Kakadu National Park is one of the big bucket list places to visit when you come to the Top End. It’s an iconic Australian experience and a unique place to explore, with wetlands sprawling across the park, waterfalls and rock holes to explore, ancient Aboriginal rock art sites and more crocodiles than you will even bother to count.
It’s also a World Heritage Area, gaining its title for its cultural and natural heritage as well as being one of the world’s greatest nature reserves. Some of the Top End’s most famous locations can be found within Kakadu National Park, so make sure you give yourself enough time out here to explore all the different spots along the way.
To help you plan your visit, here are some of the best places to visit in Kakadu.
Best things to do in Kakadu National Park
Important note: As with all waters in the Northern Territory, there could be a crocodile in any of these spots. They are checked regularly by the rangers in the park but it is always important to be croc-wise when you are swimming. Keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
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Bowali Visitors Centre
Start your visit at the Bowali Visitor Centre, found just 5 minutes down the road from Jabiru. The visitors centre was built to look like an Aboriginal rock shelter, so the building itself is worth checking out when you’re in the area. While you’re here you can find all the information you need for your visit to Kakadu, check the current road conditions around the park and even check out the skeleton of a huge saltwater crocodile. The visitors centre is open daily from 8am until 5pm, and there’s also a cafe at the visitors centre if you’re looking for somewhere to stop for lunch.
Bowali Visitors Centre || Kakadu Highway, Jabiru || Ph: (08) 8938 1120
Yellow Water Cruise
One of the most popular and best ways to learn more about Kakadu National Park is to jump on a Yellow Water Cruise. The cruise takes you out on the Yellow Water Billabong, where you can spot crocodiles, buffalo and wild horses on the floodplains and all kinds of other bird life as you peacefully cruise along the billabong. The cruise goes for about 2 hours and operates all throughout the day. For the most wildlife activity though, hop on a sunrise or sunset tour as this is often when the animals in the area are the most active.
Ubirr Rock Art Site
Ubirr Rock Art Site can be found in the northern part of Kakadu National Park and is home to some of the most detailed and well-preserved Aboriginal rock art we have come across in the NT. It’s absolutely beautiful with multiple different art sites that are linked together by a short flat walk through the park. Make sure you take the time to read the different signs throughout the park, to learn more about the stories behind the pictures and the meaning and importance they have to the Aboriginal people in the area.
If you’re visiting Ubirr around sunset there is a smallish mountain in the park, which is a great spot to watch the sun set over northern Kakadu. There is also a campground near Ubirr Rock Art site if you would like to spend a bit more time in this part of Kakadu. Merl Camping Ground is run by Parks Australia and requires a booking for your stay.
Cahills Crossing is famous for watching the local crocodiles fish for barramundi next to the crossing when the tide changes. The crossing connects Kakadu National Park on one side, with Arnhem Land on the other, and at most times throughout the day water runs over the crossing. Crocodiles can be found on both sides of the river all day long and it is a popular fishing spot for both locals and visitors.
The crossing also acts as a tidal dam, and when the tide changes each day the crocodiles swim right up to the crossing to try and catch the barramundi that get sent across the crossing by the current. They literally sit there with their mouths opening, hoping to catch a fish as it swims past. At the tidal change we counted more than twenty crocodiles swimming around the river here. There’s a viewing platform as well as a rocky bank to find yourself a spot to watch, however when the tide changes huge crowds flock down to the crossing to watch the spectacle. It’s a good idea to get there early to get yourself a spot, otherwise visiting at any other time of the day often means you will have the place almost completely to yourself.
A great spot to visit at sunset, Nawurlandja Rock over looks the beautiful Nourlangie Rock, which lights up in all different shades of red and orange as the sun sets. It’s a short walk from the carpark, although it is a steep climb up the rocks to get there. Make sure you arrive at least half an hour or so before the sun is due to set, as the natural colours that reflect off the rock as the sun gets lower are absolutely beautiful.
Nawurlandja is about half way between Jabiru and Cooinda, so it’s a great easy place to head for the sunset.
Moline (Ikoymarrwa) Rock Hole
This secret rock hole was definitely one of our favourites and definitely the most beautiful. Moline isn’t marked from the road, so it’s an easy one to miss but also means if you find it you’re likely to have it all to yourself. It’s a very small pond, surrounded by tall rocky walls that make up some of the oldest rock formations in the world, with a small waterfall that runs all throughout the year.
Moline is only accessed by a tough 4WD spot, so I wouldn’t try this one in a normal car. Despite being so remote, this spot is also looked after by the rangers so you can go for a swim and shouldn’t have any issues with crocodiles, but as always keep your eyes out if you do decide to go for a swim. There are lots of little fish swimming around here, so it really feels like you have your own little natural spa.
Moline rock hole can be found about 5 minutes away from the Mary River Ranger Station if you’re heading north into the park. You’re looking for a red dirt track with no signage as you come around a bend in the road, so keep your eyes peeled. If you have any trouble pop in to Mary River and they should be able to give you some more detailed instructions.
Maguk Waterhole: Another popular waterhole in southern Kakadu, Maguk can be found about an hour south of Kakadu. It’s about a 1.5 kilometre walk from the car park to the main plunge pool along a path through the rainforest. There’s a small waterfall at Maguk that runs most of the year, so it’s a great spot to visit if some of the main waterfalls have dried up for the season. Maguk will also require a 4WD to access, as the track to get there from the main highway can be quite difficult in some places. There’s also a campground here if you want to stay a night or two right by the waterhole.
Gunlom Natural Infinity Pool
Unfortunately we were so shattered to find that the Gunlom Infinity Pool is currently closed to visitors, for cultural reasons by the Aboriginal elders that oversee Kakadu National Park. However, when it is open, the Gunlom Infinity Pool is a can’t miss spot in Kakadu, with this crystal clear pool sitting right on the edge of the waterfall and offering amazing views over southern Kakadu.
At the bottom of the waterfall you can also find Gunlom Billabong, which is still a great place to cool down and have a swim if the infinity pool is still closed during your visit. The plunge pool is big and still, with plenty of space around the pool to relax and have a picnic. Gunlom Billabong was also a filming location for many scenes from Crocodile Dundee, which helped make Kakadu so famous.
Gunlom is the furthest point south in Kakadu National Park, about two hours drive from Cooinda. However if you’re coming into Kakadu from Pine Creek it will be one of your first stops.
Where to stay in Kakadu
There are a couple of different places you can base yourself in Kakadu, depending what your planning to do during your visit.
Jabiru is the main town in Kakadu National Park. It’s where you will find the supermarket, petrol station, newsagency and a couple of other small shops. It’s also the home to famous Crocodile Hotel, which is a great place to stay if you’re looking for actual hotel accommodation rather than a caravan park.
The Mecure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel is one of the most famous hotels in the Northern Territory, built in the shape of a huge crocodile. You can even notice the shape of it from the ground, with it’s eyes looking at you as you approach. Such a unique building, it’s definitely worth a visit even if you don’t stay here! [Image above from Tourism NT].
Mecure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel || Flinders Street, Jabiru || Ph: (08) 8979 9000
We actually based ourselves at Cooinda Lodge & Caravan Park during our visit, because it’s location was a little bit better during our visit. Sitting almost right in the heart of Kakadu National Park, it made an easy base to explore all the different corners of Kakadu, making the drives between destinations a little shorter.
Cooinda is located right next to the Yellow Water Billabong and it has a huge campground, with powered and unpowered sites, as well as lodge and cabin accommodation options and even glamping tents. They also have a swimming pool to escape the high temperatures in the NT, as well as their own petrol station, a small convenience store and a restaurant with lovely outdoor seating.
Cooinda Lodge || Kakadu Highway, Kakadu National Park || Ph: (08) 8979 1500
When to visit Kakadu
The best time to visit Kakadu is during the dry season between May and September. During this time you will find that most of the waterholes are open and the dry climate means you are likely to have lovely clear skies every day. Visit a little earlier in the season if you can, as this is when more of the dramatic waterfalls are still flowing, like Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls that completely dry up later in the year.
We visited Kakadu National Park as guests of Kakadu Tourism. All opinions are, as always, our own.