Sweeping escarpments, ancient rock art, sparkling waterfalls and wild wetlands teeming with wildlife. This is the best way to experience the Top End, a outback safari like no other.
You know it’s there. Tantalisingly always just over that northern horizon, a mythical land awaits, an untamed world full of adventure. The top end of the Top End, anchored around the wild realm of Kakadu National Park, presents an opportunity to gain an understanding of the cultural heritage of the Indigenous peoples that have called it home for tens of thousands of years; marvel at a pristine wilderness; admire its dazzling birdlife; and (from a safe distance) meet the planet’s biggest reptile.
It sounds like a mammoth proposition, but you can grasp just how varied and vast Kakadu and its surrounds are in just five days on Inspiring Journeys’ Kakadu’s Ancient Secrets. Think of it as an Australian-style safari, taking it all in from the comfort of an air-conditioned luxury 4WD, with nights at plush luxury lodges.
What to see
Along the way there are wonders aplenty in Litchfield and Nitmiluk national parks, as well as Mary River and the town of Katherine, three hours south of Darwin. But the showstopper has to be Kakadu – the mother of all national parks – which you encounter on day two.
The UNESCO-listed site is half the size of Switzerland and home to a cornucopia of animals, including 10,000 crocodiles and some 280 species of birds. Indigenous people here enjoy a history that stretches back some 65,000 years and the park’s rock art is a beautiful testament to this.
Admire ancient forms at Ubirr in Kakadu’s northern zone, as well as the shady galleries embedded within the sweeping escarpments of Nourlangie, where you’ll also witness a sweeping vista dramatically changing colours in the failing light of sunset. And you can’t beat a cruise through the wetlands – a wild place where you’ll want your zoom lens at the ready for a colourful flock of Gouldian finches, arguably the most spectacular bird in the country.
Any exploration of the tropics calls for the cooling effects of swimming holes and you’ll have the chance to refresh in Gunlom Falls and its world-famous views out across Kakadu on day three. But nowhere are these sites more accessible than at Litchfield National Park, which you pass through on day one. The most iconic here is Wangi Falls, its twin streams tumbling down 84 metres to an emerald-green rock pool.
Finally, the township of Katherine and its surrounds is home to both the Jawoyn and Dagoman people, and you can explore their cultural practices at Katherine’s Top Didj Cultural Experience and Art Gallery on day four.
Leave having gained a deep understanding of the unique cultural and natural landscape up here; and all in just five days. But you’ll want to come back – there’s so much more to see, a world full of ancient secrets that should be on the bucket-list of any discerning Australian explorer.
Meet the traditional owners
Tell us a bit about yourself. My name is Bessie Coleman and I am a bush baby. I was born in a homestead called Old Goodparla. My mother was working for the station owner and one day she had me. There were 13 of us brothers and sisters. I have three sisters still alive. Today, I speak for the three Jawoyn clans in the southern part of Kakadu National Park.
What role do Kakadu’s traditional owners play in the park? We have joint management [with the federal government]. We’ve been working together with park’s staff for decades. There are some bumps sometimes, but it works strong.
What do most travellers not know about Kakadu? Kakadu has a very powerful story. The old people tell us that wherever we go, when we walk along the creek lines, we always have guides with us to tell us to turn this way or that.
How is Kakadu different at various times of the year? Jawoyn have five seasons: wet season, dry season, cold weather season, hot weather season and knock-’em-down rainy season when the rain knocks all the grass down. When the wet season arrives, Kakadu comes alive. The animals have lots of food: wild berries, plums and bush potatoes. Little fruits come up – red apples, white apples; everything comes alive. When the storms come it cleans all the creek and river systems.
What do you want travellers to take away from their time in Kakadu? Listen to the traditional stories about why the land is so special; listen directly from the traditional owners and learn from them. And respect the earth, the country and its spirit. See birds and wildlife up in the mountains. People want to see breathtaking things, but remember to listen to the stories, too.