Kakadu National Park might not be as popular as Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef. However, we feel that the park deserves more recognition and should be on the list of any Australian travel plans. Indeed, one of the largest national parks, Kakadu National Park Australia features fantastic landscapes, unique wildlife, and Aboriginal rock paintings dated back to prehistory. No wonder that Kakadu is listed not only one but two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: one for its natural environment, and two for its cultural importance.

We traveled to the Northern Territory, where we went to Darwin, and Kakadu as part of our three-week itinerary in Australia, and we really enjoyed reached that part of the country. We would definitely recommend it to any Australia travel plans.

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Kakadu National Park Australia

Where is Kakadu National Park?

The Kakadu National Park Location is located within the Alligator Rivers region in the Northern Territory, about 170 km southeast from Darwin.

Kakadu National Park History

The name Kakadu is thought to originate from the word Gaagudju, as the park is called by the Aborigines who have lived in the region from 20 to 40,000 years ago. Their presence can be seen in the round 5,000 rock art sites spread across Kakadu. The most accessible and stunning ones are Nourlangie, Nanguluwur, and Ubirr.

How to Visit Kakadu National Park

You can explore Kakadu either as an independent traveler renting a car for the trip or go on an organized tour from Darwin.

Kakadu 4-Day Self-Drive Itinerary

Make sure to book your car rental in Darwin ahead of time to make sure you get the best deal for the car size you want. Waiting might get better deals but that’s no guarantee, and car availability might be uncertain. We had reserved our car right from Darwin Airport, which was highly convenient and helped us save time on our trip.

See below our Kakadu itinerary:

Day 1: Darwin to Kakadu Ubirr

Note: Try to time your visit to Nadab Lookout for sunset colors!

Day 2: Kakadu Nourlangie 

  • Get up early to birdwatching around the Mamulaka Wetlands
  • Admire Nourlangie Rock Art, which you can reach on an easy 1-mile (1.5-km) Nourlangie Rock Art Walk
  • Hike to the Gubara pools, the short 1-mile (1,5-km) Burrunggui walk or the longer 7.5-mile (12-km) Barrk Bushwalk
  • Overnight around Jim Jim area at either the Muirela or Burdulba campgrounds

Day 3: Jim Jim Falls

  • Drive up to the falls if you have a 4WD vehicle
  • Take a flightseeing tour to observe the falls from high above.
  • Overnight at one of the Yellow Water campsites (Mardugal Camp, or Gagudju Lodge Cooinda).  Or treat yourself at the Cooinda Lodge Kakadu.

Day 4: Yellow Water

  • Watch birds and alligators while cruising the Yellow Water
  • Hike along the Alligator River
  • Drive back to Darwin, Katherine, or Alice Springs

Driving times between popular attractions:

  • Jabiru to Ubirr 20 mins
  • Jabiru to Cooinda 30 mins
  • Bowali to Nourlangie (Burrungkuy) 25 mins
  • Nourlangie  to Cooinda 30 mins
  • Ubirr to Nourlangie 1 hour
  • Bowali to Jim Jim Falls 2.2 hours
  • Cooinda to Jim Jim Falls 1.5 hours
  • Cooinda to Gunlom 2 hours
  • Maguk to Gunlom 1.5 hours
  • Mary River to Jim Jim Falls 2.5 hours
Darwin to Kakadu National Park Australia // View from Ubirr Lookout into the floodplains

View from the Nadab Lookout into the floodplains around Ubirr

Organized Kakadu Tours

Many Kakadu tours from Darwin will be multi-day trips, or at least with one overnight in the park. How to pick your Kakadu National Park tours depends on how long you want to spend in the park.

Here are some tours we feel would give you a good sense of Kakadu and nearby things to see. Check them out!

Kakadu National Park Attractions

There are 6 major areas around Kakadu National Park: Jabiru, South Alligator, Yellow Water, Nourlangie, Jim Jim, and Mary River.

Darwin to Kakadu National Park Australia // Ubirr Rock Art

Ubirr Rock Art

Kakadu Aboriginal Rock Art

  • Ubirr: One of the must-see locations in Kakadu, Ubirr features some of the best rock art in the world. Make sure to take your time to admire the amazing paintings that are on display on the different rocks. From the lookout, admire the floodplains and woodlands, the green and lush vegetations contrasting against the red and yellow of the rocks. Wilkins rock wallabies can be spotted jumping around and hiding among the rocks and plants.
  • Nourlangie (Burrungkuy): The oldest rock art in the world lays in the Nourlangie and one the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another must-see while in Kakadu. The views from the lookout stretch into the impressive Arnhem Land Plateau. Here you’ll find some of the world’s oldest and most impressive rock art, and spectacular views of the Arnhem Land escarpment.
  • Nanguluwurr Gallery: a smaller site about 1.7 km away from on the northern side of Burrungkuy (Nourlangie)
Darwin to Kakadu National Park Australia // Nourlangie Rock Art

Nourlangie Rock Art

Kakadu Waterfalls

The roads that access these waterfalls are better reserved for 4WD cars, usually from June to November.

  • Jim Jim Falls: One of the most popular and iconic waterfalls in the Kakadu National Park. The falls are best seen in the rainy season from a flightseeing plane, but you can also hike in the dry season. Two different approaches depending on when you visit, each with its advantages.
  • Twin Falls: The other popular falls in Kakadu,  which takes its name from the river splitting in two from the cliff top 
  • Maguk Falls: Access via the Maguk Walk, an hour’s drive south of Cooinda.

Yellow Water

  • Yellow Water Cruises: catch one of the several boats that cruise the Yellow Water Billabong (waterhole) and tributaries of the South Alligator River from sunrise to sunset. Cruises last either 90 or 120 minutes and run all year round from Cooinda.
  • Yellow Water Birdwatching and Wildlife: The cruises are the best way to watch jabirus, eagles, cormorants, and even brolgas. Observe crocodiles up close as they pass by the boat.
Darwin to Kakadu National Park Australia // Saltwater Crocodile in Yellow Water

Saltwater Crocodile in Yellow Water

Kakadu Pools

Remember that freshwater crocodiles can roam and be present in these falls and pools. Do not swim before checking with the Park Rangers as they will advise you whether these crocodiles might be present or not.

  • Boulder Creek: Perfect for swimming
  • Gubara Pools: Most popular during the wet season
  • Gunlom Falls: Soak into another fantastic natural pool.

Kakadu National Park Pass

Probably the best investment if you are planning to spend a few days in the park. The pass is valid for 7 days but can be extended to 14 days for free. The cost of the pass is cheaper in the summer (November-May).

Prices go from AU$25 for an adult, and AU$60 for a family (2 adults and 2 or more children) in low season, to AU$40 for an adult and AU$100 for a family in high season.

If you are traveling to other Australian parks during your trip,  check the national park pass. The AU$65-pass will be worth it.

Kakadu National Park Animals

Over 2,000 plants and animals grow and live in Kakadu National Park, including one-third of all Australian birds and about one-fifth of all mammals. Some of the most noteworthy Kakadu animals are the saltwater crocodiles, flatback turtles, frilled-neck lizards, jabirus, and Leichhardt’s Grasshoppers known as Aljurr.

Large saltwater crocodiles are commonly seen in the Yellow Water and East Alligator River. Be careful when you hike by rivers as crocodiles can also walk on the ground and might try to grab you if you are too close to the water.

Darwin to Kakadu National Park Australia // Jabiru by the Yellow River

Jabiru by the Yellow River

Travel to Kakadu National Park

From Darwin to Kakadu National Park

  • Fly from other major Australian airports into Darwin Airport
  • Drive to Kakadu National Park on a 3-hour road trip. A sedan 2WD car is fine for most of the park. However, some areas like Jim Jim Falls, West Alligator Head, Maguk, and Jarrangbarnmi should be visited on 4WD only
  • Take a Tour from Darwin as a day tour or longer multi-day trip

Beyond Kakadu National Park

If you have one more day, consider visiting one of these parks for a 5-day itinerary from Darwin.

  • Drive to Katherine George and Edith Falls at the Nitmiluk National Park, along the Stuart Highway and then the Kakadu Highway on a two to three-hour road trip
  • The Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge National Park is great for canoeing and kayaking
  • Head to Alice Spring on the Red Center Way to explore the Australian outback and Uluru National Park

Kakadu Accommodation

 

Darwin to Kakadu National Park Australia // Camping in Kakadu

Camping in Kakadu

Kakadu National Park Facts

  • One of the largest parks in Australia with a surface of 20 000 km2
  • Kakadu is one of the four Australia parks with double UNESCO recognition.
  • The area has been inhabited for over 40,000 years
  • Pick your seasons – rain can close some trails and roads due to higher water levels and increase presence of crocodiles
  • Watch for crocodiles and wildlife in general, a national park is not a theme park and the animals can be dangerous.
  • Some areas can only be accessed with a 4WD car, as you can see on this Kakadu National Park Map.

When to visit Kakadu National Park: Though the park is open all year round, the tropical summer (November to May) can bring heavy rainfall and potential flood. The best time to visit Kakadu is during the dry season from June to September. The wet season can get really hot. The Kakadu National Park weather is usually considered to have 6 seasons:

  • October to December: Pre-monsoon Gungmeleng
  • January to March: Monsoon of the Gudjewg season
  • April: Bang Gereng wind and storm
  • May to June: Yegge cool and humid months
  • June to August: Wurrgeng colder season
  • August to October: Hot and dry months of Gurrung

Kakadu National Park Travel Tips

  • If you are going on a self-drive to Kakadu, make sure to fill your tank regularly and don’t miss the chance to do so at the few gas stations around the park: South Alligator, Jabiru, Cooinda, and Mary River.
  • Some car rental companies might not allow you to take your rented 2WD on dirt roads. Check your rental policy for more details. To better explore the unpaved roads of the park, consider renting a 4WD as several roads are limited to this type of vehicle.
  • Avoid traveling at night as wildlife tends to be more active and might be more present on the roads. When we drove to the entrance on our first day, hundreds of small frogs were spread on the paved road, which makes driving a challenge as we tried to unsuccessfully avoid driving over them. That same night, a long python was stretching from one side of the road to the other, enjoying the warmth of the pavement and not moving. Luckily, a local came along and dragged the python away. Not something we would have done ourselves and the end of what could have been a long night otherwise!
  • Watch for crocodiles and other dangerous wildlife at all times. Many trails pass along river branches and traverse crocodile territory.
  • Bring an Australian travel book that would cover the whole region of Northern Territory
  • Take a map of Kakadu National Park and the region
  • Learn about the history of the Australian Aborigines
  • Get your copy of a guidebook about Kakadu wildlife

Darwin Northern Territory

Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory on the shores of the Timor Sea. The town is the hub for visiting different national parks like Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk National Park aka Katherine Gorge, and Litchfield National Park.

Like in Kakadu, Darwin has dry and wet periods, with roughly six seasons. Most of the people visit Darwin and the Northern Territory in the dry season from April to September.

Where to Stay in Darwin

There are about three main areas in Darwin: the central CDB that has some of the major hotel chains, the quieter Parap with smaller boutique hotels, and Mindil Beach with resorts and more outdoor settings.



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This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a percentage if you make a purchase using these links – at no cost to you. Our opinions are our own and are not impacted by these partnerships.

Darwin to Kakadu National Park Australia // View from Ubirr Lookout

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