Many thanks to Brian Gadsby from Gadsventure for writing such an informative post on visiting Kakadu National Park with children. All text and photographs supplied by Brian.
Kakadu is arguably Australia’s most famous National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Remember ‘Crocodile Dundee’ from the 1980s? Paul Hogan helped to open up Australia’s once flagging tourism industry by exposing the beauty and wilderness of Kakadu to the rest of the world. We were keen to experience it for ourselves, but is visiting Kakadu National Park with children possible?
We have lived our entire lives in Australia and only made it to Kakadu in our mid 30s, thanks mostly to its wonderful remoteness. It was during our 12-month trip around Australia with our three kids in our pop top camper that the highway loop took us towards the famous landmark with great anticipation and high hopes.
Kakadu is nature in its most untouched and incredible state. It is raw and majestic. It possesses an incredible sense of wonder and spirituality thanks to the indigenous history, intermingled with a feeling of awe for the beauty and the array of wildlife.
Kakadu National Park is accessed via Highway 1 and is about 170km (106 miles) or around 3 hours drive out of Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. The easiest way to get to there is by car from Darwin or Katherine and, unless you prefer to join a tour, you will need a vehicle to get around the park.
The absolute best, and I mean best way to see Kakadu is in your own 4-wheel drive car and camping at the various campgrounds around the park. This really allows you to immerse yourself in the magic of Kakadu.
You need about one week to experience everything and the road is a perfect loop route, which makes it easy to navigate.
Camping in National Parks is my favourite kind of holiday. You feel at one with nature as you get back to basics with campfire cooking and sleeping under the stars. Visiting Kakadu National Park with children is not only very manageable, but it is a fantastic place for the whole family to enjoy the scenery and the serenity. We took three young children aged 1, 3 and 5 and it was a perfect fun-filled family adventure.
When to go?
Although the entry fees are cheaper over the summer months between November to April, flooding does cause a number of attractions to be closed. The vivid green landscapes are yours to enjoy with fewer visitors though, and you have the chance to experience electrifying monsoonal afternoon storms.
Peak holiday season in Kakadu is May to October and the park is heaving with visitors. We visited in July and it was busy, but we were still able to find a spot to camp without booking ahead. If you planned to stay at hotel or resort accommodation, you would need to book well in advance for this period.
August to November is the best time to see large numbers of whopping great saltwater crocodiles; check with your ranger for details on what time of day the crocodiles will be the most accessible and when you are least likely to disturb them.
Of course, if possible, you may wish to consider what time of year your tourism will have the greatest negative impact on the environment. The world is becoming more aware of the effects of over-tourism and avoiding these periods should undoubtedly start to play a larger role in trip planning.
Where to Start
Your unique adventure begins in the town of Jabiru with a visit to the small supermarket to stock up on food, the National Park Headquarters and Bowali Visitor Centre.
Purchase your National Park Pass at the Visitor Centre to secure entry into everything the park has to offer. This entry fee of $40AUD per adult or $100 for a family of 4 includes guided ranger walks, talks and cultural activities. Pre-purchase your passes online here. There is no charge for Northern Territory residents, and the prices are reduced during Summer when some sections may be inaccessible due to monsoon rain events.
The Bowali visitor centre is a great place ask questions, plan your walks and activities, enjoy interactive exhibits, get your maps and information to equip you for the ultimate Kakadu experience. There is also a beautiful cafe and gallery on site. Your park entrance fees help with the maintenance and administration of the park and go towards assisting the traditional owners preserve its culture and heritage. There is another visitor centre and Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Yellow Water.
Where to Stay
The accommodation options range from remote bush camps, to peaceful managed campgrounds, all the way to 5-star luxury resort style lodging. For the family, we simply couldn’t beat the beautiful campgrounds. You can park your camper van or pitch your tent only footsteps away from stunning bush walks taking you to breathtaking waterfalls pitching into seemingly endless deep cool waterholes. Short and long walks abound and there are always opportunities to plunge into a refreshing stream along the way. On a 1 week trip to Kakadu we stayed in 3 different campgrounds, and enjoyed them all.
Dangers and Annoyances
As it is a wetlands area year round, visiting Kakadu National Park with children does require some forethought on staying safe.
There are more than a few mosquitoes, and they can be downright thick depending on the time of year. Please bring repellent, and cover up with clothing to avoid mosquito bites.
Be very wary of saltwater crocodiles and treat them with the utmost respect. They are fiercely territorial and as such, don’t go near the water’s edge or you are putting yourself at risk. Don’t let children touch or splash in water and obey all the warning signs regarding crocs; they are there for a reason! There are plenty of safe elevated platforms for secure crocodile watching.
Ensure to keep hydrated during any walks as it can get very humid, especially in Summer.
Things to See
Famous for the historically significant rock art throughout the park, visiting Kakadu National Park with children is a great opportunity for learning about historical art forms and Aboriginal culture. Easily accessible via wheelchair- and stroller/pram-friendly paths there are many opportunities to check out these impressive and well preserved examples of Aboriginal art that were painted on cave walls up to 20,000 years ago! These pictures show the symbiotic relationship that the Aboriginal people of the Bininj/Mungguy had with their country and the land. They are absolutely amazing and were enough to awe even the youngest kids!
Kakadu has been voted Australia’s number one birdwatching destination by Australian Geographic. It is home to a phenomenal one third of all Australia’s bird species. It is an absolute paradise for bird lovers and nature lovers alike.
Regardless of whether you’re visiting Kakadu National Park with children or not, I recommend downloading the Kakadu Birds app for iPhone here or on Android here. The app is a great educational tool to find out about 50 of the most popular bird species, hear their calls and discover the best places to find them. This app was so fun to use! We all enjoyed spotting the birds and then trying to identify them!
There are about 10,000 saltwater crocodiles in Kakadu! Some even over 5 meters long! Watch from the safety of a platform as they slide over the causeway at Cahill’s Crossing while fisherman dip their lines for barramundi just upstream.
Weave through hundreds of wallabies if you venture out after dark and spot the now elusive water buffalo if you are lucky.
Forking out for a Yellow Water cruise is definitely worth it for an excellent up close wildlife viewing experience. Seeing those huge crocs gliding alongside your little boat as you chug along through the wetlands is absolutely fascinating. Colourful flowers floating on the clear reflective waters gives you a feeling of absolute tranquility. We were even lucky enough to come face to face with a water buffalo!
Crocodile Dundee was great for tourism here, but not so good for crocodile conservation. He was the guy that hunted and killed the huge creatures and then made himself hats and belts out of their hide. But what he, and the movie, did was create awareness of Kakadu worldwide which drove hundreds of thousands of international tourists to the region, which created the money and conservation that this World Heritage listed National Park needed to survive and prosper.
Home to incredibly fascinating rock art that you can get close to, Ubir is the place to climb to the top of the rock for the best sunset in Kakadu.
Another site for epic Aboriginal rock art. Stroll around the well trodden paths at the base of the imposing Nourlangie Rock escarpment and take in the atmosphere of this breathtakingly spiritual place.
Camp at the base of the hill and hike up for a refreshing swim in nature’s infinity pool!
Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls
4-wheel drive enthusiasts will love the drive in to this impressive waterhole. You will need a snorkel on your vehicle to get all the way into Twin Falls but these are worth the long drive into Kakadu’s heartland.
A beautiful walk to a wide pool with a gorgeous cascade at the top.
This causeway crosses over to Arnhem Land, which is an untouched Indigenous homeland open only to the traditional owners. As the tide ebbs and flows, the giant crocodiles slide over the causeway delighting onlookers.
Kakadu is on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its outstanding natural and cultural values. It is easy to see why. A trip to Kakadu is a step into another time and places you deep into the roots of ancient art and ways of life. The natural scenery is stunning and absolutely awe-inspiring. There is beauty every which way you turn, and short walks will lead you to the most rewarding vistas imaginable.
Visiting Kakadu National park with children is a wonderful way to get them into nature, and opportunities for play and learning are in abundance. Kids will love exploring the winding pathways and diving into the crystal cascades and waterholes. Leave the iPads behind and instead gaze at the ancient Aboriginal rock paintings as you try to decipher their meanings. Take them to educational ranger talks and go wildlife spotting. Camp under the stars with a campfire and get back to basics with minimal impact on your environment, remembering to leave only footprints.
It is the best experience!