257km (159 miles) E of Darwin
Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage area, is Australia's largest national park, covering a massive 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres).
Cruising the lily-clad wetlands to spot crocodiles, plunging into exquisite natural swimming holes, hiking through spear grass and cycads, fishing for prized barramundi, soaring in a light aircraft over torrential waterfalls during the Wet season, photographing thousands of birds flying over the eerie red sandstone escarpment that juts 200m (650 ft.) above the flood plain, and admiring some of Australia's most superb Aboriginal rock-art sites -- these are the activities that draw people to Kakadu. Some 275 species of birds and 75 species of reptiles inhabit the park, making it one of the richest wildlife habitats in the country.
Kakadu is an ecological jewel. But be aware that the vast distances between points of interest in the park and the sameness that infects so much Australian landscape can detract from Kakadu's appeal for some people. Wildlife here is not the breathtaking equivalent of an African game park, where herds roam the plains -- which is why even Australians get so excited when they spot a kangaroo in the wild. It is best in the late Dry, around September and October, when crocs and birds gather around shrinking water holes. Wildlife viewing is not particularly good in the Wet season, when birds disperse widely and you may not see a single croc.
The name Kakadu comes from Gagudju, the group of languages spoken by Aborigines in the northern part of the park, where they and their ancestors are believed to have lived for 50,000 years. Today, Aborigines manage the park as its owners, in conjunction with the Australian government. This is one of the few places in Australia where some Aborigines stick to a traditional lifestyle of hunting and living off the land. You won't see them, because they keep away from prying eyes, but their culture is on display at a cultural center and at rock-art sites. Kakadu and the wilds of Arnhemland to the east are the birthplace of the "X-ray" style of art for which Aboriginal artists are famous.
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