When you set off for a journey of any kind within Australia, especially to one of Australia’s most popular travel destinations, you can’t help but arrive with pre-conceived ideas of what you will see and discover while you are there. For us, Kakadu was no different. We’d heard people refer to the amazing Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory top end as Kaka-don’t which certainly had us wondering what to expect, it didn’t however deter us from visiting.
The best way to describe Kakadu is spiritual. I totally get that many people can obviously visit the place and see trees and water and think “is that it”? I pity those people. Seriously. For those who refer to Kakadu as a waste of time or a disappointment, all I can imagine is that haven’t opened their travelling hearts, minds and souls to the amazement that exists, the history that pumps through the veins of the eco system, and the reminder that we’re all so small and tiny in the scale of things and as a society we’ve seriously lost sight of the beauty that is the world in which we live.
So, if you’re wondering whether you should visit Kakadu, then YES! If you get the chance, you should, embrace it, breathe it, stop, stand still and soak in the spirit of mother earth that hugs you and tickles your cheeks while you are there. Listen to the sounds and the stories of the land, and walk the trails, read, discover, understand some of the amazing history that is Australia. Look beyond what’s just in front of you and you’ll see it for what it is…. AMAZING.
So without further adieu here are the top 5 things I learned in Kakadu:
1.Forget What You’ve Been Taught About Australian History.
Yes, I’m educated, a great Aussie education, I knew that there was an invasion of Australia, and I knew that the Aboriginal people did rock paintings. I knew what I was taught. But I didn’t know a thing. I didn’t understand that we are all part of Aboriginal culture whether we like it or not. The Aboriginal culture is about the land. We are part of the land and the land is part of us. That includes everyone, any race, any skin colour, it includes us all. There is still a culture out there fighting for all it’s might to survive the destruction of white settlement, there is still a culture out there that is trying to find it’s way, a way to share all it has to share and embrace the new “way” of doing things. There is a generation of wonderful descendants sharing the traditional way of land management within our National Parks. There is much to be learned about Australia’s history that I don’t think you full understand until you discover places such as Kakadu (and remote inland Australia) and you start to understand that there is a forgotten culture, the oldest culture in the world that is fighting just to remain.
2. Make up Your Own Mind.
As I mentioned before, we’d heard Kakadu referred to as Kaka-don’t, and as I said before I’ll say again… I pity those people. I learned that no matter what you hear about a place or destination, if you want to explore it, then do so, discover it for yourself, because everyone has different perceptions and what one person finds boring or over-rated, you may find magical.
3. Recharge your Camera Batteries.
Ok, so this probably shouldn’t be at the top of my list, but it is. You see, there’s a whole lot of walking to be done in Kakadu National Park. Lots of great look outs to experience and plenty of wildlife, rock art and history to discover. After trekking probably a couple of kilometres in all we got to the top of one of the most amazing lookouts only to turn on both the video camera and the Nikon only to find that they were both flat! I managed to flick the camera on and capture a single shot, but missed preserving some of the magic of that walk. NOTE: It can be difficult when you’re camping in a National Park Free Camp, as there’s no power supplies, but we did have an inverter in the car and I should have taken more care to be sure both batteries were full. (I didn’t learn my lesson by the way and missed taking a camera right through Cutta Cutta Caves which is maybe even more disappointing as I still got to capture most of Kakadu)!
4. Keep Your Eye out For Travel Groups/Guides.
We were travelling solo as a family, and being on a budget meant we didn’t place value on booking into official tour groups or allocating finances to paying guides to take us places. Most places are well signed especially places like Kakadu, but we learned that there’s definitely a whole lot of value in hearing stories that have been shared and learned by local tour guides. We’d been reading our information guides, and knew we’d like to walk to Ubirr, we figured the kids could probably make the climb and we’d carry the little guy for the chance to take in the views, but the walk probably wouldn’t have been as fulfilling without hearing the stories and information shared with us on the way.
This was seriously one of the luckiest things that happened to us; arriving at the same time as a few tour groups to the entrance of the walking trails. Generally I’d not choose to hang around with groups of people when I’m trying to discover a National Park, it tends to scare away wildlife and make it a bit noisy all those things, but we saw opportunity when it knocked in this case. The guide was friendly enough and let us tag along in the background, and we listened intently as he shared stories of dreamtime, rock art and a culture that’s fading so fast. Stories of lifestyle, shelters, tools, seasonal keeping of the land, of the people that still live traditionally within the park. So, keep your eye out, if you have the opportunity to tag along bahind a group, do it!
5. Children are More Capable Than we Give Them Credit For.
Our children were quite young when we visited Kakadu, 5, 3 & 1 years old. We knew that some of the walking might be a struggle, and tried to stick to climbs and treks that they would cope with. We were pleasantly suprised when they managed Kilometres of walking around Kakadu (and other destinations too!). We discovered that when surrounded by excitement, nature and the ability and permission to explore and learn, that walking wasn’t so much of a chore for them, as it was part of a fun adventure. So my advice to others is don’t avoid doing walks and treks to great destinations just because you have children, just be prepared to allow them time, pace yourselves and allow it to become the amazing adventure that it is!