Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Kakadu & Australia's Northern Territories

A spectacular Kakadu sunset!

There is little doubt that Kakadu National Park and Australia's Top End are some of the world's best wildlife-viewing destinations on the planet.  I spent two weeks about a decade back traveling the region both on my own and with a group following the program below (one which I personally designed with La Selva Expeditions).

Seeing the amazing wildlife and scenery of this region as well as Arnhemland is one of my traveling highpoints.  Take a look at the below itinerary that basically outlines my travels as well as the images that follow to get a sample of this amazing expedition.


  Be sure to visit our Photo Galleries for more spectacular images of our travels! (Pbase Galleries)



DAY 1: KEEP RIVER NATIONAL & BUNGLE BUNGLES NATIONAL PARKS: At first light we take a flight by light aircraft over Lake Argyle, the Bungle Bungles and the Argyle Diamond Mine. On return to Kununurra we make our way to Lake Kununurra to begin a spectacular 55-Km cruise along the Ord River to Lake Argyle. We will cruise through the sheer sided canyon walls and witness the prolific birdlife, fresh water crocodiles, and flying foxes. After the cruise we board our 4WD vehicles and journey on to tonight's camp at Keep River National Park. From the campsite this evening we'll be on the lookout for short-eared rock wallabies, white-quilled pigeons and sandstone shrike-thrushes, all known to inhabit this area.

DAY 2: KEEP RIVER AND GREGORY NATIONAL PARKS: This morning we go on foot and explore some of the unique aboriginal art sites of this area. Keep River National Park falls within the tribal area of the Mirriwung and Gadjerong peoples. Our bushwalk will take is through the Keep River gorge which extends for some 4 kilometers. The floor of the gorge provides quite pleasant walking conditions and Aboriginal Rock Paintings are scattered along the gorge walls. From Keep River we make our way to another recently declared national park of the Northern Territory, Gregory National Park. Our camp tonight is at Limestone Gorge. We'll have a chance for a refreshing swim in the nearby Limestone Creek as a sumptuous meal from the camp ovens is prepared.

DAY 3: GREGORY NATIONAL PARK & MANYALLALUK: This morning we visit a nearby "frozen waterfall" which is in fact a calcite flow, formed over may years by calcium carbonate enriched water flowing over the vegetation and river rocks. In the dry season the white calcium carbonate gives the impression of a cascading waterfall. This site is best photographed in the morning light. From Gregory national Park we rejoin the Victoria Highway and make our way to the township of Katherine, then on to our camp for the next two nights at Manyallaluk, "The Dreaming Place".

DAY 4: MANYALLALUK: Manyallaluk is an aboriginal community bordered by Arnhemland, Nitmiluk and Kakadu National Parks. Here we meet some of the traditional owners of this area who will accompany us, affording a special opportunity to learn about and experience aboriginal culture. We spend the morning discovering the hidden wealth of traditional bush tucker and bush medicines. Perhaps a chance for a refreshing swim in a spring fed rock pool. In the afternoon, time to mix with the local people as they demonstrate their skills in craftwork, collection of materials, woven baskets and mats and bark painting. A chance also to try your hand at spear throwing, didgeridoo playing or traditional fire making. We return to camp in the late afternoon.

DAY 5: NITMILUK NATIONAL PARK: This morning we continue to Nitmiluk National Park where we enjoy a cruise on the majestic Katherine Gorge. As you cruise along the gorge the boat guide may show you ancient aboriginal paintings high on the spectacular, sheer sided canyon walls, as well as the extensive plant and wildlife of this region. After leaving Katherine we head north to the historical gold mining town of Pine Creek. We'll stop for lunch at one of the pretty waterways en-route. A tour around the township reveals interesting aspects of life on the North Australian gold fields a century ago. We then continue on to Kakadu National Park over the ranges to Koolpin Gorge where we will camp for two nights at the foot of the escarpment.

DAY 6: KOOLPIN GORGE: Koolpin Gorge is an area of very limited access and is still in a pristine, wilderness state. The creek flows down several hundred feet through a series of waterfalls and spectacular pools often called the Giant's Staircase. You'll have the entire day to explore this area, photograph its grandeur, swim in the crystal clear pools or just relax on he sandy banks of the creek. Perhaps a chance to see some of the rare nocturnal wildlife about the camp this evening.

DAY 7: GUNLOM FALLS & BARRAMUNDI GORGE: After breaking camp this morning, we continue to the spectacular Gunlom falls. Gunlom falls was made famous in the movie Crocodile Dundee as Echo Pool. Here we have the opportunity to hike to the top of the waterfalls and explore the beautiful rock pools as well as take in the spectacular views of the Arnhem Escarpment. From Gunlom Falls we travel north to Barramundi Gorge, one of the pretty waterfalls along the Arnhem Escarpment. It's a leisurely walk through the rainforest to this most spectacular waterway. Here we have the chance to swim and generally explore the area. From barramundi Gorge it's only a short drive to Mardukul where we camp for the night.

DAY 8: BILBILKMI (GRAVESIDE GORGE): Today we venture into remote parts of the park where the 4WD vehicle is put to work as we begin our journey to the little visited Bilbilkmi (also known as Graveside Gorge). We'll set up camp by the banks of the stunningly beautiful Graveside creek then spend the afternoon exploring the nearby area with the opportunity for a refreshing swim in one of the many crystal clear waterholes upstream.

A mixed flock of Magpie Geese, Darters, Little Black Cormorants, Pied Herons and a giant Jabiru Stork.


DAY 9: BILBILKMI: After a hearty breakfast from the campfire we begin our journey on foot to visit the gorge and cascades of the country called Bilbilkmi by the aboriginal people. This is a very remote and pristine area and much of our walking is "cross-country" We'll spend all day exploring, swimming with plenty of opportunity for bird watching, photography or simply relaxing in this peaceful wilderness area. We return to our camp in the late afternoon.

DAY 10: KAKADU NATIONAL PARK: After a leisurely start to the day we begin our journey back to our base camp at Mardukul. Along the way we often see wild horse and possibly the less common antelopine wallaroo. We arrive at Cooinda in time for a short refreshment stop before boarding our special privately guided cruise on the world-renowned Yellow Water wetlands. Here we have a chance to see the myriad birdlife and of course, the awesome saltwater crocodile at home in these magnificent waters.

DAY 11: KAKADU NATIONAL PARK & ARNHEMLAND: This morning we break camp for the last time. We continue our journey north and visit the incredible aboriginal rock art sites of Nourlangie Rock and then to Ubirr (Obiri Rock ) to view the rock art spanning 23,000 years of seasonal occupation. The view from the top of the rock is magnificent. From Ubirr we leave the world Heritage Listed Kakadu National Park and cross into Arnhemland. After exploring the East Alligator river we have a drive of approximately 2 hours through this isolated country to Umorrduk Safari camp.

DAY 12: ARNHEMLAND: Umorrduk Safaris was established in 1989 by Brian Rooke and his wife Phyllis Williams. Brian is of Bass Strait Islands Aboriginal descent while Phyllis is the daughter of an Arnhem Land tribal elder. They have an exclusive license to conduct tours on the family traditional land, an area of some 250,000 acres of wilderness. At Umorrduk there is a special feeling of place, the land, the history and mythology of an ancient culture dating back 65,000 years. You will be guided through ancient fascinating rock art galleries with interpretation by experienced Umorrduk guides. This area contains some of the most prolific and colorful rock paintings found anywhere in the world. At the end of the day we return to the camp for a sumptuous meal from the campfire and a night under canvas in the true wilderness.

DAY 13: ARNHEMLAND: Today you will have the opportunity to explore more rock art sites, visit billabong country for bird and wildlife or 4WD to the coast for some mudcrab and fish spearing. Here you will also have the chance to walk the remote beach, go hiking, bushwalking or just relax. You will return to the camp in the early evening for a camp cooked meal and perhaps a rest around the campfire.

DAY 14: ARNHEMLAND & DARWIN: Awaken this morning to sounds of the Australian bush. Alas we are at journeys end. Our travels from Kununurra have taken us through a wide variety of terrain, we have witnessed a number of different cultures and seen much of the Top End's unique flora and fauna. After freshening up and enjoying a sumptuous breakfast we journey to Mudgeegerdardt airstrip for a light aircraft transfer to Darwin, arriving in time to join your flight to home.


Be sure to visit our Photo Galleries for more spectacular images of our travels! (Pbase Galleries)


Here are a few images from this amazing region in Australia!




Kakadu National Park is absolutely one of the most impressive wildlife hotspots anywhere.  I had the priviledge of spending the better part of a week here in 1997.



While on a Yellow River wildlife safari, we enjoyed watching this little "Freshy" (Fresh Water Croc) hunt this unsuspecting Black Bittern.  He didn't get it but it was a fun hunt to observe!



Usually all is see is sign of these elusive critters.  But on two occasions in the Top End, we came across Ferral Hogs.  They are very destructive to the local environment.  Introduced species are fairly common here, with pigs and Water Buffalo being two of the largest.



Another small "Freshy" on the hunt.



While Agile Wallabies are definitely the most common species seen in Kakadu, Common Wallaroos like this one are also easily seen in the grasslands of the region.



The wetlands of Kakadu are filled with beautiful water lilies and Lotus.



Another spectacular Yellow River sunrise!



Although we were not allowed to photograph anything we saw in Arnhem Land, we did see spectacular examples of aboriginal rock art in Kakadu.  These date back thousands of years.



Wild lotus in one of Kakadu's wetlands.



The great expanse of gum brushland.  This fire-adapted scrubland is very biodiverse.



These massive termite mounds were common.  This one easily exceeds two meters!



The birding was excellent on the Top End.  We saw virtually every species of Kingfisher.  This Azure Kingfisher was seen hunting in the reeds of one of Kakadu's wetlands.



A Striated Heron looking for a meal along the banks of the Yellow River.



A Magpie Goose wading in a wetland near Darwin.



The ubiguitous Great Heron!  I have seen them on every continent except Antarctica!  Maybe with global warming...



We saw many species of Monitor Lizards while in the Land of Oz.  This Yellow-spotted Monitor was seen along the road in Kakadu.

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