At least that was the consensus until our trusty guide informed us we were actually surrounded by giant termite mounds. Not quite as exciting perhaps, but fairly crazy nonetheless.
To one side climbed cathedral termite mounds, rising an unbelievable five metres towards theheavens – making us, as if in some bizarre animal role reversal game, look like the tiny insects. But while the cathedrals had the impressive size, it was the magnetic termite mounds, to the other side, that clearly had the brains.
Dotted across the landscape like aging tombstones, the amazing thing about the magnetic mounds is that they all face exactly north to south. How exactly they achieve this I have no idea, proving something I’ve always secretly suspected – I’m a little bit dimmer than a termite.
Luckily, before I had too long to dwell on this revelation, we were off. It was the start of our three-day tour of Kakadu, one of Australia’s most exciting national parks, just a few hours east of Darwin.
To say that World Heritage-listed Kakadu is an awe-inspiring place would be to sell it short. Indeed, it has so much going on that after a while you don’t even notice termite mounds thesize of a house. Afterall, while achieving World Heritage listing is no easy feat, Kakadu is one of only about 25 places in the world to have been granted the listing both for its natural beauty and its cultural importance.
But before checking out the culture and the beauty, we dropped in to say hello to some of thelocals – saltwater crocodiles. The world’s biggest reptiles, easily reaching five metres in length, salties also happen to be one of the most ruthless killers on Earth. So it was with some trepidation that we boarded our boat, which felt about, well, five metres long and sat just inches above the water.
The Margaret River was absolutely teeming with life. Wallabies casually hopped by and wild pigs wallowed in the shallows. The skies and trees were filled with birds, which wasn’t surprising when we learnt that a third of all Aussie bird species can be found in Kakadu.
But always there, daring us to ignore the “no limbs outside the boat” warnings, were thegrinning salties. It was hard to take our eyes off the giant predators, and all too easy to imagine being on the receiving end of their awesome power. None of us experienced the death roll that day however and we were soon back on dry land.
The next morning, rising from our bush camp, we headed to Barramundie Creek to clamber through monsoon forest and over rocky cliffs to swim in the Maguk pools atop the waterfall, before climbing down to enjoy another dip at the bottom.
Kakadu is the land of the giants. Whether it’s the size of the crocs and termite mounds, the epic scale of the waterfalls, or the level of Aboriginal culture on display, it is hard not to be left humbled.
Indeed, looking out into the trees as the scorching sun and refreshing water beat down from above, it feels like you could easily be in another millennium and at any moment a T-Rex could come tearing through the bush.
Falling for Kakadu
Rex didn’t turn up though, so next we headed to Ubirr, which is one of Australia’s most important cultural sites – and not just because a crucial scene in Crocodile Dundee was filmed there.
Bordering the huge Aboriginal reserve of Arnhem Land, Ubirr is a rocky outcrop boasting thousands of examples of rock art, some of which date back an estimated 40,000 years. Due to the lack of a written Aboriginal history, rock art is a hugely important tool for understanding the world’s longest continuous culture.
The depictions of animals, people and spirits tell stories and teach lessons that are still handed down from one generation to the next. Some of the drawings have proved invaluable to historians – pictures of Tasmanian tigers suggest that the now extinct creatures once roamed northern Australia.
We finished the day by climbing up the rocks just in time to witness Arnhem Land’s Nardab floodplains soaked in a glorious orange as the sun set, giving us the sort of stunning 360° views that no camera can ever do justice to.
On our final day it was time for the big hitters. First up we jumped on a boat to head through a gorge to the mighty Twin Falls, spotting freshwater crocs, turtles and barramundi swimming below us in the crystal clear shallows. Through the gorge, it was a quick walk and the thundering falls appeared. I’m amazed at how huge they are.
After soaking up the view, we made our way to the headline attraction – Jim Jim Falls. It’s a hot walk across a kilometre of boulders, meaning that when the pool eventually came into view, I rushed towards my reward; an icy swim to the dramatic 200 metre falls and one of the freshest, and most painful, showers of my life.
Lying back in the plunge pool, looking up as the water drops over the red ochre-stained cliffs above me, it’s hard to feel anything except complete contentment in the land of the giants.