Australia Travel

A Weekend In Kakadu at Gunlom Falls & Ubirr

Kakadu National Park - Gunlom Falls

Long weekends are the gateway to camping trips in my eyes. Even though you could get the trip done in two days, there’s something about that extra day, that buffer, which just encourages adventure. You could choose to go all out, extend and spend three blissful days out in nature. Or, you could take that two-day trip, with one day of recovery before the grind starts up again.

We had originally chose option 1, but when sunburn, heat exhaustion, and public holiday crowds sprung up in our reality, option 2 was what we ended up with. Sitting here, with anti-burn moisturiser slathered on my back and the sun going down on the last day of the long weekend, I have to say it was still one hell of an adventure.

Kakadu National Park - Gunlom Falls

Gunlom Falls

We woke at four to make an early start on the long drive to Kakadu. Dean and I had most things ready, and picked up our third companion for the trip (we’ll call her I) along with her additional gear. The drive out was primarily non-eventful, only one wallaby near-miss and lots of straight road, which is what we’ve come to expect from the Northern Territory. In fact, things didn’t really start to get interesting until we hit the road into Gunlom. We’d been told it was unsealed, but in good condition.

Wrong.

Corrugated was the word that came to mind, and as we bounced and rattled down it I could feel our car suffering. Dean might say that we have a 4WD setting, but in terms of Australian roads our car is a ‘soft’ 4WD at best, and probably not suited to that road at all. Still, we could hardly go back now, so we battled on.

Upon arriving we headed straight up to the upper plunge pool, a pretty vertical but thankfully short hike, and spent the rest of the day swimming, splashing and sunning ourselves in the pools among the rocks. It was, in a word, glorious. The sun made its way slowly across the sky, and we climbed, clambered and explored most of what the upper pools had to offer, from a hidden waterfall, to some incredible views.

Kakadu National Park - Gunlom Falls

It wasn’t until we finally arrived back at the campsite, ready to collapse into our tents for a well-deserved nap, that we noticed that we had a flat tyre.

Road 1, Car 0.

Of course in the 2+ years we’d owned the car we’d never actually had a flat tyre (talk about luck!) so we had no idea that that a few (read: most) of the tools required to change the tyre were missing. But, it being the famous Gunlom Falls, we were surrounded by pretty friendly (real) 4WD owners, who not only supplied the tools, but helped us change the tyre as well. Not up for making the upper pool hike twice in a day, we checked out the lower plunge pool, filled with kids and families enjoying the long weekend, and then headed back to camp to settle in the for night. Things did get a little loud with the campsite full up, and for the life of me I’ll never understand people who bring stereos on camping trips. The Northern Territory sometimes feels like a big empty place, and sometimes it feels way too full.

We’d decided to get up at dawn to capture the upper pool, so we dragged ourselves into slightly damp swimmers at sunrise and made the hike again. We certainly weren’t cool by the time we got to the top, and with only one other intrepid dawn explorer, we had the pools to ourselves. Basking in the sunlight as it peeked over the escarpment, we looked down on the campsite down below. It was a pretty good way to start the morning.

Ubirr Rock

You can’t visit Kakadu National Park and not have a look at some of the incredible Aboriginal rock art located at the site. There are three main locations where the rock art can be viewed by those passing through, Nourlangie, Nanguluwur and Ubirr. All seemed promising, but as we had a three hour drive back to Darwin ahead of us, we had to choose one. Ultimately Ubirr won out because it also offers a panoramic view over the wetlands and surrounding country, which we couldn’t pass up even though we weren’t visiting at sunset when the view is most stunning.

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If you didn’t know this, Kakadu has one of the greatest concentration of rock art sites in the world, representing one of the longest historical records of any group of people. It was incredible to wander in the natural galleries at Ubirr, and see the amazing art that had stood the test of time. Some pieces are several thousand years old, and they tell the histories of an entirely unique group of people who made their home in Kakadu National Park and beyond. The history of Aboriginal people is tainted with tragedy, but the rock art also shows a cultural strength, and a dedication to personal and community stories from thousands of years ago.

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Kakadu National Park Visitor Tips

  • Non-NT residents will need to pay a park entrance fee in order to visit Kakadu National Park. Adults are $40 in the dry season, $25 in the wet season. Kids and concession get discounted rates, and family passes are also available.
  • While many of the locations inside Kakadu National Park are on sealed roads, some of the best spots (and I’ve only seen a few of them) are 4WD access only. Remember if you’re renting to make sure your rental car agreement allows you to travel off-road, as many do not.
  • Camping fees are collected at campsites, usually by a ranger walking around to each site around sunset. At Gunlom it was $15/pp per night, and there was drinking water and a toilet and shower block (solar hot water) on site.
  • There are a lot of stunning natural locations in Kakadu National Park, but make sure you also have a look at the cultural attractions such as the rock art, the Bowali visitors centre, and more.
  • Check out the official website here.

Kakadu National Park - Gunlom Falls

This post originally appeared on BarefootBeachBlonde.com, the pre-evolved version of Maps And Mandalas. I’ve republished it here with its original date because I love it that much.

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