KK – Kakadu and Katherine Gorge (aka Nitmiluk NP)


Kakadu NP was one of the three major areas of interest for us on this trip.  These aboriginal lands are a jointly managed Commonwealth Reserve covering 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles) and they are on the UNESCO World Heritage List in recognition of both outstanding natural values and as a living cultural landscape. Aboriginal people have been living in Kakadu continously for more than 50,000 years so a visit to the park is a learning experience about aboriginal culture and art as well as the diversity of plants, animals and landscapes in the park.  On arrival we were sold a 7day park pass and as it turned out, that was how long we stayed there.  We worked our way down from the north to the south so our first stop was Merl campground near Ubirr Rock, one of the main aborignal rock art sites in the park.  The park offers Ranger Guided Rock Art Talks or Walks at key locations so we joined the Ubirr Art Talk.  Unfortunately our guide was a 25 year old non-aboriginal who was working from a script, so the passion and feeling were missing.  The art was ok but not the best we have seen.  We watched the sunset from the top of the rock and then returned to our campsite in the dark and were overrun with bugs and the heat.  It was not a nice night especially as I was already covered with midge bites from Darwin.

In an attempt to maximize our enjoyment of the park, we decided to check into the ensuite caravan park in the town of Jabiru so we could have air conditioning and minimize the number of bugs in the van.  On the way there we stopped at Cahill Crossing which is a notorious crossing over the East Alligator River (due to crocodile attacks and flooding) and is the border to Arnhem Land, which was declared an aboriginal reserve in 1931. Access to Arnhem Land is restricted and visitors need a permit to enter this pristine area which comprises 91,000 square kilometers of unspoiled wilderness.  We did see one large crocodile in the water at the crossing and still there were people fishing on the rocks there. We enjoyed cooling off in the CP pool and using AC.  Our next stop was Nourlangie Rock, another art site, where we made a big effort to leave Jabiru before 8am so we could catch the guided ranger tour at 9am, and as luck would have it we got the same ranger as before (disappointing….).  Spent 2 hours in the heat at 3 sites, some rock art, some stories, culture and history.  Moved on to Cooinda/Yellow Waters Wetlands for the sunset cruise and we were not disappointed.  This was one of the highlights of Kakadu, especially for Dick as he wanted to see crocodiles.  Had a good aboriginal guide on this tour in a 50 person boat through the Yellow Waters billabong and the South Alligator River.  In 2 hours we saw thousands of ducks and birds and 20-30 crocodiles (up close!).  Our guide was very good at spotting birds and crocs and making sure all could see and get photos, including a sunset croc photo.  Earlier in the day we visited the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre which had a lot of displays about the traditional lifestyle but it felt like something was missing, (probably the fact that there were no people working there).

Next stop was Jim Jim Falls, only accessible in the dry season by 4 WD.  We aired down (reduced tire pressure) for the drive, and booked in to Garnamarr campground on the way to the falls.  Decided to go to the falls later in the day to avoid some of the worst heat so left at 2:45 for the 10 km drive on a very rough 4WD only track.  Met lots of cars coming out and about 3 km in we saw lots of black smoke from a large bush fire.  Stopped the next car we passed leaving and they thought it was ok.  Smoke was looking worse so we stopped another car and they had turned around after only starting the walk to the falls.  It had taken us half an hour to do 5 kms of the 10km drive and then there was a 3 hour return 2 km walk to see the falls.  Didn’t take much more deliberation before we decided it wasn’t worth risking being caught in a bush fire and turned around.  Good decision as we later met others who had seen flames at the side of the road.  It was a hot and smokey night and our 12 V Transcool AC did a good job.

The next day we tried again but left at 8 am, and the fire was not an issue.  We thought that allowing 3 hours for a 2 km return walk seemed excessive.  We found out!!!  It took us 3 hours and 20 minutes and we didn’t swim at the falls. The falls were spectacular and the plunge pool and sandy beach looked good but it was still a bit cool for a swim. We found the walk quite difficult – lots of huge rocks to scramble over, but we did it without a disaster.  That came soon enough. I volunteered to do the 10 km, 4 WD rough track out to give Dick a rest and to get some 4 WD practice in.  Big mistake!!!  FULL DISCLOSURE now – I was going along fine and then I hit a tree with the side of the van and smashed our awning.  A few minutes later we met someone on the one lane track and I had to back up and try to take a side lane.  Didn’t back up enough and got us bogged in the sand, one wheel off the ground.  Within minutes there were 6 cars there going both directions and I was blocking the track!  I got out of the driver’s seat very quickly. Dick couldn’t drive us out so the guy behind pulled us out with a snatch strap.  Everyone seemed to take it in their stride but I felt bad.  Dick said he was glad it was me that did it and not him.  We stopped back at the campground to regroup and have lunch and Dick managed to re-align the wrecked awning a bit and tape it up with gaffer tape.  I hope it stays on until we get to Sydney.  Just as well we don’t use it much.

Gunlom Falls were the next stop and their lovely plunge pool was next to the campground.  A ranger talk was scheduled for our two  nights there and guess what – it was the same ranger we had before so we skipped his slide show/talk.  This time the walk goes to the top of the falls and its a 2 km return walk straight up the cliff to the top of the falls. On the way up we saw a sign that said in this area there was a correlation between the location of deposits of potentially harmful minerals such as uranium, mercury, lead and arsenic and areas of aboriginal sickness country (that they traditionally avoid). Seems like the more we learn about aboriginal ways the more we value their knowledge of country.  More climbing over lots of rocks in the heat of the day but we made it to the top and enjoyed a nice time swimming in the infinity pools at the top of the waterfall.  Took 50 minutes to climb to the top and 30 minutes to get down.  It was relaxing just to sit on the rocks in the water and chat with others there.  Finished the day with another swim in the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls.  Overall a good day in a beautiful place, one of the nicest parts of Kakadu in my opinion, and a nice finish to our time there.

Because we had not seen enough waterfalls or climbed enough steep cliffs in the heat, we camped at Edith Falls (Leliyn) which is part of Nitmiluk NP (Katherine Gorge) and we’re glad we did.  You will be noticing how all the old english names are being replaced with the original aboriginal names, which do take a bit of getting used to.  The large plunge pool is also next to the campground and there is a 2.6 km round trip walk that climbs to the top of the escarpment and the upper pools, which of course we did.  On the way we stopped at a lookout where I got phone coverage and talked to Amy for about an hour.  This walk was also quite steep and it was a hot day, so we were glad we wore our hiking boots and sorry we left our poles behind.  Had a lovely swim in the Upper Pools and we both swam across one pool, climbed over some rocks and got to another pool under a waterfall.  It was a big accomplishment for me, as the swim was ~100 meters. We stopped at some great lookouts on the way back so in the end we were out in the hot sun for 4 hours.  I went for a quick swim in the plunge pool at bottom of the falls when we got back to the campground.  That marked our third consecutive day of strenous walks/climbing/swimming in 30+ C heat and we were both feeling quite tired and hot from the sun.

For a change of pace we went to Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk NP and did a scenic helicopter flight for 20 minutes which took us over all 13 gorges.  The 13 natural gorges have been carved thru sandstone by the Katherine River, with rocks and boulders separating each gorge.  The commentary was good (pilot was from St Ives in Sydney), and the gorges were impressive from the air. We had lunch in the visitor centre and saw thousands of bats in the trees there along the river, and that was all that we allowed time for at Nitmiluk NP.  Moved on back to Bitter Springs so we could pay another visit to the thermal springs we had enjoyed on the way up.  Arrived late and floated down the creek on our noodles until dark.  As we were staying close to the springs we went back in the morning for our third swim/ float in the thermal pool.  Then we started on the long drive home.


Rock art at Ubirr, Kakadu NP
One part of Ubirr Rock
Waiting for sunset at Ubirr
Sunset from Ubirr rock
Cahills Crossing into Arnhem Land
Nourlangie Rock
Rock art at Nourlangie showing how the signage is done


Inside one of the rock caves with our guide
The Yellow Waters cruise and our first croc sighting
A closer look at a croc
And another one
Look closely and you’ll see a baby bird and its father (known as a ‘Jesus bird’ because they walk on water)
The waters were lovely as the sun was setting
The crocodile sunset picture
The climb into Jim Jim Falls
It was a beautiful walk in to Jim Jim Falls with smoke from the previous night’s bush fire
Lots of climbing/rock scrambling
Jim Jim Falls
The plunge pool at Jim Jim Falls
BOGGED in the sand
Being ‘snatched’ out backwards from being bogged


Gunlom Falls and plunge pool
Climbing to the top of Gunlom Falls
At the top of Gunlom Falls
Pat in the infinity pool, top of Gunlom Falls
Relaxing on the rocks
An end of day swim with the noodle in Gunlom plunge pool
Edith Falls from the lookout
We swam across this top pool at Edith Falls


And a late afternoon dip in the plunge pool at Edith Falls
Easier than doing a hike!
Some of the 13 gorges at Katherine Gorge


Dick on his noodle in Bitter Springs thermal pool
Bitter Springs was a magical place


Queensland/NT (Northern Territory) border to Darwin

Our first stop in NT was Seven Emu Station, the first (and only) known Aboriginal owned cattle station, which promotes itself as a great destination for the self-sufficient 4 WD traveller interested in nature, culture, heritage or fishing.  No one was there when we arrived so we tried various station tracks to no avail and just parked in the yard and had lunch; eventually someone arrived.  We then drove 5 km’s on tracks to a private campsite on a steep cliff overlooking the Robinson River.  Had our own Stockmen’s shelter, loo with a view, flush toilet & shower, plus firewood.  Dick built a fire under the donkey boiler to heat the shower water and that night we had a lovely campfire (our first token campfire for this trip) and even ate dinner outside by the fire. Fireworks by the locals on the river bed finished off our evening.  Unfortunately Frank, who owns the station and does the tours, was away so we couldn’t meet him or do his tour, which was the main reason for going there.  The tour would have included a visit to Australian Wilderness Conservancy’s wildlife sanctuary, and access to the coast on the Gulf of Carpentaria. However, it was a magical camp anyway.

Another long, hot driving day on corrugated roads took us through Booroloola (tourist info, fuel and dump stop) and to two “Lost Cities”.  The first at Caranbirini Conservation Reserve, where a hot walk took us around the 25 metre high sandstone pillars known as ‘lost city’ formations.  The second was the Southern Lost City in Limmen’ NP, where we saw more of the large sandstone spires and rounded dome formations resulting from erosion of the sandstone escarpment.  We camped there and did the 2.5 km circuit thru this lost city in the last hour of daylight. For me that was enough lost cities to last a long time!  The heat since arriving in the NT has been getting to me and we have been very greatful to Lea for insisting that we buy a Transcool, 12 V airconditioner.  At first we wondered if we’d ever use it but boy are we glad we have it for all our national park and bush camps with no power.

Another long driving day (via Roper Bar), more heat, and more corrugations got us to Bitter Springs and a lovely change.  Within an hour of arriving in the CP we were in the thermal hot springs, floating for 10 minutes down a stream on our noodles (floating aids) surrounded by lush tropical bush.  We spent a pleasant hour there with numerous downstream floats. Amazing to have free access to such a lovely place, and within walking distance from the CP where we managed to score a bushy private campsite.

Drove to Katherine and felt like we were in “caravan city”; the place was overflowing with caravans!  Found out later it is referred to as the ‘Crossroads of the North’, as two main roads, The Explorers Way and the Savannah Way, lead north, south, east and west from there.  It was 37 degrees C and stifling.  We visited the Tourist Info, a cafe for lunch and Woolworths for groceries and everyone seemed to be walking around like zombies because of the heat. Decided to keep going north as couldn’t get into places and we could stop on the way back.  Stopped at Hayes Creek CP on the way to Litchfield NP (and took power for the AC).

Litchfield NP is close to Darwin and features 6 or 7 stunning waterfalls which cascade from sandstone outcrops, walking trails, 4 WD tracks and camping spots. We picked the campsite at Tjaynera Falls, only accessible by 4WD, and not so crowded.  Did the 1.7 km walk to the falls later in the afternoon when it was cooler, and enjoyed a cool and refreshing swim.   The next day we decided to do a blitz on waterfalls before leaving the park and driving to Darwin, so visited Wangi Falls, Tolmer Falls, Florence Falls and had a swim/sit in Buley Rockhole.

Got to Darwin in time to collect a package at the post office and go for fish and chips while enjoying the sunset with friends, Lyn and Graham, at Cullen Beach.  Enjoyed three nights in Darwin so had time to stock up/clean up/do repairs and general catch up, plus a bit of shopping and market visits.  Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory (NT) and has a population of 140,000, out of a total NT population of 244,000.  I was surprised at those low the population numbers.  Darwin was named after Charles Darwin, scientist and evolutionist, who visited the area on ‘The Beagle’ from 1831-36.  The city was destroyed by Japanese bombs in 1942 during WW2 and then it was devastated again by ‘Cyclone Tracy’ in 1974.  There are a lot of WW2 historic sites throughout the NT. We enjoyed more time and another dinner out with Lyn and Graham. Also managed to take in the famous Beer Can Regatta on Mindl Beach – people race in boats made out of beer cans.  Its a fun atmosphere and something different, very Darwin! It was fortunate to be in a place when one of the big events was on. Next stop – Kakadu NP!


Welcome to the Northern Territory (NT) – we had no trouble staying within the speed limit!


Driving into Seven Emus station


Working on the blog in our 7 Emus campsite
Dick lit a nice fire under the donkey boiler to heat the shower water
Our campfire on the cliff overlooking the river at 7 Emus
Eating dinner by the campfire at 7 Emus


Caranbirini Conservation Reserve – lost city formations
More pillars in Caranbirini
Exploring around the formations
Southern Lost City (and maybe we’ve had enough photos!)
Another view of the Southern Lost City at dusk
The Southen Lost City looked more magical at sunrise from our campsite.
Bitter Springs thermal pools where we floated downstream on our noodles


Dick with our noodles in front of Bitter Springs


Dick enjoying Tjaynera Falls, Litchfield NP
Tjaynera Falls, Litchfield NP – we had it on our own for about 5 minutes at the end of the day


A water crossing on the track from our camp
Wangi Falls – Litchfield NP
Tolmer Falls – Litchfield NP
Enjoying Buley Rockholes (with lots of others!)
The riches of falls at Litchfield continues – Florence Falls


Darwin sunset at Cullen Beach
Dinner with Lyn and Graham at Cullen Beach
Beer Can Regatta Mindl Beach, Darwin
Dick with one of the boats
The winning boat called the Terds (Territory Eastern Region Disability Services) – sums up the spirit of the day!


They did actually race in the water, but it was mayhem and a lot of fun!