Kakadu National Park
According to the Bininj people of Kakadu there are six different seasons in the year and our visit is during Gurrung, the hot, dry season, which runs from late August until the beginning of October. In this season the amount of water in rivers, creeks, billabongs and waterfalls is decreasing and Mahbilil, the warm afternoon breeze, rises.
We enter Kakadu from the west along the Arnhem Highway and spend our first evening at Ubirr in the north-west of the park near the East Alligator River. We wander around the 1km track to see the Aboriginal rock art sites then climb to the top of the rock to enjoy the sunset over the Nadab floodplain. Most of the water on the plain has dried out but the colours of the grass and trees are still vibrant and lush. Smoke from late season burning make the sky hazy as the sun sinks.
After spending the night at the nearby Merl campground our next week is spent in Arnhem Land on the Cobourg Peninsula in Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. (Take a look at The Land and Deepwater of the Garig Peoples for more about our time here.)
On our return we spend a few days in the town of Jabiru while they hold their annual Mahbilil Festival and Gurrung Sports Carnival. It’s lots of fun and we particularly enjoy tasting the magpie goose cooked over the hot coals of a long wood fire, watching the grand final of the AFL match and listening to some great music in the evening. The festival feels very casual and everyone is good-natured with lots of kids (face painting applied) dancing in the sand that has been spread across the grass in front of the stage. Paul visits the medical centre to have some sutures removed which takes no more than 30 minutes while Julie visits the local supermarket. We both enjoy the swimming pool at the caravan park during the middle of the day and our time here is refreshing and relaxing before we head out into the southern part of Kakadu.
We pick up some great tips on lesser visited spots and current conditions of waterfalls and swimming spots from rangers at the festival and the visitor centre and make our plans accordingly. Nourlangie is not far south down the Kakadu Highway and it offers some more Aboriginal art sites and the nearby Anbangbang billabong. There are several camping areas nearby but based on the ranger’s advice we decide to try Sandy Billabong for a couple of nights with a visit to Nourlangie and Anbangbang from there. A fire burning in the area means we spend the night at the campground at nearby Muirella Park instead but Paul captures the eerie feeling at Sandy Billabong in some photos and has written about the experience in the post Fiery Billabong. Because of the fire and the heat we move on after one night and continue south after our walk around Nourlangie.
We have decided to skip a visit to Jim Jim and Twin Falls this trip as the creeks and falls have stopped flowing but there are a few spots further south which still offer waterfalls and good swimming. Along the way we call into the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Cooinda. It offers a really interesting display with loads of well-presented information and we spend an hour or so wandering through reading and observing it all.
Moving on we reach the turn to Maguk and Barramundi Creek and take the 10km dirt road to the camping area. It is late afternoon by now so we leave our visit to the falls and pool for the next day and set up camp in a shady spot. The weather is really warming up now and when Mahbilil blows it comes off the sun-baked rocks and doesn’t provide any relief. We’re really looking forward to a swim when we set off for the waterfall in the morning. It’s a one kilometre walk through a monsoon forest and along a rocky creek to the small falls and the clear pool, but that’s based on a start from the day visitor area and we find out that the camping area is about one and a half kilometres from there so our two kilometre return walk turns into a five kilometre walk. Still it’s flat and not too far so it is good to get a bit more exercise. The swimming is fabulous and we spend quite a bit of time swimming across the pool to the falls and back and sitting in the sun on the rocks. Paul makes a return visit at sunset but this time he drives to the day visitor area to shorten the walk.
We managed to pick up a hitch hiker while we were in Maguk. A rustling noise during the night proves to be coming from inside the camper rather than from animals feeding outside. A pesky mouse has found his way in. His correct name is “Kakadu Dunnart” but when he proves to be able to set off mouse traps without being caught and continues to rustle away through a couple of nights Julie dubs him Mongrel Mouse while Paul reckons Mighty Mouse is far more fitting. Maybe the different attitudes are because Julie wakes at the slightest rustle while Paul slumbers on, until poked in the ribs by Julie. “MM” is still along for the ride when we leave Maguk after a two nights stay but either he disliked the corrugations and escaped or maybe he was just along for the ride to Gunlom because he leaves of his own accord shortly after we arrive
Gunlom is another great spot with a beautiful pool and waterfall. It’s much busier than Maguk and there is less shade but it has the extra advantages of having a very short walk between the camping area and the plunge pool plus a series of pools at the top of a short but steep 20 minute walk up the escarpment. We are staying three nights so we use what shade we can find and also set up an awning across the back of the camper and shade cloth and a small awning over the kitchen. This really helps us keep cool and of course a short walk down to the plunge pool or a quick cold shower does the trick as well. The views from the top are inspiring and, as well as a prolonged excursion to explore and swim one day, Paul makes the trek before sunrise to capture the early light one day and stays up at the top of the waterfall until after dark another time.
One of the really special spots recommended by the ranger at the festival is Jarrangbarnmi (Koolpin Gorge). A permit and a key to a gate are needed to visit the place and we arranged the permit before we left Jabiru and picked up the key before we came into Gunlom. The track in is 4WD only so although we only have 30km to drive from Gunlom it is a slow trip and we arrive at the camping area near Koolpin Creek at lunchtime. There is a large pool here but unfortunately it is definitely not an option for a swim to cool off as crocs are often around. We are going to have to work for our swims here. The gorge contains a series of pools we can walk to, and while Long Pool by the campground and the next pool, Vegetation Pool, are not safe for swimming the ones further up the creek are OK.
In fact they are far more than OK as we discover when we set out later in the afternoon. The first part of the walk to the upper pools is marked but when the markers run out it is a matter of finding your own path up and over and around the rocks. We make a couple of false starts but eventually work out a route past the obstacles. The next pool is Pink Pool, obviously named for the pink rocks at the far end. It is OK to swim here but we’ve been told it is even better further up so we clamber up and over some more rocks to another level and we reach Black Pool. Here we are surrounded by dark rocks and at this time of the day the pool is in deep shadow and has very dark, almost black water. The water is clear and fabulous although a bit on the chilly side but that’s welcome after our trek in the heat. On the rocks above this pool we see a few people taking in the late afternoon sun. They have reached Blue Pool and we’ll get there too, but not today, we’re happy spending a couple of hours here before returning to camp.
Next morning we set out with food and water included in our backpacks. Rather they are in Julie’s backpack as Paul’s is full of camera, lenses and filters and he has his tripod to carry as well. We reach Black Pool mid-morning and spend another couple of hours swimming, taking photos and reading. We’re now ready to tackle the climb up to Blue Pool. The direct route is not an option, unless we can climb sheer cliff walls that is. Instead we need to trek up the side of the hill to a sloped rock face we can use to reach a ridge. Once past the hump of the hill we need to descend down the steep hill to the pool. There are enough “steps” on the rocks to make it safely down and after about twenty minutes we are taking another welcome dip. It is not obvious how this pool got its name as the surrounding vegetation would make Green Pool seem more appropriate but perhaps that name is taken on another pool further up the valley. The water here is not as deep but it is certainly still very refreshing.
On our way back to Black Pool we take the time to admire the breath-taking views over the surrounding country. (Maybe the climb contributed to the breath-taking bit but it’s a good excuse for stopping.) Another swim and more photos are in order before we start to make our way back down to camp. This section of the walk seemed pretty tricky on our first walk in but it’s getting simpler all the time.
Our final day feels even hotter, it must be in the low 40’s by now and as the wind blows around the rocky bowl of hills it feels even hotter. We have plenty of water so a shower from the shower bag hung in the tree is a welcome activity. We had planned to take another trip to Black Pool mid-afternoon but the heat defeats us and we settle for another shower instead. We’ll definitely be back to this jewel but next time we’ll aim for earlier in the year when the weather is a little kinder.
We’ve heard people refer to Kakadu as Kakadon’t, but we really struggle to understand that sentiment as this is a very special place with lots of wonders to be found. Perhaps they don’t leave the bitumen and aren’t prepared to walk more than a short distance but a 4WD opens up lots more options and a little effort is well rewarded.