HOLIDAY | KAKADU NATIONAL PARK
Under a muggy, sweating sky, the top of Ubirr feels like a frontier watchtower. Beyond this moody heap of craggily quiet authority sprawls a land where credit cards, coffee cups and car alarms have no place.
To the right, the clambering escarpment of the Stone Country rises, harbouring its Dreamtime beings, dark myths and sacred no-go-zones. In front, the floodplain of the East Alligator River almost glows. The vivid green of the recently rain-soaked grass is topped by a glacier-like icing of water.
To my left, the brooding rock reaches to its highest peak, and fire licks around the edges. The smoke fills a good portion of the sky, while the crackling adds an air of menace. It’s a managed burn, conducted by park rangers, but in keeping with tradition that goes back thousands of years.
The brooding rock reaches to its highest peak, and fire licks around the edges
Like much of Kakadu National Park, the best thing to do is to sit back for a while and soak it all in. Most World Heritage sites have a pretty obvious star attraction. For Uluru, it’s the big red rock, for the Great Barrier Reef, it’s the coral and fish.
Kakadu is something altogether more complex. Treat it as a highlights reel, to be whished through in a day-and-a-half, and you’re likely to leave wondering what all the fuss was about.
Take time to let it soak in, make an attempt to understand it and go beyond trying to take pretty landscape pictures, and you realise that you’re in one of the most remarkable places on earth.
Te r r i to r y
N o r t h e r n
I m a g e s:To u r i s m
HUGE LANDSCAPE Kakadu National Park covers a huge area – it’s the only World Heritage site in the world that covers an entire river system. It’s not just about the Aboriginal heritage, the culture, the rocks, the nature or the crocodiles – here, it’s about how everything interacts. There’s no tempestuous hit – just a slow-burning rich epic that unfolds around you.
Kakadu is both timeless and ever-changing. The land is ancient, but it never stays the same. I’m stood at the top of Ubirr in May. Due to a longer than usual wet season, everything is still remarkably green and soggy. Had I arrived a few weeks later, I’d have been greeted by a very different sight. The dry season would have kicked in, and golden browns would be the norm.
Timing can be rather crucial. Most people, of course, prefer to visit in the dry, but Kakadu is arguably a more powerful beast during the wet. The rivers spill over, the lakes fill and many tracks are completely impassable. This means that many of the major sites –
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www.getmedownunder.com HOLIDAY | KAKADU NATIONAL PARK
www.getmedownunder.com such as the Jim Jim and Twin Falls – are blocked off to all but scenic helicopter flights. But get there in a chopper, and the waterfalls are thundering down with a rage that bears little resemblance to the dry season’s dainty trickle.
To divide it up into wet and dry seasons is an oversimplification. The Aboriginal people living within the Kakadu National Park – many of whom still quietly maintain traditional lifestyles safely out of the intrusive gaze of tourists – have always applied a six season calendar. There’s a difference between the cold dry season and the hot dry, similarly the pre-monsoon and monsoon seasons are distinct.
The best place to learn about all this is in the Bowali Visitor Centre, which is just outside the small settlement that passes for Kakadu’s main township, Jabiru. It at least attempts to begin to explain what Kakadu is all about. It’s partly about the landscape – the massive tidal flats, the cracked plains that become
Above Ubirr’s vivid green floodplains are best viewed at sunset
Far left Jim Jim Falls are a spectacular sight during wet season
Left Panoramic views can be enjoyed from the top of Ubirr rock
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