After enjoying a short timeout at South Alligator River, we headed south for Barramundi Gorge or Maguk. The turn off is about 50 km from the southern entrance to Kakadu National Park and Maguk is another 12 km from that intersection. This unsealed track to Maguk is only suitable for 4WD vehicles. Once at Maguk’s carpark, you need to make a 2 kilometre round hike to view the spectacular swimming holes on top of the gorge as well as Maguk waterfall and plunge pool below.
The narrow trail inside the bush led us into a dense tropical forest with lush vegetation. The whole area was tranquil except for the sounds coming from rustling leaves and inhabitants of the bush. About 30 metres into the trail, we came to a boardwalk and I was secretly glad because I could now pay attention to the flora around me instead of trying to dodge the muddy ground. Further into the bush where the track crossed a small creek, a bridge had been built so that we didn’t have to get our shoes all dirty. Hmm.So thoughtful. I can live with this.
By and by, we came to a pristine jade-coloured pool. The water was so clear that I could spot small fish swimming around the water’s edge. However, none of us was tempted to venture too close to the water or stay there for too long for fear of crocodiles lurking underneath. Maguk has plenty of estuarine crocodiles. However, crocodiles safety measures have been put in place such that any saltie found moving upstream towards the gorge is relocated immediately.
When we came to an intersection where the trail branched out, our guide, Tom, said that it would be better to get the difficult part over and done with. So instead of hiking to Maguk Waterfall, we made the climb up the gorge to where the swimming holes were found. The further up we went, the more difficult the walk became. The path was uneven and slippery with stones. We had to navigate over huge rocks to make our way up. The hot sun was on us most of the time and I even experienced occasional flies buzzing above my head and getting into my nose! Some portions of the narrow track wound round the edge of the cliff overlooking the gorge below. The view was awesome – even humbling but pretty scary!
However, for every rock we scaled, the scenery became more and more breathtaking.
Finally, we reached the top and the landscape opened up to a picturesque swimming hole. The place was surrounded by steep vertical sandstone cliffs, with ledges at different heights for diving.
After spending one hour at the swimming holes, we made our way down to Maguk Waterfall. I had thought that the walk to the waterfall would have been easier than the climb up the rock pools. However, the hike there had its own set of challenges. We had to step on rocks protruding above the gushing creek and criss-cross our way to the other side. No boardwalks or bridges here! You just eyeball a dry rock, muster enough courage and step on it. One wrong footing and you either get your feet very wet, or worse still, slip into the water! The two photos below show the scenery at the backwater end of the creek. They look nothing like the swift-flowing water and cascades that we had to cross!
After reaching the other side unscathed, we walked into some bushes and were rewarded with the sight of a lovely natural pool surrounded by red cliffs, with Maguk Waterfall completing the perfect backdrop. Maguk Waterfall is special in that it flows all year round, regardless of the season.
While everyone else was enjoying a refreshing swim in the pool, a curious goanna appeared from behind the rocks and made its way towards me. It crept closer and closer until it was right in front of me, extending its long tongue to lick my shoes! After some hesitation, it turned and made its way to the rock I was sitting on, and sportingly remained still for me to take some close-up shots. Then, like a true gentleman, it let me have back my rocky seat and made its way slowly back into the bushes.
Soon enough, it was time to hurry back to the carpark and drive north to catch the sunset at Yellow Water. I must admit that the walk back across the creek was less stressful for me than the walk there. Perhaps I had become used to the idea of taking more risks. After I had gained a proper footing in the middle of the creek, I looked up at my surroundings for the last time. At that moment, I felt a surge of contentment on having found my balance with Mother Nature.