Kakadu, the roads less travelled

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Jan 16, 2011
Cairns, Australia
I was lucky to be off May bank holiday weekend, so got away camping for a couple of the nights. I thought I would head to Kakadu and explore some of the side tracks not marked on the map. There are several places within the park that you can visit that are not on the usual "tourist" maps as a means to keep visitor numbers down. I had a rough idea on the location of a few, but thought there may be more. I mostly decided on this plan of action as all the big waterfalls with the good escarpment bush walks are still closed (as it is still wet season).

I set off from Darwin about lunchtime, and wanted to drive from the south to the north of the park, so made my way down Stuart Highway and into the park from Pine Creek. I found the first place by about mid afternoon. Moline Rock Holes does have some information from Parks & Wildlife that you can find online. There is a Signpost for a side road, but no indication of whats there at all from the road. It's maybe a kilometre of fairly mild 4x4 track and a small carpark. I planned to camp here, as I was told by friends that you can. There was no signage to indicate either way at the carpark, and the document on the net didn't say either. It was actually fairly rammed when I got there, and I had passed a tour bus on its way out so I can't imagine what it was like before. I had a dip to cool off and thought I would leave the cider swilling, cliff jumping lot to it it and check out the upper falls. These are only briefly mentioned in the Parks & Wildlife document, and the track in is from a small lay-by at the side of the road. I walked in the few hundred metres to find what I can only describe as bliss!

it is a small spring fed creek, that is basically on the top of the escarpment and feeds the lower rock hole where I had just been. There are several nice pools to cool off in, and the views were just amazing. I quickly made the decision to go back and get my bag and come and have my evening meal here, but first I loaded up the roof rack with fire wood. Anyway, a picture says a thousand words, so here is a small essay on my evening on the escarpment.

On my first foray in i dropped my iPhone down a 2 to 3m waterfall into the pool below. Lucky for me, it was in a life proof case, and I managed to retrieve it from the 1.5m deep pool before that failed. There had been a tiny bit of water ingress into the case, but no damage to the phone. Certainly saved me forking out another $500 on a phone!

After my supper which consisted of a continental rice pack, dried peas, fried onion and chilli tuna I made my way back to the lower rock hole, stopping to soak up the last of the sunset from the top of the escarpment with a beer. I got back down to the lower rock hole, and no-one was there. I set up camp next to the fire pit, set my fire and watched bush TV for a bit. I went to bed pretty early as it started to rain. I was up with the sunrise, packed up the swag and went down to the rock hole for a morning dip. It was great having the place all to myself.

Afterward I restarted the fire and cooked up my porridge and coffee. I also had to sharpen my knife, as I had stupidly been making feather sticks on the concrete bench to start the fire and slipped, putting a nice ding in the blade. I was packing up the last of my things from breakfast when the first people arrived for the day, and indeed another tour bus pulled up as I left.

Almost the next side track I pulled into was reassuring for a positive result as about 50m in there was a bright yellow 4WD only sign. This track went on for a few km and then split in two, the left going to a day use area, and the right to a camping area which requires a permit. I had found Ferny Gulley. The day use area has signs saying it is freshwater croc habitat but free from salties. There is a nice shaded creek and some small cascades going down to a large pool. The pool at the bottom did not fill me with confidence on the croc front, so I stuck with cooling myself down in the small creek.

I went back to check out what the campsite was like, and it had 3 cars and tents set up, but looks a great spot which I will definitely try and book for later in the season.

One of the next tracks led me to Old Goodparla, which is an abandoned homestead and old air strip. My Hema map said there were meant to be a few other tracks out from the old homestead site, but there was a thick wall of spear grass about 2m high all around it, and no tracks to be found.

From here up the highway there were numerous tracks which either didn't go anywhere, or had signs 100m or so in telling me access was prohibited. The only other positive find I had was the entrance point to the Graveside Gorge track. I had known about this one, and it marked on my more detailed Hema map. It is still currently closed for the wet season, and is entry by permit only. Again, one that is definitely on the bucket list!

Further north again, I took a back track into Jim Jim Billabong, crossing a couple of fords that in hind sight might not have been a good idea. Croc central, and if I got stuck I would have been putting myself at real risk during the recovery. Fortunately i made it through collecting a bunch of reeds under the car and blowing the aircon fuse! I wish that I had the camera rolling, they were good fun with water rolling over the bonnet on the deepest of the 3. When I got to the actual Jim Jim billabong entrance, I found signage saying the area was closed due to flooding, so did't explore much further.

i was pretty shattered by now, and didn't really have the enthusiasm to be searching any more side trails. I pitched camp at Burdulba, sharing the entire site with one other tent at the opposite corner. The campsite is beautiful, with ample tree's for shade. I pitched the wag with a tarp over the top to allow me to leave the sides up if it rained and rain it did! It tipped it down, but only for about 20 mins. When the rain stopped I made the fire up (luckily I had stashed all the wood I had split in a dry spot before it rained) and I cooked my dinner (pretty much the same again, but this time with salmon). During all this the mosquitos began to come out, and as the sun descended the hordes only intensified! It was the worst I have seen it, and eventually I could bear it no longer and had to retire. Unfortunately I left a 1 inch gap in the zips and woke two hours later to the hoard sharing the inside of the swag with me. After a 30 minute clapping frenzy I had decimated the majority of them, leaving my hands covered in what is likely my own blood.

The following morning I packed up pretty sharpish and left the mosquito's behind. In hindsight, I should have know that a campsite by a billabong at the end of the wet was a recipe for an impromptu blood donation, but the lesson is well and truly learned. I had my brekkie at the side of the road (say from any water sources) and made my way back to Darwin just waiting for the itch to kick in.

All in all, it was a great trip and I've found a good number of sites to which I will most definitely return (including the only two year round swimming spots in the park). I look forward to the next trip, in the dry season, without mosquitos!

Cheers for reading.

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