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Kakadu National Park is one of the top destinations in northern Australia and, if we’re being honest, the whole country. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is home to an incredible array of natural and cultural wonders, making it a must-visit for any traveler. There is also a lot of wildlife here that you can’t find anywhere else in Australia.
At 20,000 square kilometers (7,722 square miles), Kakadu National Park is pretty huge. It’s certainly an adventurous destination – think crocodiles, plunge pools, and 4-wheel drives across the vast outback.
It’s a pretty harsh environment in Kakadu, with high temperatures, deadly wildlife, and relatively few amenities. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that it’s one of the wildest places in Australia.
But don’t let that put you off: it’s an absolutely incredible place to visit and an experience you won’t soon forget.
You just need to be well prepared when visiting somewhere like this, which is why we’ve compiled this guide that contains everything you need to know before you visit Kakadu National Park.
1. About Kakadu National Park
One of the reasons that Kakadu National Park is so special is its great diversity. The park is home to an abundance of different landscapes, ranging from wetlands and rivers to stone country and rainforests.
It’s also home to many important Aboriginal cultural sites. Here, you’ll find some of the oldest rock art in the world, which suggests that Aboriginal people have lived in Kakadu for as long as 40,000 years! When you observe this art, you’re literally looking at thousands of years of history.
In fact, it’s thought that the name “Kakadu” comes from a mispronunciation of Gaagudju, a now-extinct Aboriginal language.
Although the Gaagudju language may be extinct, Aboriginal people continue to live in the Kakadu area to this day. The park is heavily protected by Australian environmental law, but the Aboriginal people are permitted to hunt their own lands.
Another thing that you need to know about Kakadu National Park is that it’s not very developed. This is very much a wilderness area. The hiking trails are difficult and involve climbing over rocks, you can’t really drive a regular car here, and navigation can be tricky at times. Don’t expect a lot of cell coverage, either.
2. Where is Kakadu National Park?
There are two towns inside the park, Jabiru and Cooinda. You can stay in one of those, or camp. One of the closest towns outside the park is Pine Creek, which is around 40 minutes away.
3. Is it free to visit Kakadu National Park?
No, to enter Kakadu National Park you will need to buy a park pass, which is valid for 7 days.
There are two main seasons in Darwin: wet and dry. During the wet season, the humidity is higher and there are many storms and monsoons. Prices are higher during the dry season, and cheaper during the wet season.
The dry season is during the Australian winter, from 15 May – 31 October. During the dry season, the prices are:
- $40 AUD for adults 16 and over
- $20 AUD for children aged 5-15
- $30 AUD for Australian seniors
- $100 for a family pass, which includes 2 adults and 2+ children
The wet season prices apply from 1 November – 14 May, and the prices are as follows:
- $25 AUD for adults aged 16+
- $12.50 AUD for children aged 5-15
- $19 AUD for Australian seniors
- $65 AUD for families with 2 adults and 2 or more children
The money from your park passes goes towards the conservation and maintenance of the park, as well as to the park’s traditional owners. You can buy your park passes online in advance, via the official website. However, note that some tours include the national park fees, so double-check this if you are taking a tour as you don’t want to end up paying twice!
4. When is the best time to visit Kakadu National Park?
The dry season – those wet season park passes are cheaper for a reason!
During the wet season, you’re likely to experience tropical storms, monsoons, and high humidity – which also means a TON of bugs. It’s also very hot in the wet season, uncomfortably hot!
Many of the best things to do in Kakadu National Park are closed during the wet season, including trails, pools, and some lookouts. So if you want to make the most of your trip, definitely visit during the dry season.
5. How many days do you need in Kakadu National Park?
We’d recommend going for 3+ days.
You can visit Kakadu from Darwin in a day, but you won’t see a lot of the park and it requires a lot of driving for a relatively short amount of time in the park.
You need at least three days to fully appreciate the vastness and diversity of Kakadu, but if you’re able to stay longer, then that’s even better! Some people choose to stay for a whole week.
6. Can you visit Kakadu National Park in the wet season?
You can, but many of the park’s top natural attractions are closed due to the high volume of rainfall.
Some of the best waterfalls are inaccessible during the wet season and many of the dirt roads in Kakadu become impassable due to the mud and flooding, so you’ll be limited in where you can go. And, as we mentioned before, the wet season is also peak bug season – so be prepared for mosquito bites!
You also can’t really camp in Kakadu National Park during the wet season – or rather, you can, but it will be a super uncomfortable experience.
If you do want to visit Kakadu during the wet season, it’s definitely best to take a tour because the guides will know which areas are accessible and which aren’t.
7. What is the closest town to Kakadu National Park?
Jabiru is the more popular of the two towns. It’s the only place in Kakadu National Park that has cell reception and although it’s small, it has a selection of hotels, restaurants, and shops, as well as an airport. It’s a popular place to stay and a great base for exploring the national park.
However, if you want to camp in Kakadu National Park you can drive there from Darwin and do so. There are campgrounds in all seven regions of the park, and you can choose between managed grounds with facilities like showers and fire pits, or go completely au natural at a more primitive site. We’ve included more info about the campground further down in this blog.
Darwin is the closest city to Kakadu National Park at about 3 hours away (depending on where in the park you are going.) For this reason, there are lots of tours from Darwin to Kakadu, but you can also drive yourself in a rental car.
Related Read: It’s also very popular to visit Litchfield National Park from Darwin.
8. What are the best things to do in Kakadu National Park?
Visit Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls
Jim Jim and Twin Falls are two of Kakadu’s most famous waterfalls, and they’re located in the same area of the park – the Jim Jim area.
These falls hold great spiritual significance for the local Aboriginal people. Nayuhyungki, the creation ancestors, are said to have traveled through Jim Jim and Twin Falls, and left their essence there.
The falls are surrounded by lush rainforest and great red rocks, and they’re an impressive sight. There are also many endemic creatures around, including white-lined honeyeaters and black wallaroos.
It’s possible to hike to the falls from the Karnamarr campground during dry season, or access them on a 4×4 as part of a tour. However, truly the best way to see the falls is via scenic flight during the wet season, when they’re at their most magnificent.
Related Read: Jim Jim Falls is one of the best waterfalls near Darwin – find out what the others are!
Swim in Gunlom Plunge Pool
Gunlom is a picturesque waterfall and swimming hole which is perfect for swimming. It’s also one of the easiest attractions in the park to access. There’s a large picnic area with a parking lot, which is just 100 meters away from the lower plunge pool.
If you do feel like something more challenging, you can hike to Gunlom Lookout Walk. The trail is only around a kilometer (0.6 miles) long, but it’s steep and so it requires a good level of fitness.
But when you reach the top of the falls and have the chance to swim in the upper rock pools while taking in panoramic views of the national park, all that effort will have been worth it.
Go on a scenic flight
A scenic flight is an amazing way to experience the sheer size and incredible beauty of Kakadu National Park, especially when you’re short on time.
Fly in from Darwin and enjoy commentary from your pilot as they point out some of the park’s most famous and impressive features. You can even add on a cruise along the Yellow Water Billabong to make this experience even more special.
What’s great about this activity is that not only do you get to see some of Kakadu’s most iconic sites from the air, but you can also enjoy it to the fullest during the wet season. Waterfalls that you wouldn’t normally be able to see during the wet season from the ground can be seen from above, and when they are at their most powerful!
See crocodiles at Cahills Crossing
Cahills Crossing is a safe place to observe saltwater crocodiles in the wild. These saltwater crocs are the park’s most ferocious predators, not to mention the largest reptiles on the planet!
At Cahills Crossing, there are three viewing platforms and a picnic area to enjoy. You can hang out here and watch the crocodiles as they bask in the sun and swim in the water. Just be sure to follow the safety guidelines and stay well away from the water’s edge.
The best time of year to see crocodiles at Kakadu National Park is between July and October. September is generally when the population reaches its peak, as the crocodile density per kilometer greatly increases when the river is drier.
Fishing is a popular activity in Kakadu National Park, and there are many good spots for it. You can fish from the shore or from a boat, and Barramundi and Saratoga are just some of the types of fish you can catch.
The South and East Alligators are two of the best Barramundi rivers, and you can also catch plenty of fish in the park’s many beautiful billabongs, too.
There are a few key rules to observe when fishing inside Kakadu. Commercial fishing and live bait are not allowed inside the park, and you cannot use nets (with the exception of landing nets), traps, pots, or set lines.
See Nourlangie Rock Art Site
Nourlangie Rock Art site is a must-visit inside Kakadu National Park. Not only is it home to some of the most significant Aboriginal rock art in Australia, but it also offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the Bininj people.
During the dry season, park rangers lead informative guided walks of the art site. These walks are included as part of your park pass, and they depart from the Nourlangie Rock Visitor Centre on a daily basis.
There are also many walks and lookout points which are easily accessible from the site, including the Anbangbang Billabong walk which is a pleasant, easy loop through woodlands and forest, with lots of birdlife to observe along the way.
Nawurlandja lookout is steep and requires some clambering, but it’s pretty short and offers incredible views that make the scrambling worthwhile.
The Moline rock hole is an absolute gem and a perfect place to take a dip, especially when it’s hot. The waters are crystal clear and if you’re lucky you may even spot a turtle! It’s close to Gunlom Falls, but nowhere near as popular, so you could have the place to yourself.
Getting there can be a little tricky. The turnoff is 5 kilometers (3 miles) past the Mary River ranger station and you’ll need a 4WD vehicle to get down the dirt road. However, once you see the picturesque Moline waterfall and swimming hole, you’ll be glad you made the journey.
Check out Ubirr Rock Art
Ubirr Rock Art documents the relationship between ancient humans and the natural environment. One of the best-known paintings is of a Tasmanian tiger, which you can view near the main gallery.
It’s also home to some fascinating examples of contact art, which records the first interactions between Indigenous Australians and Europeans, including paintings of early buffalo hunters in the 1800s.
The rock faces at Ubirr are believed to have been painted and repainted since around 40,000 BCE, which is a mind-bogglingly long amount of time. Definitely don’t miss out on seeing this unique and important historical site.
Explore Barramundi Gorge
Barramundi Gorge is one of Kakadu National Park’s best hidden treasures. It’s located in the Mary River region of the park, and it’s home to the Maguk Falls, which is a waterfall and plunge pool. It’s so beautiful that you’ll feel like you’ve discovered a secret magical world.
You’ll need 4WD to get there, as the access road is unsealed and can be pretty rough in places. Once you reach the end of the road, it’s another hour to hike to the gorge itself.
What’s cool about this hike is that you experience a variety of different landscapes over the course of a single hour, from forest to savanna to a large, rocky track. You’ll be sweaty by the end, but you can relieve yourself straight away with a dip in the pristine plunge pool. Bring snorkel equipment with you because there are tons of fish to see!
Go on a cruise at Yellow Water Billabong
The Yellow Water Billabong is one of Kakadu’s most iconic and popular attractions, and for good reason. It’s home to an incredible array of birdlife, including the Jabiru, egrets, herons, cormorants, and kites. You can often spot saltwater crocodiles during the cruise, which is always exciting.
What’s cool about cruising through the Yellow Water Billabong is that you move through many different microclimates and ecosystems, so you see a huge variety of plant and animal life.
Cruises last for either 90 or 120 minutes. Sunrise and sunset are the most popular times to go as it’s not as hot and the light is just beautiful. Many visitors take more than one cruise during their stay in the park, as different creatures are active at different times of day.
You can even add a cruise on to a scenic flight over Kakadu from Darwin, which is a great way to get the most out of your Kakadu experience if you’re short on time.
Bowali Visitor Centre
Bowali Visitor Centre exists to educate visitors about Kakadu National Park and its many natural wonders. There’s also an Aboriginal art gallery with locally made arts and crafts for sale.
If you’re visiting Kakadu independently, Bowali is the perfect place to begin your adventure. There’s even a gallery that you can walk through with lots of information about the park, the things to do there, and the kind of wildlife that you can expect to see. This is a great place to orient yourself and plan your activities for the days ahead.
Bowali Visitor Center is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm during the dry season, and closes at 3 pm during the wet season.
There are so many amazing hiking trails to enjoy in Kakadu National Park. I mean, it’s over 20,000 square kilometers in size, so you can be sure that there are plenty of places to explore.
In addition to the ones we’ve already mentioned in this guide, other great trails include the Manngarre Rainforest walk, a series of three short loops along which you can spot flying foxes, saltwater crocodiles, and a variety of exciting birdlife.
For something a little more challenging, the Badbong Wodjmeng sandstone river walk will take you past beautiful pools, sandstone rocks, and along a crocodile-filled river. It’s stunning, but take care and don’t attempt it alone.
And for pro hikers, the Barrk Malam walk is one of the most difficult that Kakadu has on offer. It branches off of the trail to the Jim Jim Falls pool, and it’s steep and uneven, with rugged stones to contend with. However, if you’re an experienced bushwalker, the views are unbelievably beautiful.
9. What are the campsites in Kakadu National Park?
There are lots of places to camp in Kakadu National Park, from secluded bush camping spots to established caravan parks.
There’s no need to book in advance, as all campsites operate on a first-come, first-served basis. All fees are payable to the campground manager upon arrival, or the honesty box if you’re staying at an unmanaged site.
Managed sites at Kakadu include showers, toilets, fire pits, and a picnic area. You’ll need to bring your own drinking water, though.
Per night, it costs $15 AUD per adult or $7.50 AUD per child (aged 5-15) to stay at one of the managed campsites. Children under 5 stay for free. There’s also a $38 AUD family rate for two adults and two kids.
The managed sites are:
Of these sites, alcohol is only allowed at Mardukal, but this shouldn’t be a problem since Kakadu is not really a place you go to party!
Merl is one of the best options, as it’s just 3 kilometers from the Ubirr Rocks and it’s also close to the East Alligator River.
The unmanaged sites have pit toilets, fire pits, basic picnic facilities, and no showers. It’s definitely a back-to-nature kind of experience.
Staying at an unmanaged site costs $6 AUD for adults and $3 AUD for children per night, or the family rate is $15 AUD. Alcohol is not allowed at any of the sites, which are:
- Waldak Irrmbal
- Sandy Billabong
- Jim Jim Billabong
- Jarrangbarnmi (a permit is required to camp here)
Jim Jim Billabong is a great campground for keen fishermen, as it’s an excellent place to catch Barramundi. It’s also just 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the town of Cooinda, which is convenient for stocking up on supplies.
Meanwhile, if you want to explore Maguk falls and the Barramundi gorge, Maguk is a convenient spot to stay.
For true nature lovers, free sites are bush campsites with no amenities whatsoever – just you and the earth!
The free sites at Kakadu are:
- Two Mile Hole
- Four Mile Hole
- Red Lily Billabong
- Bucket Billabong
- Alligator Billabong
- Bilkbilkmi (you need a permit for this one, too)
Does it get much more Australian than a campsite called Alligator Billabong?! This is another spot that’s great for fishing enthusiasts, and it’s also very peaceful and secluded.
10. What are the best tours of Kakadu National Park from Darwin?
Kakadu Full-Day Tour from Darwin with Lunch
If you’re short on time, this full-day tour from Darwin is the perfect way to see Kakadu’s highlights. You’ll visit Ubirr Rock, take a cruise along the East Alligator river, and see a cultural demonstration at Arnhem Land, and you get snacks and lunch along the way. Everything is organized for you, which is really handy if you’ve only got a day to spend at the park. To me, it’s easily one of the best tours available in Darwin!
Kakadu, Nourlangie and Yellow Waters Tour from Darwin
This tour is another great choice if you don’t have multiple days to explore Kakadu National Park. It includes a Yellow Waters cruise, time to see Aboriginal art at the Nourlangie museum, and a picnic lunch. You’ll also visit the Warradjan Aboriginal Centre to learn more about the history and culture of the park, and travel in a comfy vehicle with air-con.
One thing to note is that this tour doesn’t include the national park fees, which you can pay in advance online.
3-Day Kakadu 4WD Camping Safari from Darwin
3 days is a great amount of time to spend at Kakadu National Park, and this camping safari tour includes your park pass. All of your meals are included and you’ll travel in a 4WD vehicle and get to see some of the best wildlife that Kakadu has to offer during the 3 days. We actually did this exact tour a few years ago and loved every minute of it!
4 Day Kakadu 4WD Adventure Tour from Darwin
This 4-day adventure will ensure that you see the best of what Kakadu has to offer, from wetlands cruises to Aboriginal art and amazing waterfalls! You’ll spend each night in indoor accommodation and all of your meals and entry fees are included.
5 Day Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land Tour
If you really want to dive deep into Kakadu’s culture and history, this 5-day tour from Darwin is perfect for you. You’ll engage in traditional Aboriginal activities, such as mud crab hunting, and see some of the best-preserved examples of Aboriginal art.
Group numbers are capped at 6 people, so you’ll have plenty of interaction with your guide.
You’ll camp (or, rather, “glamp”) at Cobourg Coastal Camp, and go boating, birdwatching, and fishing during the tour, and you’ll leave with a much deeper knowledge of, and appreciation for, this amazing part of Australia.
7-Day Kakadu, Katherine and Litchfield National Parks
If you want to spend as much time as possible exploring Kakadu National Park, this 7-day tour is the ultimate experience.
You’ll go off the beaten path in a 4WD and you can customize your itinerary to ensure that you get to see everything that you want to. It includes 6 nights at 4-star accommodations. This is a chance to fully immerse yourself and leave no stone unturned in Kakadu (figuratively, of course – as we said, the park is huge!). Plus it includes time in the stunning Litchfield National Park which is also worth a visit!
Kakadu National Park Helicopter Tour from Darwin
If you only have a day to visit Kakadu, do it in style on this helicopter tour from Darwin! You’ll spend over 3 hours in the air admiring the park and the landscapes of Northern Australia, and enjoy a 90-minute Yellow Waters cruise.
Kakadu National Park Scenic Flight & Yellow Water Cruise
Combine a scenic flight in a fixed-wing aircraft with a Yellow Water Cruise on this tour from Darwin. You’ll get to see Kakadu’s wetlands and wildlife from the air, and then enjoy a leisurely cruise to really take in the sights – including crocodiles, of course!
Kakadu Yellow Waters & Katherine Gorge Helicopter Scenic
Experience not one, but two national parks on this scenic helicopter tour of Kakadu and Nitmiluk National Parks. You’ll see the beautiful Katherine Gorge from the air and enjoy a Yellow Waters Cruise in Kakadu. This is an amazing way to see two of the best natural spots in Northern Australia in a single, adventure-fuelled day.
11. What facilities will you find in Kakadu National Park?
Although Kakadu National Park is very wild, there are plenty of facilities for tourists to make use of. There are several camping grounds, as well as hotels and lodges if you prefer not to camp. The town of Jabiru is home to a number of restaurants, cafes and shops, and there are also petrol stations and a medical center.
As we mentioned before, some of the campsites in the park are managed with facilities like showers and toilets, while others are totally unserviced. What’s great about Kakadu is you can choose how primitive you want your experience to be.
12. What are the best hotels in Kakadu National Park?
If camping isn’t your thing, not all hope is lost; there are some really nice hotels actually located within Kakadu National Park! These hotels provide the ultimate luxury stay in the beautiful Aussie Outback. Here are the best lodges and hotels in Kakadu National Park:
Cooinda Lodge Kakadu
Cooinda Lodge is located in the small village of Cooinda in Kakadu. Here, you’ll also find the Yellow Water Cruise on the river as well as an airstrip – perfect if you want to book a scenic flight! But besides the location, this hotel provided modern air-conditioned rooms on a property with stunning gardens. The outdoor pool looks something like an oasis.
Prices vary quite a lot depending on the season, but can be as low as $165 AUD per night. They also have a variety of rooms on offer to suit your needs. You can check prices and availability for Cooinda Lodge online here.
Aurora Kakadu Lodge
Aurora Kakadu Lodge is the perfect place to stay in Jabiru in Kakadu National Park. It is actually the highest-rated hotel in the area and therefore, one of the most popular. The hotel features a large outdoor pool that has a shallow end – perfect for kids! They also have an award-winning onsite restaurant/bistro which is the ideal place to fuel up after a big day exploring.
Prices start from $180 AUD per night in the wet season, with obviously increases in the peak of the dry season. They also offer one-bedroom and two-bedroom bungalows which are ideal for families. You can check out all room types and prices for Aurora Kakau Lodge online here.
Mercure Kakadu Crocodile
Mercure Kakadu Crocodile hotel has been made famous because of the crocodile shape the building is in when viewed from above. It really is a crocodile hotel!
But besides this unique feature, I have to be honest, this hotel doesn’t have the best reviews. With that said, there aren’t many options when it comes to hotels in Kakadu National Park, so many people do choose Mercure. The location is also ideal in the heart of Jabiru – close to many of the best attractions in Kakadu!
All rooms here are air conditioned and open up to the large courtyard with easy access to the large outdoor pool. The hotel features a few different rooms including some family-friendly options. Prices start from about $160 AUD per night in the wet season and you can check availability and prices online here.
13. Are dogs allowed in Kakadu National Park?
Dogs are not allowed into Kakadu National Park. This is to protect the park’s wildlife. Service dogs are exempt from this rule, but they have to be kept on a leash under 3 meters long at all times.
14. What should you bring to Kakadu National Park?
What you need to bring to Kakadu National Park depends on how long you intend to visit for, but all visitors need the basics:
- Good quality, comfortable walking shoes
- A water bottle, or better yet a CamelBak if you plan on long bushwalks
- Loose, long, lightweight clothing to protect against the sun and mosquito bites
- Sunscreen with SPF 30 or above
- Plenty of insect repellent
- Snacks – preferably high-energy ones!
- Sunglasses and a sunhat
- A bathing suit and lightweight towel
- A hiking pole for long bushwalks
- A first-aid kit including supplies for snake and spider bites
- Snorkel mask and tube
- The official visitor guide and map, which you can download beforehand as there is very little reception in the park
- Your camera
If you’re camping, you’ll need to bring all of the above, plus:
- Plenty of drinking water
- Trash bags
- A torch
- Sleeping bag
- Camping mattress
- Camping stove and fuel
- A battery pack for your phone and any other electronics
15. Do you need to worry about crocodiles in Kakadu?
This is a tricky one, the answer is yes and no…depending on where you are in Kakadu National Park and the time of year. Some places, like Cahills Crossing, have crorocdiles all year around and you should stay safe distance from the water at all time. Follow signs and stay on marked viewing areas.
Some waterfalls and swimming pools are safe for swimming year round, and some are only safe for swimming during the dry season. The reason for this is that sometimes saltwater crococodiles are removed in the dry season. During the wet season, flooding often occurs and saltwater crocodiles can move easily between different pools and falls. When things dry up, rangers set traps in popular swimming areas and remove the salties.
Freshwater crocodiles are also common in most swimming areas in Kakadu National Park, but they are usually harmless and stay away from people.
It’s very important to follow all signs and only swim where the signs say is suitable. If you follow the signs, you should be just fine! The visitor centers will all have up to date advice on safe areas to swim.
Related Read: If you think crocs are interesting, be sure to go on a jumping croc cruise from Darwin – it’s such a neat experience!
16. Is Kakadu National Park suitable for children?
Yes, as long as you (and they!) are careful. This is the Australian outback, after all – it’s home to crocodiles, snakes, spiders, and other dangerous creatures. The heat and strong sun can also be uncomfortable at times, so you need to consider whether your children will be able to cope with the harsh environment.
That being said, there are plenty of activities that both adults and children will enjoy in Kakadu like swimming in plunge pools, exploring ancient rock art, or going for a scenic bushwalk. Just make sure you take all the necessary precautions and pack plenty of sunscreen, water, and snacks!
17. Is visiting Kakadu National Park worth it?
Yes, definitely. If you love outdoor adventures and want to immerse yourself in the Australian outback, Kakadu National Park should definitely be on your list. It’s an amazing place with so much to see and do, and you’ll never forget your time here.
Thanks for reading!
Now you should be all ready for the wild Australian Outback that is Kakadu National Park! It really is one of the most amazing places in Australia and a place I would recommend to anybody visiting Australia. I mean, crocodiles, waterfalls, rock art – what more could you ask for?!
Be sure to check out our other blogs about Australia including some related blogs below: