Australia's Top Tourism Treasures - Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
Kakadu National Park is a place for all seasons. Whether you climb the stone country, cruise the waterways, swim in the numerous plunge pools, amble through the shady monsoon forests, or take time to get acquainted with the unexpected wealth of woodland wildlife, you will be enriched by time spent exploring its habitats. You could spend a lifetime here and never run out of discoveries: if there is an earthly Eden, this is it.
World Heritage-listed for its outstanding natural and cultural values, Kakadu National Park encompasses an area of almost 7,700 square miles and includes the traditional lands of a number of Aboriginal groups. Within its boundaries lie some of the world's finest examples of rock art as well as spectacular scenery, ranging from the rugged sandstone escarpment of the Arnhem Land Plateau, which extends 310 miles along the eastern edge of the plains, to the vast wetlands that teem with bird life. It also embraces an entire tropical river system, the South Alligator, and examples of most of Australia's Top-End habitats.
Nearly 80 percent of the preserve comprises savanna woodlands, mainly eucalypts and tall grasses such as spear grass. The remainder includes pockets of monsoon forest, rugged stone country, rivers and billabongs, floodplains, paperbark swamps, tidal flats, and coastline.
From this mosaic of habitats stems an astonishing variety and abundance of plants and animals, including one-third of all Australia's known bird species, about one-quarter of its freshwater fishes, more than 60 mammals, nearly 100 reptiles, 10,000 insects, and 1,900 plants. In the kingdom of Kakadu, all subjects, from the native bee to the ubiquitous kapok bush, have had to adapt to a monsoonal climate that swings from the parched heat of the dry season to the flooding rains of the Wet. Through long association with the land, the park's Aboriginal traditional owners, the Bininj, have learned to recognize not two but six distinct seasons, each characterized by a climatic feature and its effect on plant and animal life. Newcomers can tune in to the park's subtle rhythms at the Bowali Visitor Centre, near Jabiru, which provides an excellent introduction to Kakadu's habitats through displays, videos, and ranger talks.
Kakadu is a birdwatcher's paradise and a croc-spotter's heaven. Its wetlands provide important refuges and feeding grounds for many Australian waterbirds and are significant for at least 30 migratory species. They are also prime territory for saltwater crocodiles, and freshwater crocs can be found in the upper reaches of the rivers. Opportunities to explore the wetlands abound, but without doubt the renowned boat cruise at Yellow Water provides one of the richest experiences, particularly during the Dry when the creeks and floodplains recede and wildlife crowds the permanent billabongs.
Commercial boat cruises of the East Alligator River, which forms part of the border between Kakadu and Arnhem Land, bring further encounters with wetland wildlife and also focus on Aboriginal culture. Birders in search of yet more things feathered can head for Mamukala, wetlands east of the South Alligator River on the Arnhem Highway. At its most dramatic in the late dry season when thousands of magpie geese congregate to feed, Mamukala offers two easy walks, a covered observation platform with a mural illustrating seasonal changes and common waterbirds, and a bird blind. Hearing the thunderous flapping of wings as a huge flock of magpie geese takes to the sky is an unforgettable experience.