Kakadu National Park - Fast Facts
Kakadu National Park (including Jabiru, Nourlangie Rock, Ubirr, Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls, Yellow Waters, the South Alligator River and Waterfall Creek Nature Park)World Heritage listed park characterised by exceptional galleries of Aboriginal art and diverse and fascinating wildlife.
The starting point for any appreciation of Kakadu National Park is to eliminate any preconceptions you may have. No matter how many photographs you may have seen and no matter how many times you have watched the two Crocodile Dundee movies nothing will adequately prepare you for the discrepancy between the image and the reality.For most Australians 'tropical' means 'exotic rainforests' and 'World Heritage' equals 'area of great beauty'.
The reality is that Kakadu, apart from a few small areas, is not tropical rainforest and that its World Heritage is based on its importance as a wetlands area not on its physical beauty. Like much of northern Australia, Kakadu is an area of flat tropical savanna woodland with a kind of grey, rather unattractive, monotony produced by a low scrubby vegetation and large tracts of undifferentiated flat terrain.
This is not, for one moment, to suggest that it shouldn't be World Heritage listed. The abundance of wildlife, particularly birdlife, which flocks into the swampy areas of the park during the dry season demonstrates how important it is to the fauna of the area. It's just not an area of great beauty.Kakadu National Park has five natural subregions.
1. The plateau is a huge, rugged sandstone formation which rises sharply to a height of 250 m from the lower lands to the north and produces some of the most spectacular scenery in the park. The dramatic escarpment extends for over 600 km and is the site of the major waterfalls and deep gorges in the park. The escarpment caves have been a natural shelter for the traditional owners of the region who have painted many of the caves with pictures of great antiquity and beauty. The plateau has been subjected to severe tropical weathering which has created honeycombing in the rock surfaces and exposed ancient rock formations.
2. The lowlands are a vast eroded plain with a few rocky outcrops which lie to the north of the escarpment.
3. The floodplain which lies to the north of the plateau is dramatic and beautiful. It receives the full force of the monsoonal rains which arrive in November and last until March and thus in the wet season is a vast expanse of water. In the dry season it is characterised by permanent billabongs. The area is famed for its waterlilies and lotus lilies which are edible.
4. Tidal flats. This area is a typical tropical wasteland where the salt water inundates the region making it suitable only for mangroves and rainforest which can thrive on sandy saline soils.
5. Southern hills and basins exist at the southern most point of the park near Fisher Creek. This is an area of woodland where the headwaters of the South Alligator River run through harsh stony country.Bounded to the north by Van Diemen Gulf and to the east and west by the Wild Man and East Alligator Rivers (the Alligator River was named by Phillip Parker King in 1820 who mistook the crocodiles in the area for alligators) Kakadu gained international publicity when it featured prominently in the two Crocodile Dundee movies.But it is the diversity of its fauna and flora rather than its brush with Paul Hogan which has really made the area important.
It is worth remembering, as you drive through Kakadu, that the park contains over 1000 plant species, a quarter of all the freshwater fish species found in Australia, and over one-third of all the bird species. Add to this the thousands of insects and the whole park is a reminder that the tropics really are the breeding ground for the whole planet.It is hard to pick the ideal time to visit Kakadu. In the wet season large areas of the park are closed to the public.
It would not be possible to enter or exit from the park via the Kakadu Highway. It would not be possible to visit Jim Jim or Twin Falls and, until the road is sealed, it would not be possible to go to Ubirr Rocks. There seems to be a consensus amongst the park's rangers that the best time to visit is at the end of the dry season when the birds are forced to congregate in the ever-diminishing wetland waterholes.
During the dry season there is still selective burning off in Kakadu which means that the idea of leaving the area as a wilderness park is being conditioned by the controls of the National Parks and Wildlife.
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