Kakadu Rock Art and Day Walks


We had five days to kill between our kayak trip down the Katherine River and the start of our Jatbula walk. The best way to do this was to head up to Kakadu National Park at the top of Arnhem Land and fill in a few gaps. The fair Nello and I had been here in 1998, visiting some of the better known places - Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls and Yellow Waters. However, we had not been able to visit Ubirr, one of the best rock art sites in the Top End. It was a good opportunity to remedy that and add our most northerly day-walk to the list.

Thus we drove the 300 km from Katherine to Jabiru, to establish our base in a pleasant cabin in a campground that had a pool and poolside bar, essential for returning from outings in the +30°C heat. From there, we did a series of day-trips to the places below.

Ubirr (1.5 km)

Sandstone outcrop at Ubirr

Ubirr is one of the best aboriginal rock art sites in Kakadu and one that we hadn't seen before. It was the main driver for our return visit to Kakadu after 20 years.

We travelled the 40 km from our base at Jabiru to Ubirr in the early morning to beat the heat and to beat the crowds - successful on both counts.

The circuit is quite short, visiting the Rainbow Serpent gallery at the base of a sandstone cliff, the main gallery beneath a massive rock overhang and the Mabuyu gallery at a smaller nearby overhang. The photos here give a better idea than any descriptions.


Heading towards the rock art site

The largest rock art shelter


Midway through the circuit, a side-track led us up on to a sandstone mesa, passing two more rock art galleries; The Crosshatching, a low overhang with paintings on the rock ceiling and the Namarrkan Sisters gallery, with its depiction of dreamtime stories.


Examples of Ubirr rock art

The main purpose of climbing this isolated outcrop, though, was to take in the magnificent 360° views from its top. To the north and east, the lush green wetlands of the Nadab floodplain stretched out, while to the south and west lay a panorama of the rugged ranges of the Arnhem Land escarpment. It was one of the best all-round viewing points that we have visited - simply, a magnificent landscape.

View over the floodplain from Ubirr Rock

View towards the escarpment from Ubirr Rock

Panorama of the Nadab floodplain

Bardedjilidjili and Badbong Wojmeng Walks (10.5 km - 20m ascent - 20m descent)

After visiting the Ubirr rock art site, we drove a few kilometres south to combine two shorter tracks and create a slightly longer walk - all the better to get an appreciation of the landscapes of this eastern part of Kakadu. The walks were the 2.5 km Bardedjilidjili Loop and 6.5 km Badbong Wojmeng Loop (try and say that 3 times quickly).

The cool southerly wind was still keeping conditions pleasant as we set out and headed quickly east on the Bardjedjilidjili track beneath the shady canopy of a patch of monsoon vine forest to reach the banks of the East Alligator River. This is saltwater crocodile habitat, but none were visible when we peered along its murky waters - though the sensation of being watched was strong. We followed the bank before turning inland to pass a small dark billabong - every bit of water here has a crocodiles/no swimming sign.

Beneath the shade of the riparian forest

Murky croc-infested waters of the East Alligator River

Monsoon vine forest

The landscape quickly became drier as we headed away from the bank of the river - the track wending its way through tall dry grass with scattered paperbarks and pandanus. Ahead we could make out the rugged shapes of the rocky outcrops which are the main feature of this walk - a cluster of strangely shaped and highly eroded pancake sandstone rising from the flat terrain.

Passing through the sandstone rocks

Here there be crocs!

Tall sandstone pancake stacks

We approached the rock clusters and walked through a passage at the bottom of a narrow slot in the formation. On the other side a sign marked the beginning of the Badbong Wojmeng (Sandstone River) Walk and we headed off down its dusty track to cross the bed of Catfish Creek (Mawoene Woene).

A longish boardwalk took us over a small pool filled with water lilies, followed by the muddy bed of a dry billabong, churned up by the hooves of buffalo and tusks of feral pigs. In fact we saw a family of pigs snouting along the edge of the billabong a little later.

The long billabong on Catfish Creek

Crossing Catfish Creek

A family of feral pigs

The route now followed a chain of reed-lined full billabongs, where flocks of herons, ibis and egrets probed the shallow water for food. With the beds of water lilies and surrounding paperbark forest, it was a pretty site.

Paperbark forest on the river flats

After a while, the track cut eastwards to cross the flat paperbark and tall grass landscape, before rejoining the now sandy creekbed of Catfish Creek as it emerged from thicker vegetation. Ahead, we could see another outcropping of pancake sandstone formations,

Beyond that lay once again the banks of the East Alligator River. It was good to break out in the open again with its cooling southerly, as the temperature was on the rise.

Dry sandy bed of Catfish Creek

Pancake sandstone formations

The East Alligator River

Sandy channel parallelling the river

Heading north along a trudgy deep sand track that paralelled the river, we found a nice spot on a steep bank high above the water (and any crocs) and took a break in the shade to enjoy the surrounds and have an early lunch.

View across the river from our lunch spot

Where the East Alligator meets the escarpment

Continuing on, we left the sandy path at every opportunity to check out the river for crocodiles. It would have been disappointing to complete this walk without seeing one and our luck held - a 4m saltie emerged just 10m away near the river's edge, looked our way and disappeared again (total disdain, I suspect). A bonus though, was the sea-eagle perched above its nest in a dead tree on the sandy bank opposite us.

Top predator in the water

Top predator in the air

Sand bank on the East Alligator

A narrow gap in the rocks

Rock art shelter

Bardedjilildjili sandstone

Track through the sandstone formations

Happy with our top predator count (both reptilian and avian), we followed the track away from the river and back through a thicket of monsoon vine forest to reach the boardwalk again - Badbong Loop completed.

Retracing our steps to the junction with the Bardedjilidjili, we continued on that track, passing a small cave invaded by the roots of fig trees growing on the sandstone above, before crossing over a narrow gap between the curious rock formations.

Bardedjilidjili rock art

A curious sandstone formation

A final treat before reaching our car was to see one last bit of aboriginal rock art, high on the wall of an overhang. It had been a good walk, but the heat was winning the day and even the southerly breeze was feeling warm - time to head back to Jabiru and down an icy-cold mocha, our new favourite rehydration tipple in these tropical climes.

Nourlangie Walks (6 km)

The best rock art sites are at Nourlangie, some 40km south of Jabiru, Again, we headed there early to beat the heat and the crowds.

On reaching the site, we headed off on the short circuit that winds up into the rugged face of this isolated rock massif. The area is known as Nourlangie, but this was due to a misunderstanding - indigenous people point out the the correct name for the lower sections is Angbangbang and for the upper sections is Burrungkuy.

Site of Angbangbang and Burrungkuy rock art

Rock art from the upper shelter

From the main path spine, we followed a track up into the jumble of rocks on the face of this massif. Soon we were looking into an enormous rock shelter, where archaeologists have dated evidenc of human occupation to 20,000 years ago. Most activity has been in the past 2000 years, but it was a sobering reminder of the fleeting nature of our own existence on this planet.

From here, we climbed even higher to visit the Burrungkuy art site, before descending through the shaded narrow gaps of the large rock outcrops. In this shady and sheltered area, it was easy to see what attracted the people here over the past millenia.

Nourlangie rock art

As we descended, we passed the second art site, again in the shelter of a huge rock overhang. The shelter held more ancient ochre rock paintings. Finally, we descended to the base of the rocks to view perhaps the most detailed artwork of all at Angbangbang Main Gallery, with its more spiritual figures and shapes. Again, photos do more justice to the imagery than descriptions.

The last part of a visit to this site is to climb up from the shaded, almost tropical vegetation of the rock shelters, to the drier exposed conglomerate tops of Kunwarddewardde Lookout, with its impressive views of sheer walls of the Burrungkuy and over the flat green sea of savannah woodlands stretching to the south and east.

View over the forested plains from Kunwarddewardde Lookout

The second part of the Nourlangie walks was to do the short sharp climb up to Nawurlandja lookout, a smaller outlying rocky hill of conglomerate and sandstone to the north-west of the art site. From the bare rocks at the lookout point, the views complemented those from Kunwarddewardde - this time the panorama took in Burrungkuy from the west and looked southwards over Angbangbang Billabong to the green savannah lands beyond - a place to contemplate the immensity of this landscape in the coolth of a southerly breeze.

Panorama of Nourlangie Rock and the plains from Nawurlandja Lookout

Sinkhole at Nawurlandja

Enough said!

Having looked down on the billabong, the best way to finish our time here was to cut across to it from the base of Nawurlandja and take a leisurely stroll around its perimeter. Fringed with green grasses, dotted with large white waterlilies, and home to large numbers of ibis, herons, egrets, whistling ducks, cormorants and magpie geese.

Angbangbang Billabong

Angbangbang Billabong was a very pleasant place for a stroll beneath the shade of fringing paperbarks and freshwater mangroves. A flock of comical corellas plrovide a bit more entertainment.

The birds of Angbangbang Billabong

It had been an enjoyable morning mix of nature and culture, but with only one afternoon left, we decided the best way to spend the time was to return to our accommodation in Jabiru and while away the afternoon at the swimming pool - sometimes it is nice to just be another tourist.

Maguk (2 km)

Kakadu is famous for the waterfalls that pour off the escarpment into large and deep plunge pools - ideal for swimming. We had visited the two best known and most spectacular, Jim Jim and Twin Falls, when we were here some 20 years ago and they are both quite distant from the main roads and 4WD accessible only. This time, a visit wasn't possible, but it would have been a shame to be here without at least one swim in a waterfall plunge pool, so on our way back to Katherine from Jabiru, we stopped by at Maguk.

The gravel road in to Maguk is only 10 km long, passing through dry savannah woodland dotted with enormous termite mounds. However, once we reached the carpark and started the 1 km walk to Maguk, we found ourselves in lush monsoon forest, as we followed Barramundi Creek upstream.

In the land of the giant termite cathedrals

Monsoon forest in Barramundi Creek

Crocodile habitat?

Maguk Falls

Rocky part of Barramundi Creek

The waterhole and waterfall

The track opened out on to a more rocky section, where the creek formed a series of shallow pools. Ahead, we could see the red walls of a large sandstone cirque and soon we arrived at the beautiful setting of Maguk. Sheer rock walls on three sides and a lush pandanus lined shore where the outlet creek headed off. At the far end, the falls themselves, tumbed down the rock face and into the pool.

To boot, the water was a perfect temperature - time for a leisurely swim up to the falls with the several species of fish that call this creek system home. Then a swim back down again for lunch in the shade admiring this idyllic scene before time caught up and we had to head back to the car.

Clear water at the southern end

Maguk waterhole and its rock walls

As we drove on back to the highway and on to Katherine, we agreed that you definitely can't visit Kakadu without a swim in a plunge pool.