8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids
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The top 8 things to do in Kakadu National Park with kids
Australia is one of the most diverse countries on this planet. While road tripping through this immense country you’ll get treated to different landscapes almost by the hour. To protect Australia’s native landscapes the country has thousands of national parks and reserves. While visiting Australia with your children you should really explore some of them.
If you’re in or near Northern Territory, Kakadu National Park is a definite must-see! It’s in all of the top 10 NP in Australia-lists and always in the top 5. Kakadu is a unique UNESCO World Heritage Site. Where else in the world can you find Aboriginal Rock Art, six different types of terrain, watch unique Australian wildlife and swim in waterfalls, waterholes and billabongs? With all that it’s no wonder that Kakadu is dual-listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its outstanding natural and cultural values.
There’s so much to see and do that your family can easily spend 5 days here. To help you plan your ultimate family trip to Kakadu NP I made a list of the 8 best things to do in Kakadu with your offspring.
Why Kakadu National Park is a great choice for a family visit
Before I present the 8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids, I’d like to tell you more about the history of Kakadu and its people.
Kakadu National Park is nature in its most untouched form. This world heritage listing is only a 3 hour drive from the city of Darwin. Kakadu is raw, majestic, wondrous and highly spiritual. You can spot lots of wildlife together. Which kid doesn’t want to spot salties (saltwater crocodiles) and wallabies? And what about the rock art I mentioned? Even the youngest kids will be in awe of all the art on the cave walls. One or more of your kids isn’t a hiker? They’ll be easily persuaded with the promise of a swim in one of the many waterholes and near waterfalls. This amazing place offers incredible outdoor activities you can discover together as a family!
History of Kakadu
The name “Kakadu” comes from an Aboriginal floodplain language called Gagadju, which was one of the languages spoken in the northern part of this park. Even though this language is no longer widely spoken, descendants of this language group are still living in Kakadu. The oldest living culture on earth are Australia’s Aboriginal people. Kakadu has been home to them for more than 65,000 years.
Aboriginal people of Kakadu are known as Bininj and Mungguy. They live in Kakadu’s towns and in the more remote areas of the park, such as Arnhem Land. These Aboriginal people have cared for Kakadu for thousands of years and still do.
Kakadu’s stunning variety of life – plants, animals and all other life forms covers nearly 20.000 square kilometers. Many of the species are found nowhere else in the world and it’s believed that there are still species yet to be discovered.
In Kakadu you can find 6 main landforms:
- Savanna Woodlands
- Monsoon Vine Forests
- Southern Hills and Ridges
- Stone Country
- Tidal Flats, Mangroves and Coastline
- Floodplains, Rivers and Billabongs
Each one truly unique and worth a visit. And if you follow the top 8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids you’ll visit all these landforms or at least drive through them.
When to visit Kakadu NP
If you’re visiting Kakadu as part of a road trip through Northern Territory you have to think about which parts of this territory you’re planning to explore.
Top End of NT
In general the dry season in the top end of Northern Territory (May to October) is the best time for your family visit. Kakadu, Katherine, Darwin and Arnhem Land can be found in this region. Many travellers find this time of year the most comfortable, as the moderate temperatures make activities such as bushwalking, hiking, camping and cycling ideal, and most areas can be easily accessed.
The wet season is advised often by locals and experienced travellers, because that’s when the NT’s top end is at its most raw and beautiful. The downside is that rains and storms make some areas harder to reach or unsafe to visit with children. You would really have to know the terrain well and continuously check road conditions. That’s why I wouldn’t recommend this for your first family visit to this area, especially when you’re visiting Kakadu and Litchfield.
Red Centre of NT
If you’re going to discover the Red Centre (Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Uluru etc.) as well, then autumn (March to May) is the best time to visit, with warm days and cool nights.
In short, if you want to visit all NT’s highlights with your family start in the Red Centre in May and work your way up to the top end. This way you’ll avoid red centre’s winter just in time and you’ll arrive in the top end of Northern Territory at the most ideal time: the dry season.
Visit Kakadu NP in dry season
If you’re only visiting Kakadu stick with the dry season. The two main cons:
- It’s packed with visitors, because this is the best time to visit.
- Waterfalls may not be flowing or will hardly be flowing.
The biggest pros:
- all the sites are open.
- There are more options for a swim, because the falls are hardly flowing and the crocs have been removed.
- No pouring rain.
- Far less bugs to worry about.
- Cooler weather.
So if you want to experience all of the 8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids comfortably, the dry season is the best time for a visit!
How to get there
If you’re flying in internationally then I recommend you to use a site like Expedia to check which airline offers the best price for your flight to Darwin.
Expedia is an online travel agency where you can not only book your flights, but also hotels, rent cars or even excursions. So, while booking your flight via Expedia, you can also check out the rental car offers and book your accommodation.
In short, you can book your flight to Darwin, rent a car for your road trip to Kakadu NP, and if you don’t BYO tent you can also book a room. All on one site.
If you’re flying domestically to Darwin, I recommend 12Go. It’s a user-friendly website that will show you all the different price options and comparisons as well as reviews from fellow travellers. To make it easier for you here are some links for you to book your domestic flight from some of Australia’s bigger cities to Darwin, via 12Go:
Domestic train ride
Booking a domestic train ride can also be done via 12Go. Use the link above if you’re ready to book your train ride!
If you want to explore Kakadu on a day tour from Darwin, there are multiple tours on offer. You can easily book one of these tour packages online. Check them out and find the one most suitable to you and your family.
Unless you are a resident of Northern Territory or under 16yo you have to purchase a park pass. If you visit the park in dry season a pass will cost you about 25 euros and in the tropical summer you have to pay about 15 euros.
You can also get yourselves a family park pass (2 adults and 2 or more children). This will set you back 62 euros in dry season and 40 euros if you visit the park during the tropical summer.
There are a few locations where you can buy the park pass. Online via Parks Australia or at the following places:
- Tourism Top End in Darwin
- Aurora Kakadu in South Alligator
- Bowali Visiter Centre in the park itself
- Gagadju Lodge Cooinda in the park itself
- Lazy Lizard Tavern & Caravan Park in Pine Creek
- Pine Creek Railway Resort in Pine Creek
- Katherine Visitor Centre in Katherine
Now that we provided you with all the basic and necessary info about Kakadu it is time for the fun stuff. Let’s find out about the top 8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids!
8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids
Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Yellow Water Cruise
Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Before you do anything else I highly recommend you visit the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre first! This centre is build on land owned by the Murumburr clan and is developed by the Bininj and Mungguy people. Here you can find the necessary information about local Aboriginal culture and gain understanding about the connection of the Bininj and Munnguy with Kakadu. You can’t take any pictures inside, but take my word for it when I say that we learned a lot from our visit. You’ll find tools that were once used and still in use on display. And storytelling via art and video. In the dry season cultural activities are scheduled here.
In the gift shop you’ll find arts, crafts, books and clothing made in Kakadu and Arnhem Land.
A visit to Kakadu should really be longer than a day. Besides that, how can you check out all 8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids if you only stay one day? That’s impossible!
We stayed for 5 days and camped at 3 different locations within the park. And let me tell you, we all wish we could’ve stayed longer. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible, since we had to return our 4wd camper that we rented for our road trip from Perth to Darwin. We will definitely go back to explore more.
Places to stay
But I’m drifting off, so back on-topic. If you’re staying overnight there are lots of options. You can stay at hotels, cabins or campgrounds. Back to basic or with all the facilities you can think of. There’s something for everyone. Because the park is gigantic I recommend you find accommodation in three parts of the park. One in the north, one in the middle part and one in the south. This way you don’t have to drive to0 long before you reach a sight and have more time to explore and relax in between. You’ll find about 30 places to stay in Kakadu NP. No matter your taste or budget, I’m certain you’ll find what your looking for!
We choose two campgrounds with hot showers and flushing toilets and one extra comfortable one with a restaurant and great pool area. All in a different hub.
We entered the park via the road from Pine Creek (where we also bought our park passes) and decided to camp at Gunlom campground first. Great hot showers, flushing toilets and firepits. You can’t book ahead, it’s first come first serve and the money will be collected around dinner time by a caretaker.
Next up we wanted to explore a different part of the park and tried our luck at Gagudja Lodge Cooinda. We got lucky, because we got the last available unpowered site. I would definitely recommend you book ahead via telephone or email. The same thing is advised if you want to book one of their rooms. Cooinda is a place where you can easily relax after a day of exploring. Have lunch or dinner in the restaurant or hang out in the pool area to cool off and have some family fun.
For the last 2 nights we drove further north to explore the area around Jabiru and Ubirr and stayed at Merl campground. Although they offer the same facilities as earlier mentioned Gunlom, this place felt more basic and secluded. This was also the only place where we got stung by mosquitos, so keep the doors or zippers closed, cover yourselves up and use repellent. Like Gunlom you can’t book ahead, but it’s first come, first serve.
The road to Gunlom campground is only accessible to 4wd vehicles and campers. It’s not forbidden to give the 30km long dirt road a try with a 2wd vehicle, but I definitely not recommend it.
Cooinda and Merl are accessible with 2wd and 4wd cars, caravans and campers.
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Yellow Water Cruise
Cruising Yellow Water, known as Ngurrungurrudjba, Billabong is without a doubt the best thing to do in Kakadu NP with kids. We loved it and often refer to it as one of our all time favorite activities ever.
Imagine stepping on the boat and immediately spotting crocs swimming around and chilling on the riverside. No wonder that the first thing the guide will tell you is to keep your arms, legs and head inside of the boat at all times.
After the first few minutes of spotting dozens of saltwater crocodiles you’ll find that you finally have time to take the entire scenery in and WOW! Everywhere you look there are flocks of birds, beautiful and huge trees that have stood there for centuries, wallabies hiding in the shade and wild horses running around.
And don’t forget to look at the water, it’s covered with beautiful pink and white waterlillies!
Types of cruises
There are so many reasons to take this cruise. While this top 8 is in no particular order, I have to tell you that taking this cruise is our families number one on this list of best 8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids.
We really wanted to see the sunset over the wetlands. It was one of the most magical moments of our lives. Everyone on the boat was silent and the captain stopped the boat to give us the chance to admire not only the view, but also nature’s noises.
The most popular cruises are the sunset and sunrise one. So, if you want to go during sunset or sunrise you have to book ahead. If you’re already in the park, buy your tickets at the Gagadju Lodge Cooinda, a couple of days before you want to go on the tour. Or buy your tickets online so you don’t have to worry about availability while you’re already on the road.
This cruise ain’t cheap. But it’s worth every penny and also includes a transport shuttle that pics you up from pick-up point Cooinda Lodge and takes you to the dock in about 10 to 15 minutes.
Kids under the age of 5 are free and have to sit on your lap.
Yellow Water Cruise Prices
|Departs||Length||Adult (16+)||Child (5-15)|
|Dawn||06:45||2hr||€ 60,00||€ 46,00|
|Morning||09:00||2hr||€ 56,00||€ 40,00|
|Noon||11:30||1,5hr||€ 51,00||€ 38,00|
|Early afternoon||13:15||1,5hr||€ 51,00||€ 38,00|
|Dusk||16:30||2hr||€ 60,00||€ 46,00|
Kakadu is home to 290 species of bird. It has been voted Australia’s number one birdwatching destination by Australian Geographic for many years in a row.
You can spot lots of them in Yellow Water Wetlands, but don’t stop birding there. They are everywhere in Kakadu and it is a birdwatcher paradise.
Kakadu birds app
Isn’t this activity a bit dull for the kids? Nope, because there’s an app. It’s called Kakadu Birds and you can get it for your iPhone or on your Android phone. It’s a great educational tool to find out more about some of the most popular bird species hanging out in this national park. You can hear their sounds and find out where you have the best chances of spotting them. It will feel like a hunt to them and it will keep them entertained during hikes, bushwalks and while on a Yellow Water Cruise.
You can find the most common bird species here, but also some rare ones. A few examples are the pictured black necked stork, azure kingfisher and the white-bellied sea eagle. And what about the stately brolgas and the tiny and cute comb-crested Jacanas, strutting their stuff on top of the waterlillies. You can find them all in Kakadu and much much more!
Sounds fun, right? And really worthy of a place in this list of 8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids!
Yep, that title is a reference to TLC’s legendary song, but in this case I advise you to definitely go and chase those waterfalls. They’re awesome, each truly unique to the next and the noise created by the flowing falls is impressive.
That said, if you take my advise and travel to Kakadu in the dry season, most of them will not be flowing or only a bit. The more rain falls during the wet season, the longer the waterfalls flow during dry season. But on the other hand, most of the waterholes are open for swimming and we were really happy about that. We’d rather swim in the waterholes and see only a drip of water coming down then admire the flowing waterfalls from a distance, not being able to swim and soaking wet from the rain. But to each their own of course.
If you visit during dry season most of the tracks in the park are open. In wet season it really depends on the amount of rain that’s (been) falling and how that affects the accessibility and safety of roads and trails. Make sure you check out if the road to the waterfall of your choice is open and if you’re allowed to hike up to it.
Which falls should you visit?
Tiny falls can be found everywhere in the park and you’ll bump into them while hiking. But there are five large ones you can check out.
If you have the time, visit at least two of the ones I listed. If not, pick the one that is accessible for your kids. Some hikes are harder than others and it depends on your kids’ age, strength and stamina if they can pull off the hike to the falls and waterholes.
An easy one to reach is Gunlom. You do need a 4wd to get there, but you only need to walk a few minutes from the parking lot or campground to get there. You can play in the sand and swim in the waterhole. This is the best fall to visit if you are with toddlers who do not want to be carried around in a backpack anymore, and aren’t ready for longer hikes.
When we camped out there it was allowed to walk up to the waterhole at the top of the Gunlom Falls and swim there. But as of recently the walking track to this lookout and pools above the falls is closed at the request of the traditional owners, until further notice. Please do not attempt to access this area, unless they re-open it again. In the meantime you can check out the many pictures you can find on the net. The picture right above this text was taken by me and posted here to give you an idea of the view.
A 2km return track that is easy for kids ages 5 and up, until right at the end. But since this trail is part of the best 8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids, I will tell you more about this waterfall later on.
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Jim Jim Falls
The biggest waterfall in Kakadu and Northern Territory. It’s 200m high! If you’re in Kakadu in wet season the only way to see it is by air. Helicopter rides can be booked at various locations in the park. During dry season it dries up completely, but you can reach it by walking through a monsoon forest and over boulders. Once there you’ll be amazed by the scale of things and the enormity of the cliffs around you. The hike includes climbing boulders and crossing small creeks. You’ll get sweaty, but it’s totally worth it. You need a 4wd with a snorkel to get there and the hike is suitable for kids ages 5 and up.
Twin Falls Gorge
The other big one! The gorge had a split cascade that explains its name. The water drops from a 150m high cliff into a deep pool. But once again, if you’re here during dry season, the fall slows down to a trickle. The upside is that you can walk right to the base of the fall.
To get there you need a 4wd with a snorkel and then you have to take the boat shuttle that leaves every 15 minutes and takes you to the gorge in about 10 minutes. You can see the falls from the boat, so if you’re not up for a hike you can leave it at that. Otherwise roam around, because hiking here is beautiful.
Motor Car Falls
This one is a favorite for visitors during the tropical summer, because most of the other falls aren’t accessible then. It’s small but nice to see. It does take a 7.5 km return walk to get there, but I’ve heard that it’s worth the visit.
We didn’t visit this one during our stay. We did talk to others who have walked this trail and they where with their 6 and 8 year old kids. They were tired from the hike up there, but the fact that they could play in the water for a while, brought back their energy.
There’s talk of a sixth waterfall. But that one can only be reached if a resident of Kakadu is willing to take you there. It’s very much off the beaten path and the inhabitants want to keep it that way. You can find some more info on the internet, but I will respect the wishes of the land owners and I won’t provide any info about its presumed location.
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Better known as Nourlangie, Burrungkuy is worth a visit for two reasons. First and foremost this is an amazing place to explore all the rock art that has been painted on the cave walls up to 20.000 years ago. And secondly because after checking out the rock art a small hike up the Nourlangie trail will reward you with views for miles over Kakadu, standing at the Nawurlandja lookout.
There are two main places in Kakadu NP where you can check out rock art. Burrungkuy and Ubirr. We’ve visited both and loved them equally. But if you only have time to visit one of them I recommend Burrungkuy (Nourlangie). Just so you can combine your visit to the ancient art gallery with a short hike up the trail.
You’ll find different kind of paintings here. There are some that everyone was allowed to paint. Usually of animals or object they used. But some scenes could only be painted by people with knowledge of the subject. For instance, only people with knowledge about magic could paint anything regarding sorcery. Or historical paintings that could only be made by elderly who lived to tell.
You can download a guide to rock art in Kakadu or you can hire a guide to literally walk you through all the art sites.
Nawurlandja Lookout Walk
The walk up to Nourlangie Rock’s viewpoint is easy, mildly steep and about 10 minutes from the parking lot. Part of the walk is already behind you, because you’ve probably already paused to check out all the rock art on your short walk up.
After you’ve admired the rock art you continue your short walk up the escarpment. Once there you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the entire Burrungkuy region and beyond. You get the feeling that you’re in Jurassic Park, minus the dino’s of course.
Take half a day out of your schedule to get to the sight, take the time to admire the rock art and to get to the Nawurlandja Lookout, before you leave this amazing, historical part of the park. This is definitely a top contender of the 8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids.
Seven Regions of Kakadu NP
At 20,000 square kilometres, Kakadu National Park is huge! Did you know that the park is divided into 7 sections, to make navigating through it easier?
The 7 regions of Kakadu are:
- East Alligator (Erre)
- Jim Jim/Twin Falls
- Mary River
- Burrungkuy (Nourlangie)
- South Alligator
- Yellow Water (Ngurrungurrudjba)
If you have a 4wd with a snorkel and a sense of adventure I have a top tip for you! But let start by saying that it is not for the faint of hearted and we definitely wouldn’t have done it ourselves. Furthermore, this tip only applies to the dry season.
Cahills Crossing is a causeway that crosses over to Arnhem Land. It’s located in the part of the park that’s known as East Alligator River. This untouched indigenous homeland is only open to traditional owners. And this crossing is the only road access point between Kakadu and Arnhem Land. There are two things to be aware of before you cross over to Arnhem Land:
- You need a permit
- Only do it during low tide or just before or after, when the depth is max 0.5m.
Like I said, it all begins with the right vehicle. A high clearance 4wd with a snorkel. Also check your insurance policy to find out what the maximum height of water is that you can enter. If you have a rental car, check with the rental company if you’re allowed to cross over with their car.
Help from a local
We didn’t get a permit, but we met one of the traditional owners who lives there and he told us so much about life in the park and asked us what we were up to. When we told him we wanted to go to the platform next to the river crossing to check out the crocs, he offered us a ride back and forth. We met him at low tide, when there was barely any water on the crossing and my husband and our eldest went back and forth. A cool experience and we got real lucky. Don’t know if this happens more often or if we got extremely lucky.
During the cross we watched from the platform. Crocs were everywhere, but not on the crossing itself. We also spotted two rusty, overturned cars. Because of the water levels changing and the crocs I wouldn’t advise crossing it yourself if you have little to no experience with driving through river crossings. In that case I would stick to watching the tides change from the safety of the platform.
Lots of people were standing on the side of the road, some were even fishing in the river with crocs all around them. Please be smart and stay away from the river and only view the spectacle from the platform.
Later on we did see a croc laying down on the crossing. Because the water level was changing, big barramundi were drifting over the crossing fast. He caught a big one and enjoyed his dinner.
If your kids are under 6 I would probably stick with spotting crocs while out on the Yellow River Cruise, because people at the platform kept talking about people getting caught by crocs here. FYI, the last known incident was in 2017 when a man tried to walk across and got eaten. They were really telling awful stories, that could easily scare young children. Also the fact that the crocs ripped the barramundi to pieces with quite a force, could be a bit too much for smaller children.
Last, but not least on this list of 8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids is a hike. There are lots of hikes you can do as a family. From easy to really tough. Because this is a family blog I choose a hike that is do-able for all ages. I talked about Maguk earlier when discussing the waterfalls. That is because the Maguk trail leads you to the (you guessed it) Maguk Falls.
After a 10km drive over an unsealed road with a 4wd car, you’ll get to the parking lot and nearby campground. Here you can start the hike.
This 2km return hike is relatively easy. You start by walking on a platform for about 500m. Don’t leave the platform. Not only because it’s important to have respect for nature, but because you don’t want to be surprised by a croc that slipped through against all odds and precautions of the caretakers.
But don’t let this little fact scare you away from walking the trail. The keepers and owners of the park do their best to remove crocodiles every year at the start of dry season from Maguk, but you should always exercise caution. But to be fair, that applies when entering any waterway in the Northern Territory. The occasional freshie is spotted here, but they stay away and if you leave them alone, they won’t bite. If you anger or harm them, they will lash out, but they are small and I’ve never heard about a kill involving freshwater crocs.
A safe dip in the plunge pool
After your first 500m the platform stops and you need to follow a path that is marked with arrows all along the trail. Suddenly the monsoon forest, as it is known, opens up and you end up in Makuk Gorge.
A beautiful waterfall flows into the crystal clear water of the plunge poo. It is time for a dip. Salties have never been spotted here. I do always check if there are other people swimming somewhere and when that’s the case we look around, just to be sure. If we’re the only ones, we’ll refrain from a dip. Just to be croc safe.
That’s it, the top 8 things to do in Kakadu NP with kids. I hope you enjoyed reading about one of the most beautiful national parks our family has ever visited. I cannot speak more highly about this magical, beautiful and sacred part of Northern Territory.
If you have any questions about anything I wrote or if there’s anything you want to address, please drop a line in the comment section. Your comments could be of great help to other readers.
Have you ever been to Kakadu? Are you as in love with it as my family and I are? We will definitely go back one day.
If you haven’t been. I’d like to know if Kakadu is on your family’s bucket list. What made you add it to it?
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