At just under 20,000 square kilometers, Kakadu National Park is an ecologically and biologically diverse area with many different landforms and habitat. These include the sandstone plateaus, jagged rocks, areas of savanna woodlands, open forest, gorges, gushing rivers, billabongs, floodplains, mangroves and mudflats. Then there’s the wildlife. This unique park is also home to a great many species of birds, insects and reptiles including goannas, lizards, the saltwater crocodile, water pythons and a number of highly venomous snakes.
No wonder that Kakadu is one of only 22 World Heritage sites listed for both its natural and cultural heritage!
While Kakadu is indeed fascinating she remains mostly untouched and is not as developed as other national parks. As a result, finding your way around Kakadu becomes a challenge. To really appreciate the place, you need to move away from the sealed roads and take the road less travelled. Many of the tracks are suited for 4WD only. The hikes themselves include lengthy climbs over rocks and uneven terrain. Essentially, you need to be physically fit to take on Kakadu.
I signed up for an off-road adventure that would allow me to explore Kakadu’s less accessible attractions. So at 6:30am on a very cold morning, I found myself squeezed in the back of a 4WD, together with eight other first-timers to Kakadu National Park. There were 4 locals – three from Melbourne, one from Sydney and one each from London, Scotland, Germany and South Africa. Our backpacks, food supplies and camping equipment followed us in a small storage trailer attached to the back of the vehicle.
The journey on Arnhem Highway was pretty smooth and we spent most of our time getting acquainted with each other. After about two-and-a-half hours on the highway, we turned off into Old Jim Jim Road our 4WD adventure began! Throughout the journey, we saw only two other vehicles – one that overtook us and another one that came from the opposite direction! For the rest of the 100 km stretch, the entire road belonged to us.
Old Jim Jim Road is not opened the whole year round. The road is closed during the rainy season when the whole region becomes flooded. It is during this time that the flood waters carry crocodiles from one place to another.
Our tour guide and driver, Tom, was everything you’d want from a guide in the Australian bush – competent, knowledgeable, a skilful yet safe driver. Tom would step on the accelerator for the different road gradients so that we got our money’s worth of bumps and thrills!
After what seemed like a long never-ending ride, Tom announced that we would be crossing the South Alligator River to get to the other side of the road. What a thrill it was to drive through the river itself. We were all excited at the thought of spotting a crocodile swimming alongside our vehicle.
Upon reaching the other side of the river bank, more good news came our way. We would stop at the shady rest right next to the South Alligator River for a 30-minute lunch break.
While waiting for the picnic table to be set up and given the limited amount of time to take in the beautiful and quiet surroundings, we wandered off to take photos, but not before being reminded that croc sightings were fairly common in the area, and not to mistake a croc for a log!
There is just something about having a simple meal in an area where crocodiles are known to thrive, that makes simple food taste extra-delicious and those fleeting moments in the outback so memorable!