Australia's Incredible Northern Territory

Where To Have An Off-The-Beaten-Track Adventure in Kakadu National Park

By Camille Helm and Jamie Douros, Travel Writers

Felicity—a 20-something travel lover—has teamed up with her friends from around the world to provide readers with local, insider knowledge of today’s most awe-inspiring destinations. Through writing, photography, and video, they’ll share the best tricks and tips for experiencing a place authentically and getting off the beaten path.

Hey Felicity,

Would you believe us if we told you that Kakadu National Park is half the size of Switzerland? Incredibly, it's true. This national park covers a huge expanse of land in Australia's Top End and has some of the most ancient and scenic natural formations in the world. The park is also one of the oldest and most culturally significant places for the Indigenous Australians; it can be rugged, it can be remote, but it is always beautiful and completely unique.

Here we want to share with you our favorite spots (including swimming holes!) in the park, as well as some useful information to help with planning a trip—or several—to Northern Australia.

Natural outdoor swimming hole

Photo: Shutterstock

When To Go

Kakadu is about a three hour drive from Darwin, Northern Territory’s capital. While some areas are accessed through paved roads, if you want to see the most incredible and remote waterholes, you’ll have to do some dirt road driving! It can be difficult to know where to begin when exploring this park, so we’ll start with what time to visit. First you need to know that the Top End has two distinct seasons; the Wet and the Dry.

River winding through lush green valley
Photo: Jamie Douros & Camille Helm 

The Wet season runs from October to March, and the Dry from April to September. The Wet brings monsoonal rains, as well as soaring temperatures and high levels of humidity. Therefore, Kakadu is best visited in the Dry season, as all water holes are likely to have opened. There is a definite benefit to traveling in early April when the Dry season has just begun; there are fewer crowds, and the volume of water flowing over the falls is indescribable. That said, if you only have one chance to get to Kakadu, make sure you do your research to ensure all areas are open. Depending on how late the Wet season runs, some years the attractions aren’t accessible until late June or even mid-July.

Kakadu is so vast that after more than five trips into the park, we have yet to see everything. The following, however, are our top four waterfalls/swimming holes we think you should explore!

Yurmikmik (Motorcar Falls and Boulder Creek)

Two waterfalls cascading into natural pools
Photo: Jamie Douros & Camille Helm 

Although these falls are lesser known and not on everyone’s must-see list, they are one of our favorites. In order to really see them at their best–when plenty of water is rushing over–you’ll want to visit in March/April. Later in the year the falls slow down considerably, however the large refreshing waterhole remains; really, it’s a beautiful and tranquil spot any time of year.

The walk to Motorcar is just over four miles return, but includes a small detour to beautiful Boulder Creek as well. Upon arrival, you’ll see a large shaded waterhole and the awe-inspiring falls. A challenging climb to the top awaits the adventurous traveler, who will be rewarded with views over the falls and valley floor.

Nearby, Boulder Creek took us completely by surprise. With several small falls, beautiful private swimming holes, and even some little infinity pools, it is the perfect spot to cool off. TIP: When hiking in, be sure to take plenty of water and snacks with you, as well as sturdy footwear.

Gunlom (Waterfall Gully)

Woman sitting on rock and couple in infinity pool

Photo: Jamie Douros & Camille Helm 

Whether you’ve seen the stunning photos of Gunlom’s infinity pools on Instagram or you’ve never even heard of it, Gunlom is undoubtedly one of the most popular and photographed sights in Kakadu. A two minute walk from the campground takes you to “the beach,” a sandy shore at the edge of a huge waterhole looking up towards Gunlom Falls. It’s an ideal place to sit and relax with a drink, or hop on a floatie and watch the world go by.

After you’ve spent time relaxing, grab some snacks and drinks and make the 20-25 minute vertical climb up the side of the cliff. Just as your lungs are starting to hurt and you’re wondering why you didn’t stay at the beach below, you’ll get your first glimpse of the reason for the climb: the infinity and plunge pools. The gorge itself winds through tall gum trees and has a series of waterfalls as well as clear swimming holes.

Our recommendation is to stay at Gunlom for a few nights–that way, you can walk up more than once at different times of the day. It’s popular during the Dry season, and there can be as many as 100 other people enjoying the view from the upper infinity pools. So, if you want a peaceful moment to yourself, get up there early and catch the sunrise. Mid-day is perfect for exploring upstream and finding rock jumping opportunities, but the best time to enjoy the view? In our opinion, it’s later in the day from the infinity pool at the top, settled in with a cold drink in hand, watching the sun set over the valley.

Maguk (Barramundi Gorge)
 Woman in swim hole and jumping on rock

Photo: Jamie Douros & Camille Helm 

If you are after truly unspoilt natural beauty, then a 4×4-only road leads you into another of our favorite locations: Maguk Falls. A peaceful shaded walk through monsoon forest, followed by rock hopping across Barramundi Creek, brings you to the only Kakadu falls that flow year-round into a stunningly deep, clear waterhole. It’s easy to spend the day swimming with the resident barramundi in the expansive pool, with everything made even more relaxing by the sound of waterfalls echoing off the gorge walls.

However, there is more to be uncovered at Maguk! To the left, a hidden trail winds its way to the top, revealing a series of smaller plunge pools. We love swimming upstream and diving through the rock tunnels and narrow gorge walls.

Arguably the most impressive in the park, Jim Jim Falls drop from sheer cliffs over 820 feet in height, making you feel overwhelming small. The impressive waterhole below is refreshingly chilly and a sight to behold on its own. As if these weren’t enough, there are also several areas with sandy beaches to relax and take in the views of the ancient rock walls. Access is by a 4×4-only track, then a fun half mile walk over boulders alongside Jim Jim Creek.

Once again, even with Jim Jim’s height, we couldn’t leave without also exploring the top, so we embarked on the 7.5 mile return trek. The great thing about arriving at the top was having solo time at the little pools and great views of the valley. Where else in the world can you enjoy such awe-inspiring scenery all to yourself?

So, if you desire swimming adventures and want to feel the magic of exploring an ancient landscape, we highly recommend traveling Down Under to the Top End!

Cheers and have fun,
Camille and Jamie

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Recently married in the Cook Islands, Camille and Jamie are an adventure-loving couple. In 2018, they completed a 2 1/2 year lap around Australia in a 4×4 and camper trailer but decided there was still more they wanted to see. So, a year later they sold their house and belongings in order to continue travelling in a self-converted 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter van. Camille is a travel blog writer who was born in Denver Colorado and moved to Australia at age seven. Traveling has always been her passion, having worked for over five years as a travel consultant and branch manager. She also enjoys snorkelling, yoga, the ocean, outdoor activities, and discovering new places and cultures. Jamie was born and raised in Maslin’s Beach, South Australia and is a qualified electrician and all-round handyman. He enjoys surfing, snorkeling, four wheel driving, rock-climbing, any hands-on projects, and a good cold beer. He also loves wildlife–particularly Australian animals and birds–and is the main trip photographer.

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