Kakadu National Park Australia is the country’s largest national park and is one of the most spectacular destinations in Australia.
One of just 20 UNESCO World Heritage sites to be listed for both cultural and natural values by the United Nations, there is a wealth of treasures to be discovered during a Kakadu holiday.
In this article we cover some of the top things to do in Kakadu National Park, including waterfalls and swimming holes, Rock Art sites, cultural centres, lookouts and more.
For all the best Kakadu attractions to visit, read on.
Kakadu protects six of the major habitats of Australia’s Top End, including mangroves, floodplains, rivers, billabongs, lowland woodland, mangrove vine forests and coastline. Together they are home to a huge number of Kakadu National Park animals and birds.
From a cultural perspective, Kakadu is famous for its incredible Aboriginal Rock Art, that dates back as far as 20,000 years. It is also now believed to be the oldest human habitation site in Australia with archeologists recently finding evidence (such as stone tools) at rock shelter Madjedbebe that puts human existence here as far back as 65,000 years. Quite incredible.
Tours from Darwin to Kakadu
Most people visit Kakadu from Darwin, which is around a 2.5 – 3 hour drive away. If you are planning to self-drive Kakadu, you are advised to hire a 4WD vehicle as even in dry season, many of the roads here are rough and not suitable for 2WD cars.
If you are short on time or don’t want to self-drive, there are plenty of Kakadu tours from Darwin that you can join. These include
- Day tour from Darwin, including Yellow Water Billabong boat cruise
- 3-day Kakadu & Litchfield camping tour
- 4-day Darwin to Arnhem Land tour, via Kakadu
- 5-day Litchfield, Katherine & Kakadu safari
The Best Kakadu Attractions
If you are wondering what to do in Kakadu, then here is our pick of the best attractions in Kakadu National Park.
Note that to enter Kakadu, you require a Kakadu Park Pass. This can be purchased online from the National Parks Australia website here. The Kakadu National Park pass helps with the upkeep of the park and also entitles you to join the free ranger guided tours, talks and cultural activities.
You may also like our article about all the best things to do in Darwin with kids.
Gunlom Falls is one of the most spectacular of the Kakadu waterfalls, and shouldn’t be missed during your Kakadu trip.
It has a lovely grassy picnic area with picnic tables, rubbish bins, toilets and changing facilities.
There are two main swimming areas at Gunlom Falls. The lower pool is easily reached via a short boardwalk from the car park and picnic area. Here you’ll find a large open swimming hole, with easy entry and a shallow area perfect for kids to splash about in.
However I would highly recommend making the hike up the hill to the upper pools. It has amazing views and is quite spectacular.
The climb up the hill is quite steep and requires a bit of scrabbling over rocks. But even with an 8-year old and 6-year old with us it only took around 30-minutes to get there.
And it is worth every minute! Plus the views on the way up are pretty special too.
There is a lovely campsite at Gunlom Falls too and it would make a good overnight spot if you are camping in Kakadu.
Note that the road to Gunlom Falls is suitable for 4WD vehicles only. We passed a few 2WD cars that were struggling very slowly along the road to get there!
Ubirr Rock is one of the most famous attractions in Kakadu thanks to its amazing Aboriginal rock art. This is considered some of the best in the world and is one of the reasons Kakadu National Park has UNESCO heritage status.
Here you will find good examples of x-ray paintings (where you can see intricate bone structures and organ illustrations of fish and other animals) as well as ‘contact’ art, which depicts the indigenous population’s first encounters with Europeans.
There is a signposted walking trail that takes you around the Kakadu rock art at Ubirr Rock, and informational boards to explain what you are seeing.
However, if you have the time, try to co-ordinate your visit with a ranger guided tour to get a better understanding of the history and culture here. These tours are free and the rangers really add depth to the stories outlined on the boards.
Makes sure you follow the walkway all the way up to the top of the rock. The 360-degree views you get from up there are incredible.
If you remember the movie Crocodile Dundee, this is the spot where Mick shows off “my backyard”. You will want to chill out here for a while and admire the view – and if you time it right, this is one of the most popular spots for sunset in Kakadu.
One of the best views in Kakadu National Park can be enjoyed from Nawurlandja Lookout.
It’s a short steep climb up the hill to the lookout and the views from up here will blow you away. The vastness of the surrounding countryside is incredible, and it will make you feel very small and humbled!
The view looks out over the nearby Anbangbang Billabong and you can hear the abundant birdlife as you sit in silence gazing at the view. It also affords sweeping views of Nourlangie Rock and the Arnhem Land escarpment.
This is another popular spot to take in the Kakadu sunset, especially with the colour of the sun reflected on Nourlangie Rock.
Warradjan Cultural Centre
This Kakadu visitor center is the best place to gain a good overall understanding of the history and culture of the local indigenous community.
Developed by the Aboriginal traditional owners of Kakadu, the displays take you through bus tucker information, traditional stories and personal accounts of historical events. All of this is accompanied by reconstructions of traditional tools and dwellings and donated traditional artefacts.
The exhibition is super interesting and educational and is a must-visit Kakadu attraction for visitors.
There is a gallery shop selling traditional artwork and souvenirs and when we visited there was also a weaving demonstration outside that you could join in with.
Yellow Water Billabong Cruise
A Yellow Water Billabong cruise is the best way to experience the Kakadu wetlands. Kakadu is renowned for its abundant birdlife and this is where to see it all in its full glory.
With a third of Australia’s bird species found in Kakadu National Park, you have a chance to spot 60 of them on a Yellow Water Billabong boat ride. White-bellied sea eagles, Jabiru storks, magpie geese, pelicans and whistling ducks are just a few of the magnificent birdlife we spotted.
There are also a lot of resident crocodiles here, making it one of the best places to spot the Kakadu crocodiles. Cruises on the Yellow Water Billabong take place throughout the day, but the best time to go is either sunrise or sunset, when the birdlife is at its most active. The cruises at this time of day are very popular and you will need to book ahead.
Another alternative to the group boat cruise on Yellow Water Billabong is to do a private fishing charter, which is what we did.
The Yellow Water Billabong is also famous for its abundant barramundi population, making it a popular spot for fishing in Kakadu.
We are complete fishing novices and didn’t really have a hope of catching anything, but it was still worth the trip.
Having a private charter boat allows you to get further away from the group boats and have an area of the Yellow Water Billabong or South Alligator River to yourselves.
Sunrise there was just magical, with just us, the birds and the crocodiles. It felt like being in a David Attenborough programme!
We watched a crocodile catch and devour a barramundi (at least someone caught something!), two pelicans fighting over their turf, a heron plucking a fish from the water and white-bellied sea eagles soaring overhead. Plus so many hundreds of birds flocking in the trees.
An incredible experience.
Also known as Barramundi Gorge, Maguk is another beautiful Kakadu waterfall and swimming hole.
You need to take a bit of a hike through the bush, scramble over some rocks and cross a few creeks to get to the swimming area, but you will be rewarded with a gorgeous natural swimming hole and waterfall when you get there.
The water is very deep here, so you will see plenty of people jumping off the rocks into the water. There is also plenty of fish life, so bring your mask and snorkel. The swim across to the waterfall is quite far, so bring a pool noodle or inflatable for younger kids.
There is an area of flat rocks and shallow water just across the gorge from the entry point that is good for relaxing.There are toilets in the car park here, but not at the swimming area, so use the facilities before you head off on your walk.
There is a bush campsite at Maguk with (very smelly) toilets. A 4WD vehicle is essential to get here.
Jim Jim Falls
Jim Jim Falls is probably the most famous of all the Kakadu waterfalls. At 200 metres high, it is also the tallest waterfall in Kakadu and higher than all the Litchfield National Park wateralls too.
However, note that in dry season there is little to no water running over the actual waterfall. Although this is disappointing from an aesthetic point of view, it does make it possible to walk to the plunge pool, which is not possible during wet season.
If you do want to see Jim Jim Falls in wet season in its full flowing glory, you will need to take sightseeing flight (see more below).
To visit Jim Jim really takes a full day. You could also combine it with a visit to Twin Falls, as they are just 10km from each other. However, Twin Falls is not usually open for very long during the season, so check ahead.
The drive to Jim Jim is long and bumpy. You need to allow 2 hours in each direction from the Kakadu Highway. Once you arrive, you have a pretty challenging climb over the boulders to reach the plunge pool, particularly if you are visiting Kakadu with kids.
The plunge pool, surrounded by towering cliffs, is renowned as one of the most beautiful in the Kakadu area.
Be sure to wear good walking shoes and bring plenty of drinking water with you.
If you don’t have a 4WD or don’t want to do all that driving yourself, you can book a day tour to Jim Jim Falls from Jabiru. Click here for more information and to book a Jim Jim tour.
Kakadu Scenic Flights/Scenic Flight over Kakadu
Taking a flight to see Kakadu from the air is a great way to appreciate the grand scale of the national park.
Much of Kakadu National Park is inaccessible during the wet season, so this si a great option if you’re looking for things to do in Kakadu in wet season.
Kakadu National Park Map
This Kakadu National Park map shows you where all the above Kakadu attractions are located in relation to each other.
Kakadu Crocodiles and Safety
Remember that Kakadu is teaming with crocodiles – in fact there are over 10,000 crocodiles in Kakadu National Park! So you do need to exercise caution, especially around water and if you plan to swim.
Rest assured that they only open the swimming holes in the dry season once they know that they are safe for people to swim. However you still need to be sensible.
Pay attention to the signs and don’t swim where it says not to swim. The danger is real!
Kakadu National Park Accommodation
Apart from the numerous Kakadu camping grounds, there are two main options for accommodation in Kakadu National Park: Cooinda Lodge and the Crocodile Hotel in Jabiru.
Note that during peak season these are popular places to stay in Kakadu and they do get booked up, so be sure to book ahead.
We highlight these two Kakadu National Park hotels below.
Located right next to Yellow Water Billabong, the 3-star Cooinda Lodge offers a range of accommodation options. Superior rooms and family motel rooms offer air-conditioned comfort with ensuite bathrooms and TVs.
We stayed in one of their new Kakadu glamping tents, which are beautifully appointed. Featuring comfortable beds, air-conditioning, a fridge and outdoor seating area, our glamping tent was very comfortable.
The family tent also comes with a little annex with a bunk bed, which is separated from the main bedroom area by canvas zip-doors. The kids loved their little hidey-hole!
Although the glamping tents don’t have their own ensuite bathrooms, the shared bathroom block is right next door to the tents and offers clean facilities with plenty of room. You will also find hair dryers and washing machines here.
Facilities within the lodge include two swimming pools, a large alfresco bar/bistro, and indoor restaurant, mini-mart and souvenir shop and tour booking desk. There is also a petrol station on site.
Crocodile Hotel Kakadu
A slightly more upmarket option is the 4-star Mercure Crocodile Hotel. Located in Jabiru, this Kakadu hotel is actually shaped like a crocodile!
The modern hotel rooms are available in a range of configurations, including rooms with 2 x double beds or 1 queen and 2 x singles, perfect for families.
Facilities include a large outdoor swimming pool and full business/meeting facilities. Both international and Kakadu bush tucker are on offer at the Escarpment restaurant.
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