Not so long ago there was an advertising campaign trying to persuade Australians to go to the Northern Territory’s “Never Never Land”. B-Grade Aussie celebrities said:
“You’ll never never know if you never never go.”
But words can never really do justice to the beauty of the Top End, especially the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.

As I swim in the shallows of Gunlom Falls, I look over the escarpment into the Kakadu scrub below. God, Buddha or more probably an Aboriginal spirit had perfected it. It’s so perfect that I feel like I’m lying in Hugh Hefner’s grotto. The water laps over the edges of each level so evenly that the falls seem regulated by a pump station. The rocks around the pools have such smooth, rounded curves you’d think they’re rendered from cement. The water is so pure, fresh and clear, it might as well have been poured from the Evian bottles of a thousand Playboy bunnies. The only things we’re missing are a few pina coladas and some playmates lounging around in next to nothing.

We laze through the afternoon before making our descent to the car park 100 metres below the high cliffs. This is just one of the many waterfalls and rock pools in Kakadu.

Hopping back into the troop carrier, all nine of us backpackers are dirty and sweating like soldiers in Desert Storm. Our troop has a good cross-section of nationalities – two laddish Brits, a joking Irishman, a German couple, a Swiss banker, a winemaking Frenchman and a Joan of Arc-type French woman. We filled the quota for cliche’s. Darryl, our trusty tour guide, hadn’t been in the Northern Territory long but is taking to it like a crocodile to a bathing tourist, jumping in the deep end and wrangling snakes.


Every trail, plunge pool and river we visit seems to have crocodiles. We walk along the path in single file so close to the croccy streams I feel like a California roll on the sushi train. There are eyes waiting to pick us off one by one under that layer of wasabi-green scum, pondering how raw human marinated in sunscreen would taste. But at the nearby plunge pool Darryl jumps in and we follow; it’s too hot not to.

For sunset we make our way to Yellow Waters. Make sure you have plenty of film in your camera for this event. Oh yeah, and some mozzie repellent. In the distance a saltwater crocodile (crocodylus willeatallofus) lays stagnant in the water, kinda like my uncle Jim – he won’t move unless there’s food to be had.

The sun’s last colours flicker on us as the full moon rises in the other direction, a changing of the guards. Smoky reds and browns, luminescent pinks and outlining greys dress the billabong, as a fisherman casts for his last barramundi of the afternoon.

Everyone pitches in to help set up camp. We empty the truck, prepare dinner, start the campfire and do the dishes at the end. All to make time for some disastrous didgeridoo playing…


Our fourth day in the wilderness is our most testing. We are to conquer not one, but two large waterfalls. Twin Falls starts with a steep climb, a gradient of 1:1 that would be better performed in hiking boots rather than some worn-out skate shoes or thongs, but through scrub and past amazing lookouts we persevere. The views from above are spectacular and well worth the climb. The savannah feels like a maze on winding tracks through scrub, between similar campsites and waterfalls.

Climbing to a high point you expect to get your bearings but Kakadu is so massive it’s hard to familiarise yourself in one visit. Like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the rock pools of Twin Falls at the top are a cool and refreshing reward. Descending with weary legs and ever-depleting water bottles, this is the penultimate climb.

Nearby, Jim Jim Falls is an off-road adventure away and amongst the gnarliest of bends, berms and bumps that even the best CD player with its anti-skip mechanism can’t withstand, resulting in some strange remixes of Robbie Williams – for the better I think. Another lung-busting climb and a long cross country hike on the ridge’s plateau, a rocky descent to the middle pools and we’re able to spook ourselves with vertigo by hanging our heads over the edge. The pools are refreshing, the rocks hot for sunbathing and the views of the vast Kakadu plain below are breathtaking, but it isn’t long before we continue our descent again.

Completely buggered by the bottom and knowing only beer could mend our tired feet, that night we pay an exorbitant amount for a six pack at an outpost pub designed within refrigerated walls and get drunk around the campfire.


The following day is far more gentlemanly with education, art and boat cruises. The first stop is Ubirr, which is the site of amazing Aboriginal rock art dating back tens of thousands of years, telling stories to educate the young and maintain the culture. In the presence of such history I get goosebumps. While there are pieces more complex, it is a simple yet defined sprayed outline of a child’s hand that does it for me. How many thousands of years ago did the owner grow up, become an elder and then pass on?

I eavesdrop on a guide’s explanation of certain designs to get an idea of the age and meaning of many of the works. A short climb up some rocks reveals the wide expanse of Arnhem Land Escarpment, an amazing 360 degree view of the floodplains.

A quick visit to Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre is a brief introduction to 60,000 years of occupancy on this land and to the local clans, their lifestyle and wildlife.

The finale of this five-day adventure is a cruise on Corroboree Billabong. Aptly named, corroboree is an Aboriginal name for, well, party. And that’s exactly what goes on – there is so much wildlife you’d think it’s a frat-house keg party. Six-metre-long saltwater crocs and the smaller freshies, white-bellied sea eagles, buffalos, jabiru, egrets, and other crazy birdlife call this place home, although the salties own it. There are other delights, such as a white bellied sea eagle in its perch and a tiny crown crested jacana and her chicks that seem to walk on water.

On board a flat bottom boat, our host takes us within a halitosis breath’s distance of one of the largest reptiles in the world at 5.5 metres long and proceeds to tell stories of a feeding frenzy he witnessed recently. A croc took down an unsuspecting water buffalo and the smell of blood attracted other beasties, so before long buffalo steaks were flying 100 feet through the air.

We take a final group photo as the sun drops in another spectacular setting – a last hurrah, then make our way back to Darwin to wash our clothes and scrub the dirt from our nails. You know you’re in good company when after five days of living in each other’s pockets it’s only a shower later before you’re regrouping at the local pub for dinner and beers.

The experience: Wilderness 4WD Adventures’ Five Day Top End Explorer package, including Katherine Gorge and Litchfield National Park. Ph: (08) 8981 8363.