Accommodations range from modernized lodge rooms to ‘swags’, a bit more rustic and authentic lodgings, and both powered and unpowered camping sites. A General Store, swimming pools and landscaped ‘bush’ trails complete the facilities.
When staying at Gagudju Lodge, be sure to walk the short 15-minute trail through the bush to the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre, a not-to-be-missed cultural and science, and natural history display. Warradjan has a terrific Aboriginal Gift Shop, a walk-through cultural display that takes you from the prehistory days of Australia through modern times, and regularly scheduled film showings on a variety of interesting topics.
There is so much to see and experience in Kakadu, that a day trip from Darwin doesn’t allow enough time, not nearly enough! Aboriginal art and ancient shelters are abundant throughout the park.
To date, 119 types of reptiles have been recorded living in Kakadu. These animals rely on heat from an external source, such as the sun to regulate their body temperature. This is not to say that reptiles are active only during the day; in fact, few snakes can withstand Kakadu’s midday heat and most are active at night. Always encourage use a torch and wear covered shoes at night. A variety of reptile species inhabit the Park, among them 11 types of turtle and tortoise, 11 goanna (a type of monitor) species, 37 skink species and 36 species of land snakes. Only four of the snakes are potentially lethal to humans-the taipan, the king brown snake, western brown snake, and the death adder. The crocodile is perhaps the reptile that most visitors associate with Kakadu, perhaps because of the tourist hype, and perhaps because they are extraordinarily large, here in Kakadu. . Two species of crocodile live in Kakadu: the freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnstonii) and the estuarine, or saltwater, crocodile (Crocodylus porosus). Freshwater crocodiles are distinguished by their narrow snout and single row of four large ‘scutes’ (dermal plates) immediately behind the head. Saltwater crocodiles do not have these scutes and their snout is broader. The maximum size for a freshwater crocodile is about 10 feet, but the saltwater crocodile can grow to lengths of more than 20 feet!
Insects are possibly the most overlooked creatures in Kakadu, and definitely the most abundant! At last count, there are over 10,000 types of insects found in Kakadu National Park. This large variety of insects is caused by the wide variety of habitats in the park, from lowland billabong to tropical jungle forestland, along with the relatively high normal temperatures. I found the high towering termite mounds, constructed of grasses harvested by the termites to shelter their colonies, to be awesome and intriguing. In fact, I spent a full day just watching the termites at work!
Fifty-five species of fish live in the park, including the Sooty Grunter and the interesting Archer Fish. Both the Sooty Grunter and the Archer Fish live mainly in the clear waters near the Escarpment, but can be found in other areas of Kakadu National Park. The barramundi is a very popular restaurant fish, because of its white and firm, sweet-tasting meat.
The marsupials in Kakadu National Park represent Australia’s kangaroos, wallabies, opossum, bandicoots, and more. Marsupials do not all have pouches for their young, as is commonly believed, and some marsupials have only temporary pouches, which disappear when the young are mature enough to leave their mother’s ‘side’.
Placental animals, including bats, rodents, the dugong (a water creature that is probably the ugliest thing on earth, so ugly it is cute, in fact!) and a species of dog, complete their totally inside the mother’s body, and are more developed and able to thrive away from the mother for longer periods of time, right from birth.
Birds, over 285 species of birds, inhabit the many varied habitats of Kakadu National Park. The White-lined Honeyeater is fascinating to observe in their natural habitat. Pick up a Bird Checklist, with picture guide and note taking space, at the Bowali Visitor Centre, and watch for endangered, threatened and vulnerable bird species.
To get started on your Australian Adventure, http://www.travelnt.com (Travel Northern Territory) has an enormous amount of travel planning assistance and information, as does http://www.northernterritory.visitorsbureau.com.au, an awesome and huge resource for travel to the region, by The Northern Territory Visitor’s Bureau.
Be sure to leave plenty of time in your itinerary for relaxing and enjoying one of Australia’s most amazing natural wonders, Kakadu National Park.