Vivid green landscapes bursting with vegetation, dramatic storms flashing across the skies each afternoon and teeming wildlife amid brimming rivers, creeks and billabongs – this is Kakadu during the tropical summer season. Just a few hours from Darwin in the Northern Territory is one of the world’s great wilderness areas and in high summer it bursts to vivid, verdant life. Here’s everything you need to know before you visit this Australian wonder.

What is Kakadu National Park?

One of Australia’s largest national parks, Kakadu covers 19,804 square kilometres – about a third of the size of Tasmania, or half the size of Switzerland. It’s a unique World Heritage-listed national park, both a natural wonder of complex ecosystems and endemic species and a treasure trove of archaeological sites and intangible cultural traditions. 


During November to April (tropical summer), the waterfalls and flood plains are rampant and there’s an explosion of plant and animal life. Flooding can close roads and parts of the park but many of the most popular sites are open year round (always check the NT government site for updates on parks before you leave). There’s nothing like seeing thundering waterfalls from a scenic helicopter flight when ground access is restricted. Generally, there’s a shower or two in the afternoons, leaving the rest of your day free for exploration.

Location and how to get there

The park is located in the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory.

From Darwin: Join a tour or hire a vehicle to get to the park. The drive is approximately three hours from Darwin along the Stuart and Arnhem highways.

From Alice Springs: The drive takes about 14 hours – but it’s the road trip of a lifetime and even better if you start from Uluru. From the Red Centre, the route travels up the middle of Australia, taking in Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles, Tennant Creek and the famous Daly Waters Pub

There are no commercial flights direct to Kakadu.


Aboriginal people have occupied this territory for at least 65,000 years. There are more than 5000 rock-art sites around the park, some dating back as far as 20,000 years. Other more recent works depict the tall ships that signified contact with Europeans.

Tourism is now the main industry at Kakadu National Park, since the cessation of ore processing at the Ranger Uranium Mine (surrounded by the park but technically not part of it). 

The wild expanse of Kakadu became a national park in three stages from 1979 to 1991 and is UNESCO World Heritage listed twice – once for its spectacular environment and once for its outstanding cultural heritage. It’s now managed by Traditional Owners in partnership with Parks Australia.

Where to stay

A person looking out from a safari-style camping bungalow at Bamurru Plains Lodge

There’s something for travellers of all stripes at Kakadu National Park, whether you want to camp out beneath a blanket of stars or require something a little – or a lot – more luxurious. A benefit of visiting during tropical summer is fewer tourists, so you’re more likely to have your pick of rooms.

Bamurru Plains Lodge

Situated on the edge of Kakadu National Park on working buffalo station Swim Creek Station, this luxurious Australian safari camp offers views over the floodplains from open-air pavilions, an infinity pool and a fire pit where guests gather after a day of adventures to exchange stories. The accommodation consists of 10 self-contained safari-tent style bungalows (pictured) and two larger private retreats, complete with mesh walls so you can watch the wildlife at play outside. 

Cooinda Lodge

Offering traditional hotel accommodation or Outback Retreats (glamping-style canvas tents) Cooinda Lodge is located right on the banks of the Yellow Water Billabong, where crocs prowl the floodplain and birds hunt for tasty morsels. Don’t miss watching the world wake up aboard a dawn cruise on the billabong, or a private dusk fishing trip as the night shift takes over – Cooinda staff will organise it all for you. 

Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel

An aerial view of the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel reveals it is, indeed, shaped like a crocodile. Fortunately, it’s a lot more hospitable than its reptilian counterpart. You’ll find a variety of room styles, including family-sized accommodation, as well as a pool and restaurant. It’s located within the park in the township of Jabiru. 


There are campgrounds dotted around Kakadu National Park. Some are equipped only with basic amenities including composting toilets; others have showers and barbecues. Commercial campgrounds, attached to some of the larger lodges, offer access to restaurants, pools and other facilities. Go to Parks Australia for maps and details.

See for yourself why Kakadu National Park has two World Heritage listings. Book now.

Can I do a day trip to Kakadu?

Technically, yes. But ideally, you’ll spend at least three days exploring Kakadu National Park. However, if you do only have a day, the best bet is to organise a tour – check out Kakadu Tours and Travel or Wildlife Tours for options departing from Darwin.

Best things to do

Rock-art sites

A First Nations rock painting of a long-neck turtle in Kakadu National Park

Its ancient open-air art galleries are part of what makes Kakadu National Park so spectacular.


Paintings of native animals including the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger (extinct on mainland Australia for more than 2000 years), and Aboriginal legends such as the Rainbow Serpent and the Namarrgarn Sisters are nestled among the stunning Ubirr rock formations. Take the Ubirr walk, which passes amazing rock-art sites on its way to a lookout over the Nadab floodplain.

Burrungkay (Nourlangie)

At Burrungkuy (Nourlangie), a ranger will take you on a 1.5-kilometre walk past works, some thousands of years old, depicting the Creation stories. At the Nanguluwurr gallery on the northern side of Nourlangie, you’ll see fascinating portrayals of the tall ships and the first contact between Indigenous people and Europeans. Ranger-led tours are included in the cost of your park pass.

Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre

Learn about the Traditional Owners of Kakadu National Park and the 65,000 years of connection to Country woven into their culture. At the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre you’ll see exhibits exploring this history, as well as arts and crafts created by local artists.

Waterfalls and waterholes

A swimmer floating in a rockpool at Kakadu National Park

There’s nothing as satisfying as plunging into the deliciously cool waters of Kakadu waterholes or basking in the spray from one of the many waterfalls after a long, hot hike. Before you take the plunge, always check first on the NT government site and check the signs for croc danger. 


Maguk (Barramundi) Gorge feels almost mythical, especially if you’ve got it to yourself (above). You’ll need a four-wheel-drive to access it. Hop out of the car and take an easy one-kilometre walk to be rewarded with majestic rocky outcrops and glass-clear pools.

Jim Jim Falls, reached via a two-kilometre hike through monsoonal forest that culminates in a deep pool.


With almost 20,000 square kilometres at your disposal, there are plenty of walks and hikes to keep restless legs busy at Kakadu National Park. Due to its size, many of the park’s walks are shorter trails to lookouts, waterholes and rock-art sites that are first reached by four-wheel-drive or tour bus. For more challenging hikes, try:

Barrk Marlam walk

Not for the inexperienced, this hike branches off from the Jim Jim Falls track. It’s six kilometres return but thanks to the rugged, rocky landscape, it’ll take about four to six hours to complete. Take plenty of water and your swimsuit for a dip in the shallow rock pools at the end of the walk. 

Yurmikmik walks

Four interconnected walks in the southern Yurmikmik region of the park take in rainforest, secluded swimming holes and open woodlands. They range from the easy two-kilometre, 30-minute Boulder Creek Walk to the challenging 11-kilometre, seven-hour Kurrundie Creek Walk and they’re best during tropical summer when the waterholes are full of fresh, clear water.

Twin Falls plateau walk

Exhilarating views across the 150-metre gorge make the steep ascent through the rugged stone country of the Arnhem Land plateau worth it. The six-kilometre return walk winds up to the Twin Falls lookout – make sure you follow the creek further upstream for a dip in the rock pools. 

Witness the thundering rush of Kakadu’s waterfalls in summer. Book now.


A boat carrying tourists across Yellow Water Billabong in Kakadu National Park

The intrepid may choose to go it alone, but for the rest of us, a tour offers a great opportunity to see the wonders of Kakadu National Park. These are some of our favourites:

Yellow Water Cruise

Yellow Water Cruises across the Yellow Water Billabong (pictured) run throughout the day but try a sunrise or sunset trip for the most spectacular views. You’ll see cruising crocs, magpie geese and dancing brolgas as you glide through the water on this First Nations-owned tour.

Ranger-guided activities

A program of fantastic guided tours – think art talks, painting workshops and guided walks – run by park rangers takes place over the seasons at Kakadu. All activities are included in the cost of your park pass but you must register to take part. Go to Eventbrite to see what’s on.

From the air

The park, with its winding rivers, crashing waterfalls and jagged escarpments, is spectacular from above, especially during the wet season when getting around might be not quite as easy on the ground. Departing from Jabiru several times a day, the Scenic Flight Company offers 30-minute plane flights over Kakadu National Park. Kakadu Air runs 30- or 60-minute helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft flights.


Kakadu National Park is the second-largest national park in the world and its mangrove-lined coastline, floodplains and wetlands, savannah lowlands and rocky stone escarpments mean there’s incredible biodiversity here. 

Kakadu contains about a third of all Australia’s bird species. Download a bird-watching app and you’ll be spotting black-banded fruit doves and spangled drongos left, right and centre. And of course, this is croc country: both saltwater and freshwater crocodiles are in abundance, so only swim in locations clearly marked as safe. 

Wildlife is all around at Kakadu – sometimes you’ll hear it before you see it or spot tracks in the dirt. Many animals are nocturnal: dusk and dawn are excellent times to spot animals. Look but don’t touch – at Kakadu, it’s forbidden to feed, approach or disturb the wildlife. 

Need to know…

  • Plan your trip according to the season you’re going to be visiting. The tropical summer or the dry winter both offer wonderful – and very different – options.
  • You’ll need a vehicle to get around the park, so plan to hire either a four-wheel-drive or join a tour.
  • A park pass is required to enter Kakadu National Park. They can be bought online and are valid for seven days. The cost varies depending on the time of year.
  • There are banks, supermarkets, service stations and medical centres at the hubs of Jabiru and Cooinda.
  • Pack carefully: you’ll need sturdy walking shoes; a hat; long, lightweight clothing to protect from the sun and insects; rain gear; insect repellant; a water bottle; and plenty of sunscreen. 
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SEE ALSO: The Best Cultural Experiences in the Northern Territory

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