“When we reach the top, find somewhere to sit silently and look out at the floodplain,” Rob says to our little group as we weave (somewhat clumsily) up the rock formation that is Ubirr. We are in Kakadu National Park, in Australia’s Northern Territory. It is the largest national park in the country, larger than the nation of Isreal. A wilderness of wallabies and four-wheel drives, living side-by-side.
Ubirr is famed in Kakadu for its aboriginal rock art. Though most of the rock art is about 2000 years old, it’s said that aboriginals have painted here since 40,000 BCE. The paintings depict creation ancestors from the dream time. There are also paintings of animals from the area: long-necked turtles, goannas, wallabies, and more. The age can be differentiated by the style of the art, whether simple connecting lines or detailed paintings making reference to the animals’ musculature and inner anatomy. Three main galleries are open to the public today.
The paintings of Ubirr also voice Aboriginal creation stories from the dream time. Tall and thin mimi spirits sit on rock overhangs. Lore says that these mischievous spirits had human forms before the coming of the Aboriginal people. It’s what you choose to believe, we are told. How would the mimi spirits get to such high heights on the walls? Do you rationalize it, or just believe it? For once, I let it go. I don’t need to know, I’ll let the lore take me in.
On Ubirr’s flat top the panoramic view is forest and plains, rocky formations (including one spiritual site which controversially was used as a set for Crocodile Dundee 2), and endless blue sky. The Nardab floodplain. I try to be silent, look inward, as Rob suggested, but the heat is gnawing and the lack of shelter on this exposed rock is increasingly noticeable. This is Kakadu.
Later, at Maguk, we find solace from the heat. This is the Barramundi Gorge. It is series of connected rock pools, cool and deep.
“We’re 99 per cent sure there aren’t any crocs here,” Rob says. He is grinning widely but a hint of anxiety still yanks at me. The hour-long climb to get here was filled with heat, humidity, and constant buzzing of flies and other insects that like to crawl on your skin. The water is relief and I’ll take my chances. Anyway, crocodiles can’t climb.
At night I eat barbecued kangaroo (for the first and last time) and drink beer at the Bark Hut, which I regret at the next morning’s sunrise. It is our last day in Kakadu, today we will make our way back to Darwin. But first, off to Twin Falls and Jim Jim Falls.
The Twin Falls plunge pool and beach sit amidst steep black cliffs. White sand rings the dark water, tempting though untouchable due to the presence of saltwater crocs. We are here during the build-up, the hot and humid time between the dry and wet seasons. It hasn’t rained in months, and the falls is a trickle. In the wet season, this area is inaccessible due to high waters that claim the path.
Jim Jim Falls is vast. It is a huge plunge pool, depth unknown. Surrounded on three sides by high, sheer cliffs, with giant boulders sitting precariously on edges above. Again, the falls is a trickle. We swim across to the far wall and climb where we can, jumping into the cold water. We explore the area, spotting microbats in the cavernous spaces and overhangs. Up here, you can’t help but think of crocodiles at times, especially when traps are visible nearby. Just hope that if there are any, they are the freshwater type that will leave you be. The deep water scares me, but I look ahead and keep swimming. Kakadu is a place where is pays to not overthink, where true appreciation and bliss are in the simplest places.