Kakadu National Park is one of Australia’s most iconic parks. With its dramatic landscapes, myriad of waterfalls and intrinsic link to Indigenous people and culture, it’s a must-visit when in the Top End.
Please note! Before heading to any of these areas, please check local alerts to be sure they’re open! Some swimming holes and sacred sites may be closed due to health or cultural reasons.
Kakadu National Park is not only home to incredible waterfalls but is also rich in Aboriginal culture (Bininj in the north and Mungguy in the south of the park).
From swimming in crystal clear waters beneath Jim Jim Falls to exploring ancient rock art and camping out beneath millions of stars – there’s no shortage of adventure in Kakadu.
In the Top End, water places have sustained Aboriginal people and their livelihoods for tens of thousands of years. Whilst these swim spots are amazing to relax in and enjoy, they remain very important places culturally, spiritually and environmentally. Traditional Aboriginal Owners share these swimming places with us, so whilst lapping up the serenity, please respect the waters and their surrounding ecosystem.
It doesn’t take long after leaving Darwin to turn off the Stuart Highway onto the Arnhem Highway towards Kakadu, Australia’s largest national park. After purchasing your park pass, head to Ubirr in the north-east corner of Kakadu.
It’s not only a fab spot to watch sunset over the Nadab floodplain and Arnhem Land, but it’s also home to some of the oldest and most significant examples of rock art in the world. There are a few rock art galleries on the way up to the lookout, with great examples of x-ray art (a painting style unique to the Top End) depicting food sources like fish, wallabies, and goanna.
Keep an eye out for the painting of a Tasmanian Tiger in the main gallery which has been extinct in the area for at least 2,000-3,000 years, showing just how old these paintings are!
Kakadu’s Art Sites are World Heritage-listed and extremely sacred for Traditional Owners. To help conserve these precious sites, when visiting please keep to the boardwalks and marked paths, avoid touching or photographing the art and pay attention to National Park’s signage.
Mardukal campground became a bit of a favourite, despite the mozzies that seemed to eat me alive at night! It’s central, easily accessible and close to places we wanted to explore multiple times.
Check out nearby Burrungkuy (Nourlangie Rock), which has spectacular World Heritage-listed rock art galleries, as well as the Yellow Water Cruise where you can spot jabirus, eagles and saltwater crocs from the safety of the boat.
Also nearby is the Warradjan Cultural Centre and the Bowali Visitor Centre where you’ll learn a lot about the culture, landscape and wildlife of Kakadu. There’s a short walking trail from Mardukal campground to the river – and there’s no better way to end the day than with a few drinks while watching sunset from the riverbank.
Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls
Please note! Unfortunately Twin Falls is currently closed! Check local alerts before heading there.
Both waterfalls are at the end of an unsealed, 4WD-only track, about 40km south of the Bowali Visitor Centre. The first waterfall you’ll come across is Jim Jim Falls. From the carpark it’s a 1km hike that involves clambering over rocks and boulders to reach the waterfall.
Towards the end of the track you can rock-hop to the right side of the falls to Beach Pool, with its sandy beach and warmer water. If you don’t mind braving the icy cold water, stick to the left of the trail sign and head for the plunge pool at the base of the waterfall.
If you’re an experienced hiker and can make the steep climb in the heat, there’s a challenging 5-6 km return hike to the top of the falls (Barrk Malam Walk) which has fantastic views and rock pools to cool down in.
After Jim Jim Falls, put the 4WD snorkel to good use for the deep river crossing (Jim Jim Creek) on the way to Twin Falls, another 15km away.
Most tourists head for the boat cruise at the base of Twin Falls (swimming isn’t allowed there), but instead we decided to hike to the top of the waterfall (6km return) to swim, float away and sunbake further upstream. The plateau walk also has great views above the falls – it’s the perfect spot to stop for a break and take in those fantastic views.
The next stop off the Kakadu Highway is Maguk which is about 14km down a 4WD only track. The falls are a short 1km walk from the car park through lush monsoon forests and across a small creek crossing. While the plunge pool at the base of the falls is a great spot for swimming, there’s a detour off the trail (keep an eye out for the unmarked track) where you can head to the top of Maguk to swim and explore the series of rock pools at the top of the falls.
Please note: The top of Gunlom Falls has been closed at the request of the Traditional Owners until further notice, however the plunge pool and campground is still open.
The unsealed track into Gunlom is rougher than some of the others in the national park, but well worth it. It’s a spot that’s super photogenic, great for swimming and has panoramic views from the infinity pool at the top of the falls.
Even better, the campground’s only a short walk from the base of the waterfall – which means you don’t have to go far for an early morning swim! We arrived just in time to scramble up the steep escarpment to the top of the falls for sunset and watch the last of the golden light slip over the horizon.
Moline Rockhole (Ikoymarrwa)
Another spot in Kakadu worth checking out before heading south to the Stuart Highway is Moline Rockhole. This hidden gem isn’t signposted or in the visitor guides but is an important site to the local Jawoyn people.
The road is unsealed (4WD only) and there’s a small car park for about 3-4 vehicles; from the car park it’s a short walk through lush monsoonal forest to get to the small, crystal clear pool. Before heading back to Darwin, be sure to check out some of the other awesome wild swimming spots not far from Kakadu.
Warning: Kakadu is home to saltwater (estuarine) crocodiles. Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife work hard to ensure that designated crocodile management zones (like the waterfalls mentioned above) are croc-free and safe to swim – but this can change and if you’re unsure about any waterway, please ask the rangers or stay out!
- Mozzie repellant, sunscreen, sunnies and a hat
- Food and plenty of water
- Swag, tent and camping gear
- Kakadu Parks Pass (Park entry fees have been waived until 31 December 2020. If you’re travelling after this date, they can be purchased online from Parks Australia before you go and are valid for 7 days, but can be extended to 14 days if needed at no extra cost)
- Camera and/or GoPro (but being a national park, you aren’t allowed to fly your drone here)
Start and End Points
Start and end in Darwin. You can also check out some of the other great swimming spots at Litchfield National Park and nearby Robin Falls on your way back. If you have time, instead of returning to Darwin from the southern end of the park, continue further south down the Stuart Highway and explore Nitmiluk National Park near Katherine.
Distance / Time Taken
Approx. 1000 km / Allow at least 4-5 days to explore the park