Unless your really pressed for time we cant recommend a 1 day Kakadu tour and in particular can't recommend doing it with AATKings.
The problem with a Kakadu 1 day drip (typically costing around $AUD240 per person ) is that for the 13 hour trip you only get to see/do 3 things due to the distances involved. We spent about 30mins at some rock art, 90mins cruising a billabong (this was the best part) and 30mins or so at a cultural center and a long lunch (included, also pretty good). We spent the best part of $AUD1000 for four people. It would probably have been better and much cheaper if we rented a car and drove ourselves.
Somehow AAT Kings office didn't give the coach driver the pickup details for everyone on the day trip. Our pickup was for 0620 and we were picked up around 0700. Another passenger who's pickup was earlier was actually picked up later than us. We were pretty late leaving Darwin. The coach seats were also pretty dirty. The driver was good though and had a lot of knowledge about the places we went to.
Kakadu National Park is located 1-2 hours southeast of Darwin proper. Darwin is the most logical place to fly into, unless you are doing a long trek from the South.
Darwin International Airport (DRW) is probably the smallest of Australia's International Airports. It is however a nice little place for a layover believe it or not.
I prefer to fly with oneWorld Carriers (AA, British Airways, Qantas, Cathay), so I had the privledge of checking out the Qantas Club lounge while waiting for a 1am! flight back to Sydney!
If you do not have status on the OW airlines, then I would wait until the last possible second to enter the Darwin Airport as there really is not much else to the place. You walk through security and are immediately at your gate, which is nice, but also tedious for longer amounts of time. There are a couple little places to eat, but as you can imagine, no grandeous fine dining locations or gift shops here.
Greyhound/McCafferty's run a daily service from Darwin to Jabiru and on to Cooinda except for Christmas Day. It sets out in the morning from Darwin at the Transit Centre, gets to Jabiru just after 10AM and goes on to Cooinda where it stays to mid afternoon. Returns the same way and arrives back in Darwin in the early evening. You can make arrangements to be picked up or dropped off along the way.
We hired 4x4 troupies for our big adventure but that was because we were heading off further than Kakadu National Park and into the true outback territory.
If you are just doing Kakadu then a car will be fine as the roads are all sealed.
Hiring a car to do Kakadu is the best and cheapest way. I would aim to stay overnight at Jabiru.
That’s a good question! Unfortunately there are no commercial flights to Jabiru or to the Cobourg Peninsula part of Arnhem Land. Still, from Jabiru you can take helicopter tours over the Kakadu National Park and some of our group later did just that, enjoying it enormously: here’s a link to Rosie235’s travelogue.
When we found the airstrip near Smith Point in the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park (ie, the Cobourg Peninsula), it rather seems that my passengers in the 4WD had decided to look for an aeroplane to take them out! Could this have been a comment on my driving? They peered at the sky, looked at their watches (main photo), explored the substantial terminal buildings (second photo), then some started flying around themselves(third photo)! I’ll put it down to the effects of the heat … we had no alcohol with us, after all. You could organise an air charter to get you there: the problem then is that there is no transport to get you any further!
Down the track, the airstrip near the Aboriginal settlement of Wauk (photo 4) is looking decidedly more neglected, to the stage where you’d have to wonder if even the Flying Doctor could now use it. Maybe, as indicated by the adjacent sign, (photo 5) they just don’t want anyone dropping in!
Photo 1 Heading into the dust
Photo 2 Feelingfabulous grapples with his ipod
Photo 3 adelaidean taps to the tune while Rosie235 rests
Photo 4 The supplies trailer and more dust.
Although the main roads in Kakadu National Park are sealed, that does not apply to the side roads, nor to the roads in Arnhem Land. A good proportion of our travels was on dirt roads and, as we were in the second vehicle, if we approached too close behind VT1 we were in clouds of dust. Quite apart from that, our travels of 2500km were not at high speed, so we were on the roads for a long time.
After a while, you find you run short of stories to tell and, in any case, your throat becomes dry. Time to settle into your own little world and listen to an MP3 player: the joys of technology! Maybe, as with adelaidean , tap out the tempo of the music on your leg, or just have a nap. Enjoy relaxing and watching the country scroll past, with maybe an occasional glance out back to look at the dust trail and to be sure the trailer of supplies is still there (one day the spare tyre started to come adrift, but that’s another story).
Photo 1 Photo of vehicles taken before commencing the hire
Photo 2 Detail from photo, showing buckled roof
Photo 3 The very basic interior, with hard fold-up side seating
Photo 4 Flat tyre.
Before leaving Darwin we hired our transport, two diesel Toyota Landcruiser Troopcarriers, the sort of vehicle you see in news reports from frontier areas around the world. These may not be the most elegant of vehicles, and I’m aware that large 4WDs are not popular with many VTers. But we were heading well “off the beaten path” travelled by most people, with our route including off-road sections and water crossings through crocodile infested creeks. To do that, a serious 4WD is the only way to travel.
Should you be travelling to the main public areas of the Kakadu National Park, be assured that the main roads in the area are good quality bitumen, suitable for any normal car. The need for 4WD comes only when you start to head further out.
Darwin has several vehicle hire companies. I am not about to make any recommendations, but I would strongly suggest that you check your vehicle very carefully before commencing the hire. In particular, do as we did and take photographs from all directions. When we left we failed to spot a badly buckled roof on one of our vehicles, but it showed in the photos taken before our departure and we were able to point it out to the hire company who did not have the damage listed on their records. No further problem. This precaution also could save you from substantial penalty charges. If you’re observant, you will have noticed the flashing lights fitted on the vehicle roofs – that’s a good sign that these two had a hard former life, working on mining projects, and that showed in some mechanical problems. As an example, our first flat tyre (photo 4) was on our first morning on the road – NB the problem of doing anything different when there are VTers with cameras around!
Photo 1 Bailing out the tinnie before the trip
Photo 2 Gunwale chewed by a crocodile?
Photo 3 Poking through the reedbeds in the Cooper Creek billabong
Photo 4 Running down the wetlands on our return.
In Australia, a small aluminium boat for fishing etc is called a ‘tinnie’. They’re light, reasonably tough, and very popular. Whether they’re suitable for running around crocodile-infested wetlands is open to question because of their low freeboard and (often) small size. Before doing this trip, we went to see an Australian movie called Black Water (IMDB link) about a predatory croc stalking a bunch of particularly silly tourists it had tipped from a tinnie (think “Jaws” with a croc)… In the real world, a croc grabbed a Queensland fisherman's arm and pulled him from a tinnie to his death just a few years ago.
So what did we do when an opportunity came along at Mt Borradaile to take a run in tinnies down the croc-infested Cooper Creek wetlands? Naturally, we all waited till the water was bailed from one which, our guides suggested, “must have been tipped overnight by a croc to let in the water already there – and, oh look, there are some croc teeth marks in the gunwale!” Then we hopped gaily in and set off.
We had no problems, though the tinnie did continue to leak during our trip, and I reckon the stories from the guides were just to add a frisson of excitement! I’d also have to say that blasting down narrow waterways between the trees was good fun. Crocs? Yes, we saw some… this photo on Kiwi’s page shows us photographing one from our tinnie.
There are shuttle buses at the Darwin airport which will drop you in the town, and you could then arrange a tour to Kakadu. Kakadu is about 3 hrs drive from Darwin.
The best way to see Kakadu is from the air, with a helicopter tour.
If you are not a native to the Northern Territory, you will likely be entering Kakadu National Park from the west, particularly Darwin. Public Transportation is not readily available in this part of the country, so you are best off renting a car and driving.
The Arnhem Highway is a fully sealed road which stretches from Humpty Doo (35km east of Darwin) to Jabiru, which is located in the park roughly 215 kms east. There is likely not much reason to stay anywhere between Jabiru and Darwin, so your best bet is to drive directly while enjoying a couple stop offs in different locations along the way.
Its numerical distinction is Highway 36 and intersects the Sturt Highway (1) in Humpty Doo, and the Kakadu Highway (21) in Jabiru.
To go to Kakadu I took a tour with Adventure Tours Australia. The guides were fantastic, and we were transported in a special four wheel drive overland bus which was a great way to experience the whole of Kakadu and make our way through those rivers and off the beaten track. The buses were made for a larger amount of travellers then the traditional four wheel drive tours, adequately allowing us all the space we needed which was fantastic.
Pleasure flights are available over the Arnhem Escarpment and is the best way to view this stunning scenery.
The front window in the plane is open, making it extremely windy in the back seat, my face is completely contorted by the force of the winds and my glasses are blwon off. In fact my skin is tingling for many hours afterwards.
Most sites in Kakadu can be reached with a regular car, but some sites are accessible only with a 4WD because of rough terrain. If you aren't going to take an actual tour with a guide, and you want the full Kakadu experience, take a 4WD.
Although Kakadu is an amazing place throughout the year, many of the popular sites are closed off during wet season because of accessibility and crocodiles.
Check wet season accessibility for the areas of the park you plan to visit.
If you are planning to see Jim Jim and Twin Falls without an airplane, you need to make sure you plan on coming during dry season.
The best way to see Kakadu is with an experienced guide. I went with Wilderness 4WD Adventures out of Darwin. It is great for someone travelling alone or a small group.
There are usually 8-10 people on a tour, and the recommended ages are 18-35 and in good physical health. The guides know everything and can answer any question about Kakadu, the plants and animals, and the Aborigines. They also hold special permits to areas restricted to the general public, which means you can see much of the park without all of the crowds.
Fresh food is provided and you sleep in a safe and populated campground. I would recommend going on a tour in dry season - you cannot access some areas of the park or see the waterfalls during wet season.
The cost of my 3-day tour was about AU$450. There are other tours to Kakadu and other parts of northern Australia available from this company.
Some tips: DO NOT bring good clothes or good shoes. Wear something you will throw away after the trip. Bring something to swim in, mosquito repellent, sunscreen.
Another tour company that many other travellers recommended while I was there was Gondwana Tours. I did not take a trip with them, but I heard they were great. They advertise by word-of-mouth. Their toll-free number is 1-800-242-177.