The Northern Territory
Finally we left Halls Creek and went exploring again – this time for as long we want or more specifically, as long our money lasts! Before heading out to the west coast of Australia, we wanted a quick visit to the Northern Territory. We visited Darwin, Kakadu National Park and Katherine, and were in awe of the beauty that the Top End has to offer.
Our brief visit to Darwin
We really looked forward to go to a city again after spending six months in a little outback town. We drove two days and arrived in Darwin on a sunny afternoon. It was immediately apparent that one thing we weren’t really used to anymore was parking our car somewhere and paying for it. Quite aimlessly we drove to Mitchells Street – the place where all the backpackers go- and couldn’t really decide where to go. Another thing we didn’t think of was that we have to book our accommodation, as we usually just sleep in our van. After calling hostels for a private room, we soon realized that they were booked and also quite expensive. So we settled for a campground just out of town for $50; quite expensive! That night we were so tired of the drive that we just did groceries, ate dinner and went to bed.
Oh, one annoying thing about Darwin, at least while we were there; so many fighter jets every five minutes! We woke up early in the morning and the sound was so loud. Luckily when you are in the city centre you barely hear it, but on our campground it was quite evident.
The next day we first visited Mindil Beach, a place you should definitely visit for the Sunset Market. We also wanted to see more of the city centre. There are lots of great places to have drinks or have some food. We visited about three different places on Mitchell’s Street, but the one we recommend is Monsoons. Here you can get great pizza’s, tapas and the biggest cocktails we ever seen. They are served in a glass they call Fish Bowl and you have about five flavors to choose from. We think there was barely any alcohol in it, but very tasty! Only $20 and you can easily share it with three or four people.
We soon figured the city life is not really suitable for us at this moment, as we usually sleep in our van. So after two days of some urban life, we went to Kakadu National Park.
Kakadu National Park
Our land has a high story. Sometimes we tell a little bit at a time. Come and hear our stories, see our land. A little bit might stay in your hearts. If you want more, you come back.
– Jacob Nayinggul – Manilakarr clan
The name Kakadu comes from Gagudju, an Aboriginal language that was spoken in the north of the park at the beginning of the 20th century. Kakadu National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage in recognition for its amazing natural values and as a living cultural landscape. For more than 50,000 years Aboriginal people have inhabited Kakadu, even as far as before the last ice age! In Kakadu you can find ancient rock art that each tell their own story, various wild life, plants, amazing rock pools, waterfalls, great look outs and so much more. There is so much to do in Kakadu National Park. Be sure to take your time when exploring this beautiful place and plan to stay at least three days.
Kakadu: Cultural Landscape
The Aboriginal people in Kakadu are known as Bininj/Mungguy. Both words are similar to the English word “man”. Bininj and Mungguy have lived in Kakadu for tens of thousands of years. Since the Creation time, one generation to the next have passed on different aspects of cultural responsibility, such as language, kinship, ceremonies and caring for the country.
Kakadu is a three hours drive away from Darwin. We recommend that you go with your own car or rent one, so you can make your own route and are not dependent on a tour bus – unless if you prefer going on an arranged tour of course. The park is very big, 20,000 square kilometers, so be sure to take your time and know which places you want to visit. Once you are in the park you are required to purchase a park pass. These can be bought at the visitors’ center and various other locations in the park. It’s also possible to buy one online beforehand.
What to do in Kakadu National Park
Bowali Visitors Centre
At the Bowali Visitors centre you can get help from the staff to plan your visit in Kakadu. Here you can also watch different documentaries, visit the library enjoy other cultural activities. While we were there, they organized a arts and crafts where people could paint their own art! In Kakadu there are different ranger talks and cultural tours you can go on, the staff in Bowali can give you a guide with the schedules for this.
While we were in Kakadu we visited various spots were you could see remaining rock art. We loved the fact that many of them had different stories, even though we didn’t always quite understand them. It is even the case that some paintings are considered sacred and dangerous, and can be seen only by senior men or women. When you see the rock art, there are often multiple paintings covering each other. This is because the act of painting is considered more important than the painting itself. In the park you can visit various sites where you can find rock art. Such as at Ubirr, Nourlangie and Nanguluwur.Kakadu’s rock art showcases one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world. Bininj/Mungguy still paint, but on bark, paper and canvas.
Yellow Water Cruise
If you are planning on cruising on the Yellow Water Billabong, then you’ll most certainly go on a Yellow Water Cruise. They have exclusive use of these waters and operate all year round. It is a great way to experience the wetlands of Kakadu! All the different seasons provide a different experience. It is even a different experience on different times on a day. The sunrise and sunset cruise are the most popular ones, and it is recommended to book in advance. We decided to go on the sunset tour, and were rewarded with an amazing red sky when the sun went down. To be honest, I wasn’t too fond of crocodiles, and while we were walking past water shores in Kakadu, I would be quite scared that one would jump out and snatch Jeffrey away. But once we were in the boat, cruising around and seeing all those crocodiles that clearly weren’t planning on attacking us, I found it very interesting to see them in their natural environment. One crocodile even decided to take a little swim next to our boat for a while. It was a great experience!
This was definitely one of our highlights! It was quite a bumpy ride to get there though. An unsealed 2WD road, but during the ride up there felt more as a 4WD road. Luckily, it was well worth the effort in the end. Gunlom is a combination of a gorgeous waterfall and serene pools on top of the waterfall. The climb up to the plunge pools, to the top of the waterfall, was quite challenging. But the impeccable view and refreshing crystal clear waters makes you forget that in an instant.
We camped the night at Gunlom and luckily when we left the next day, the road was made a lot smoother and it was an easier ride.
Spending the night
There are multiple campgrounds in Kakadu National Park. There is no booking system, so it’s based on first-come, first-serve basis. There are campgrounds that are managed, include showers, toilets, picnic facilities and fire pits. A camp manager always shows up during nighttime to collect the camp fee. The unmanaged campsites that include toilets, basic picnic facilities and fire pits are paid via honesty boxes on site. The free campsites do not have any amenities. For more information about the prices and the campgrounds, click here.
It is also possible to spend the night in a hotel, cabin or safari camps. For more information about the possibilities, click here.
We had already visited Katherine once, when we were on our way to Halls Creek for work. Back then we had no idea that the amazing Nitmiluk National Park was located here. This time we spent a whole day canoeing in Katherine Gorge, which is probably one of the best ways to explore the incredible gorges! It is possible to take a boat cruise, but with the boat cruises you can only enter the first few gorges. With the cano, you can go as far as you want. Via Nitmiluk Tours you can rent a cano for a half day or a full day. Click here for more information.
When we arrived at the tour we were a bit afraid that it would be too crowded in the waters, as we were with quite a large group. But once in the waters, you have enough privacy as everyone soon goes their own way. Even more so, after the first three gorges, we were completely alone. As it is currently the dry season, it is getting harder to go and explore all 13 gorges. We had to drag our cano over rocks whenever we entered a new gorge, and thus other people decided to stay in the first two or three gorges. It always pays off to go the extra mile, as it was a great experience to be somewhere so beautiful just with the two of us. You can also chose to spent the night, as there is a campsite at one of the gorges.
That was our adventure in the Northern Territory (for now). Where are we headed next? Well, tomorrow we are off to Broome. We will be continuing our road trip and this time on the west coast of Australia! Besides Broome, we are planning on visiting Exmouth, Karijini and Coral Bay. You’ll hear from us soon enough.