Enjoy Kakadu : 5 best tips

by | Apr 4, 2024 | Wild Top End, Wildlife News

Small group taking time to enjoy Kakadu on our Wild Top End tour Roger Smith

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

To enjoy Kakadu take your time says Kakadu Guide, Roger Smith. “Rushing Kakadu doesn’t work. Spend at least two full weeks in the Top End. Stay a few days in Darwin acclimatising, it’s a city like no other in Australia, vibrating with culture, markets, wildlife and scenery. It is by far my favourite Australian city, use it as a base for your Top End travels.”

Give Kakadu’s power time to sink in

As a Wildlife Guide for 30 years I have been fortunate to guide guests into many of Australia’s wildest places.

I’m often asked which one is the best.

My favourite places include Mungo National Park, East Gippsland and Exmouth. But one place stands out above all the rest : Kakadu National Park.

Kakadu is astonishing, the wildlife, the Culture and the spirit of the land capture your soul; everywhere you look, everything you touch is embedded with….history, dreaming, presence, spirit, existence, time … there is no single English word that adequately describes Kakadu.

Kakadu’s sheer power will change you – whether you enjoy Kakadu relates to how you visit the place.

You will get the best experience if you travel with an experienced Kakadu Guide who knows where to take you and what time to do it; too many people are frustrated by Kakadu because they think they can do it themselves.

I don’t blame innocent travellers, they are victims of endless Kakadu promotions that give the appearance the park is a pushover. It’s not, it can smash you, but if you give it time you will want to visit over and over again, like I do.

Here’s a few timely tips to make your journey to one of the world’s greatest national parks fulfilling, rewarding and fun:

Tip#1  Respect 50,000 years of time and knowledge

If you drive into the park thinking you can pitch camp beside some idyllic waterfall you’re in for a surprise, it won’t happen and there are good reasons.

Firstly Aboriginal People have been custodians of this land for 50,000 years and they have a right to tell you where you can camp. Why?

It’s really simple: Aboriginal Knowledge (*bininj mayali) demands that the land is nurtured  and you don’t know what needs nurturing. Without the knowledge of the Elders you are like a blind person walking towards a cliff — you could hurt yourself and they’d prefer you didn’t because that also hurts the land.

Secondly the waterfalls are only big in the wet season and at that time it’s difficult to get anywhere near them except, maybe, by plane or helicopter — on a good day!

Bininj is an Aboriginal word for People. We pay our respects to the Traditional Custodians and language groups of Kakadu National Park and thank them for sharing some of their knowledge — bininj mayali —with us and for giving us the opportunity to run tours on their country(s).

enjoy Kakadu see crocodiles close up
One of the many reasons to respect Beninj knowledge in Kakadu Janine Duffy

Tip#2 Time of year

Travel rewards you if you’re prepared to step a little outside your comfort zone; we all have different levels of tolerance and Kakadu will test them all. Remember, you will be in the tropics near sea level which means that it gets hot and humid at any time of year.

Bininj (Aboriginal People of Kakadu) recognise 6 seasons. Use these seasons to work out the best time for you — I’ve added my personal opinion as guidance.

Late Wurrkeng to early Kurrung (late August to early September) is my favourite time. This is the time we run our Wild Top End tours because it offers the best opportunities for wildlife before the weather starts to heat up in the “build-up” to the monsoon.

My personal preference is Kudjewk because The Wet can be spectacular and I don’t mind unpredictability.

Find more climate information on the Kakadu National Park website.

Tip#3 Time of Day

Days start and finish fast in Kakadu, the sun rockets up in the morning and crashes back like a rock dropped into a lake in the evening — if you blink all you’ll see is the ripple of the afterglow!

You need to know the best times, where to go and how to get there. (Hint: we Kakadu Guides can help you with that!)

Enjoy Kakadu Top End birdwatching
Early morning is the best time for birdwatching Roger Smith

Early afternoon is slow, the sun takes over and sensible folk seek shade in the cooling breeze off the leeward side of a billabong — not too close though in case a crocodile likes the look of you!

So get cracking early then ease off in the middle of day before heading out again in the late afternoon. You will feel the land embrace you because you have begun to understand its story….

Tip#4 Slow travel helps you enjoy Kakadu

Why rush about when you’re on a holiday? Especially when you’re in an amazing place with so many things to enjoy and experience.

Slow travel is designed to give you time to absorb what’s around you, to take it all in and enjoy Kakadu.

This type of travel is one of the hallmarks of our tours especially into the Top End where you’ll come across sights and sounds that have taken millions of years to develop.

You’ll need to travel slowly to fit it all in!

Tip#5 Visit other great places in the Top End

kangaroo footprints
Judbarra National Park : Kangaroo footprints in the early morning light Roger Smith

The Top End is not only Kakadu – if you spend the time and money to get there, take you time and visit other places in the region using Darwin as your base.

Our 7 day Wild Top End trip is a great way to enjoy Kakadu and Mary River National Park. Here’s a list of other locations you should try and find the time to visit:

  • Darwin, is a fascinating city. To me it is one of Australia’s top cities. It’s diverse, multi-cultural, has lots of places to walk and enjoy the coastal environment, great markets, a fascinating museum and botanical garden and some excellent places to dine out.
  • Mary River National Park, between Darwin and Kakadu is one of the richest places for wildlife I’ve encountered in Australia. It’s biodiversity is mind blowing. Our Wild Top End trip visits this park.
  • Katherine, only 3 hours south of Darwin, is where the Katherine River has carved massive gorges through Nitmiluk National Park and you have a great chance of seeing a Gouldian Finch.
  • Litchfield National Park, enroute to or from Katherine spend some time in this popular park but you’ll have it mostly to yourself if you use Tip#3 above.
  • Judbarra National Park, if you want to do something most Australians have never done, go west of Katherine to this park . You’ll need lots of time – it is vast (13,000 km2) and phenomenal for plants and wildlife and scenery with a grandeur beyond comprehension at times.

Discover the wildlife of tropical Australia with Echidna Walkabout

Join our 7 day Wild Top End journey through Kakadu and Mary River National Parks. The best in-depth wildlife journey into tropical Australia. Includes Conservation Travel with Citizen Science projects. One departure in August each year for a maximum 0f 8 people.

NOTE: this story was originally published in 2021. It’s been updated with the latest information

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