The Top End has been on the top of my to-dos since I first moved to Australia. When I finally got the chance to self-drive from Darwin through Kakadu National Park and back, I expected an outdoor adventure. What I got was the quintessential Aussie experience.
I wholeheartedly believe this journey is best experienced for yourself, but for those that want to live vicariously for now, here are a few tid-bits I gleaned while on the road ...
Keen eyed observers may notice the occasional termite mound. After much scouring, we were lucky enough to spot this structure en route to Kakadu, and after safely negotiating a subtle veer off the road, we were treated to an up close and personal view.
Seriously though, these suckers are everywhere. Often the tallest natural landmark for miles, they are known to reach up to nine metres high. They’re bound to be in the background of nearly every photo you take, and after a couple days these mega mounds may become old hat. But first sightings will induce the ol’ double take often accompanied by open-mouthed amazement.
When you head to the Top End, it’s almost certain that if you cross paths with any kind of water, it probably has a crocodile in it. Particularly the rivers. In fact, should you find yourself peacefully floating the gentle currents of Adelaide River, keep all fingers, arms … frozen chicken carcasses inside the boat lest you risk running across the illusive jumping crocodiles. Drawn to hunks of rotting meat hanging from 3 metre poles over the side of a boat, these beasts will propel themselves out of the water, snapping and gnashing for a tasty bite.
River tours are widely available along Adelaide River that showcase the acrobatics of the Northern Territory’s most famous residents.
Roughing it Kakadu Style
Getting back to nature is all part of the Northern Territory experience, and there are few better ways to do that than with a couple of nights in the bush. Roughing it of course. Just outside Kakadu, we found a perfect spot to pitch a tent. A luxury safari tent, that is. Luckily, Wildman Wilderness Lodge had already done all the handwork for us. Camping essentials – full queen-size bed with lavish linens, full ensuite bathroom and multi-course gourmet meals – are all accounted for so you can be at one with the incredible natural surrounds.
Camp by a Billabong
Speaking of camping, with all due respect to Banjo Paterson, I wouldn’t recommend all you jolly swagmen camp next to these billabongs. That’s not to say you shouldn’t check them out though. Quite the opposite, in fact! The billabongs of Kakadu are incredibly beautiful. We went near the end of the dry season, which creates oasis pockets with pools of deep blue waters adorned with water lilies in the midst of vast dry fields.
There’s hardly a better spot to enjoy the view. This is especially true during a moody sunset where the cloud darkened sky only enhances the reddish hue of the landscape and the majestic double rainbow in the distance created by a light misty rain. All right, all right, that last bit was probably pretty unique to my visit. Just keep clear of the water’s edge (see jumping crocodiles above).
Ancient Art Galleries
There’s no doubt that Mother Nature used a generous stroke when she painted the Top End. Arguably, Kakadu is made up of the country’s most stunning landscapes. Though, I’m talking about the heritage here. The Bininj (north) and Mungguy (south) are the traditional owners of the land throughout Kakadu and it’s this connection that makes Kakadu so special.
Along with Aboriginal tours throughout, the national park is home to the one of the largest concentrations of Aboriginal rock art in the country with approximately 5,000 recorded sites, dating back up to 20,000 years. An absolute must, a rock art tour provides a unique perspective on the local history and culture, providing visitors with a better understanding and respect for the land.