Top of Gunlom Falls, Kakadu

Link to a few pictures here:

We are back in Kakadu, just over two years since our last visit and significantly we are a month later in the dry, cool, winter season. Cool is a relative term, it is about 18c overnight and up to 36c during the day making daytime activities hot and with a 1000 species of flies in Kakadu, sometimes a bit of a “trial by bugs”.

However, it is the dry which had caused the biggest changes to the places we have seen before and were looking forward to revisiting, there is just a lot less water around at this time of year in the waterfalls, swimming holes, rivers, and creeks. The massive wetland system here of flood plain and billabongs seasonally swell and dry out, some completely, some remaining wet enough to support an amazing array of wildlife.

If anyone has a few hours to spare look up the ABC documentary series on Kakadu, it gives a good view of the vastness and richness of Kakadu.

For us, we had been looking forward with eager anticipation to Gunlom Falls, Maguk, Jim Jim and Twin Falls in particular and also to check out the Kakadu Ranger Education series of free walk, talk, paint and wildlife presentations.

Creek at the top of Gunlom Falls, Kakadu

Fortunately, Gunlom still had a little water flowing and the rock pools at the top of the falls were a refreshing place to cool off after a short sharp climb up the edge of the escarpment. The creek and gorge behind the falls are spectacular in their own right but most people come to sit in the pool and create their own “infinity pool” pictures off the top of Gunlom.

The plunge pool at the bottom is an entirely different proposition, first having to make your way past the warning signs about swimming with crocs, plus the sign about croc management with a statement saying  “we think we have removed all the Saltwater Crocodiles, but Freshwater Crocs live here, swim at your own risk”.

Zoe braving the Gunlom Falls plunge pool.

But the pool is cool and deep, a little water still falling and a sandy edge providing an irresistible combination for a swim in the midday sun. Delightful, and as I am still able to type there really were no salties in the plunge pool.

Our Kakadu hearts have been won over this time by Maguk (Barramundi Gorge). There is a short 1km walk into the falls, along an idyllic, crystal clear, Pandanus lined creek. You need to scramble over a few small rocks and crisscross the creek coming out of the falls area but then you come to the most wonderful swimming spot in Kakadu. The water is ideal for swimming, crystal clear and there is a reasonable amount of water still coming over the falls.

Maguk, aka Barramundi Gorge, Kakadu

We swam here for a couple of hours, escaping the heat of the day. It was magical and very hard to pull ourselves away to go set up camp for the night. A perfect day.

Maguk bush camp site, Kakadu

The next morning we set off early to Jim Jim and Twin Falls, another 50kms of corrugated dirt roads to cover to get from the tarmac to the camp grounds, and a further 10 kms on a narrow 4wd track – enough fun when you have the trailer on the back and there is very little wriggle room between the trees.

Dirt road and corrugations on the road to Jim Jim

Twin Falls was unfortunately still shut (from the last wet season) when we arrived, we had heard rumours of troublesome saltwater crocs that did not want to leave the area, redevelopment of the area and "just way too wet" for anyone to traverse the 4WD track and deep creek crossing to get to the falls, whatever the reason it put a small damper on the day.

Jim Jim is an iconic Australian 4WD destination and when we visited before it quickly became Helen’s favourite in Kakadu. Again, the walk along the creek to get to the falls was absolutely beautiful, there was a tough scramble over rocks and boulders to get to the plunge pools but with no water flowing at the moment, Jim Jim had lost a little of its charm.

Jim Jim Creek, walking towards the falls

We swam all the way into the base of the falls area, the water as cold as just about any on our trip and cold enough to dissuade Sophie from swimming across the final 150 m to the falls base. We took a few pictures and turned back.

Although we had another swim at the first plunge pool area, the girls chasing small fish in the shallows, it seemed to Helen and I that maybe we should have waited a little longer to come back and probably we need to come in the wet season to get a dramatically different view.

Stock image of Jim Jim in the wet season. Next time, maybe

We had a quiet overnight camp at Sandy Billabong, inappropriately named – should have been “Mozzie Central” but we toughed it out (well retreated inside the tent behind the insect screens) until morning and then were up, packed bright and early to go to a Ranger talk at the Nourlangie Art site.

Stone Country in Kakadu, hiding more than 5000 Aboriginal art sites

Our Ranger for the talk, Anthea, was an absolute gem. Knowledgeable, personable, and delivered a captivating “walk and talk” session around the Art site at Nourlangie. It was great to hear some Aboriginal culture and history, blended with western Science and understanding and finally realise we were standing in the midst of one of the worlds truly great treasure troves of ancient civilization.

Art from Nourlangie

There are 5,500 known rock art sites in Kakadu, probably a huge number of un-known sites waiting for re-discovery. The art dates back over 20,000 years, probably as much as 50,000 years. The scientists and still figuring it out, and as we were shown, they have the great fortune to have traditional Aboriginal people here to interpret what they see and how they classify the amazing diversity of Kakadu.

Suffice to say the 2 hours here with Anthea has been a bit of a highlight.

After a quick lunch at Anbangbang Billabong (try saying that three times quickly 😊) we headed off to the main Kakadu Park headquarters at Bowali. We spent a couple of hours looking through the exhibits and listening to another ranger talk on Kakadu wildlife before we headed off to set up camp for the night in the Kakadu Lodge Caravan Park in Jabiru and jump in their swimming pool to escape the late afternoon heat. There was also a bar by the side of the pool😊 , irresistible.

We have noticed it becoming somewhat hotter over the past week or so and Friday, Saturday and Sunday saw the mercury hit 37c, and not cooling down too much overnight making sleeping a little uncomfortable in the tent. Maybe a sign of things to come.

On Saturday we took a quick trip down to Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River, a locally famous crossing for the large number of Saltwater Crocs inhabiting the area and an equally large number of people getting stuck when crossing the river at the wrong time. There are quite regular incidents off people being taken by crocs or narrowly escaping with a fair dose of good fortune.

We saw a good number of crocs swimming around and one super smart croc just laying in wait at the edge of the causeway, waiting for a feed of fish to be washed across by the incoming tidal water flow. Helen was really fortunate to see the croc snap up a turtle and in two swift “chomps” it was gone. Wildlife in action, excellent.

On Sunday the girls had an art session with a local artist at the Bowali Visitor Centre and produced a few pieces of excellent art inspired by Aboriginal art techniques.

Our Kakadu adventure was at an end, and we were soon on our way to Darwin, although we stopped a few times along the way delaying our arrival into the campsite until very late afternoon.

We did a very very quick set up and then darted across to the Sunset Beach Markets to watch a fiery red sun dip into the sea and then scoff some excellent food and hand-made ice-creams to end our day. It seemed to us that most of Darwin was on the beach or at the market, we haven’t seen this many people in a very long time.

We will be here for a few days, a few chores, some exploring and then the delicious prospect of heading back out into the bush and continuing our path towards the gulf country and the east coast.

Regards Roy, Zoe, Sophie, and Helen.

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