-- Dont you understand the signs warning of crocodiles in this
billabong? I called out to a young woman paddling knee-deep in the
lily-covered waters near Nourlangie Rock in Kakadu National Park in
Australias Northern Territory.
Yes, but they
wouldnt be able to move quickly through the grass and flowers, she
It amazes me that
some tourists at popular places in Australia, such as coastal
beaches, rivers and billabongs, seem to regard warning signs of
danger as a challenge.
crocodiles are present in many northern Australia rivers and
coastal floodplains, but fortunately for most visitors, the only
sightings are of the creatures sunning themselves on
One of four
places in Australia listed as a World Heritage site, protected
Kakadu is indeed a national treasure. Kakadu National Park is
listed for both its cultural and natural heritage, and only a small
portion is open to the public.
square miles east of Darwin, the park still has aboriginal
landowners from a number of clans, including those who spoke
Gagudju, from which the name Kakadu comes. The language is no
longer spoken regularly.
The park covers
the entire catchment area of a tropical river, the South Alligator,
with its amazing variety of plants and animals, as well as an
extensive collection of aboriginal rock art.
Many visitors are
tempted to do Kakadu in a day, but you need at least three or four
days just to scratch the surface.
Although it is
possible to visit Kakadu using your own vehicle (some roads require
four-wheel drive), I recommend joining one of the many daily tours
that leave Darwin during the dry season from April through
Although the park
can be visited during the wet season, many roads become impassable
even for four-wheel-drive vehicles. June and July are probably
ideal, as nearly everything is open and there is still plenty of
water to create waterfalls and vistas over the plains.
The drive from
Darwin is mainly along the Arnhem Highway to Jabiru through open
savannah, where the effects of burning to clear undergrowth and
promote new growth (and, for the aboriginal people, to make hunting
easier) is used.
a number of wetlands. Birds soar overhead and the ubiquitous
termites create mounds in crazy shapes. At Mamukala, thousands of
magpie geese congregate on the wetlands in the late dry
There are two
main areas in the park where fine examples of aboriginal rock art
can be viewed by the public. These are at Ubirr and Nourlangie
Rock, and some date back as much as 20,000 years.
Hand stencils of
kangaroos, fish and spears together with traditional figures such
as Namarrgon, the lightning man, appear in amazing
At Ubirr and
Nourlangie Rock, relatively easy climbs take you to lookouts over
the floodplains surrounding the countryside and to the Arnhem Land
Nourlangie, a sharp climb to Nawurlandja Lookout provides panoramic
views of the rock and the Anbangbang Billabong, which is covered
with white lilies.
The wet season
brings enormous rainfall to Kakadu, and the floodplains are a haven
for many birds, including jabiru, brolga, egrets and
One of the best
ways to see birds (and a few crocodiles) is the Yellow Waters
cruise on the South Alligator River, close to the Gagudju Lodge
Cooinda and campgrounds.
cruises that run throughout the day meander along the river, with
people snapping shots of Burdekin ducks with an entourage of
chicks, egrets, kingfishers, huge expanses of lilies and
reflections of stately paperbark trees in the still
Some of the most
spectacular sights in the park are created by the flow of water,
especially at the Jim Jim and Twin Falls that cascade over the
Arnhem Land escarpment.
After the wet
season, the roads to the falls are usually impassable until early
June, but once open, the day trip to the two falls is a
Jim Jim Falls in
Jabiru plunges 600 feet into the Jim Jim River and is reached after
a pleasant walk along the river to a natural amphitheater of
bright-red, sandstone cliffs, which form a semicircle around the
You can walk to
the top of the falls (I saw a few faces peering over the rim), but
it is a difficult and tiring climb.
By contrast, Twin
Falls is accessible only by kayak or by swimming for a stretch of
about 400 yards.
A sandy beach at
the base is a pleasant place for lunch and to sunbathe.
Some areas of the
park (and Arnhem Land) are only accessible if you join tours that
have been given permits to areas owned by aboriginal
and Heritage Tours takes you across the swiftly flowing East
Alligator River (not for the faint-hearted) to explore billabongs
and wetlands in Arnhem Land before returning to the Hawk Dreaming
and Cannon Hill area of Kakadu to see some wonderful examples of
aboriginal rock art.
The guides are
experts on rock art. They also are friends of the traditional
owners and knowledgeable about their lifestyle and their use of
plants for food and medicines.
There are two
visitor centers in the park. The Bowali Visitors Center, which is
close to Jabiru, features the major habitats of Kakadu. The
Warradjan Visitors Center, which is near Cooinda, provides displays
and information on the aboriginal culture of the region.
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].