After driving 58km on the Kakadu Highway in Australia's Northern Territory, we finally pass the gate of the southern entrance of Kakadu National Park.
We reach Goymar where the office and interpretive centre are. It also has facilities like accommodation, cafe and fuel station.
At the park office, we pay A$25 (RM75) for a pass which is valid for 14 days. We still have a long way to drive as Jabiru is about 150km away.
Kakadu is Australia's largest national park at 20,000 sq km. It explains the long distance travel. Because it is so huge, Kakadu National Park is divided into seven regions. It consists of wonderful landscape of rugged escarpment, lush rainforest, floodplain and isolated water holes.
The entrance to Kakadu is through the Mary River region. Some places here are renowned for waterfalls.
For that, we take a detour to Yurmikmik, where a series of interconnected walking tracks lead to a waterfall. We have our first experience of Kakadu bush when we trek 2km to Boulder Creek Waterfalls. The town of Jabiru is where most of the facilities are located. For the next few days, this will be our base. Our plan is to discover the park region by region.
Our exploration begins with a visit to Bowali Visitor Centre just outside Jabiru. Discovering Kakadu takes us into the spiritual and cultural world of aborigine people who have inhabited Kakadu for more than 40,000 years. They believe in Dreamtime, a sacred era in which ancestral totemic spirit beings created the world.
According to legend, a great spirit in the form of a rainbow serpent created this land.
In Kakadu, there are many rock paintings that tell this story.
These rock arts painted by their ancestral forefathers made Kakadu unique for archaeological and ethnological sites listed as an Unesco World Heritage Site.
Described as a living cultural Iandscape, it is the homeland of the aborigines. Away from Jabiru, in Ubirr, we see some of these rock paintings. Located in East Alligator region, the rocky outcrop of Ubirr houses a vast collection of rock arts in several natural shelters.
These fascinating rock art can be seen along a 1km of circular walking track.
We attend a talk by a park ranger who had earlier shown us the main gallery that features many rock art paintings, mostly the many animals the Aboriginal people hunted. There are images of barramundi, catfish, mullet, goannas, long-necked turtles, pig-nosed turtles, rock ringtail possums and wallabies.
These animals were painted as a form of respect for giving life to the aborigines. In the Rainbow Serpent gallery, which is considered a sacred site, the art depicts how the rainbow serpent created the world. Other paintings depict magic and sorcery.
After looking at all the paintings, we scramble up the moderately steep rocky surface to the top of Ubirr for a view of Nardab floodplain and wilderness landscape beyond.
In Nourlangie region, there are more impressive rock arts that deal with aboriginal mythology and spirituality.
The rocky outcrop of Nourlangie has been a natural shelter for generations of aboriginal people for thousands of years.
We walk along the 1.5km walking track that winds through this rocky outcrop.
The famous painting of Namondjok and Namarrgon or the Lighting Man can be seen in this gallery. From the track, we climb to the Gunwarddehwardde Lookout, and is rewarded with sweeping views of both Kakadu's escarpment and Nourlangie Rock.
SIX SEASONS AND BIRDS
Kakadu, located in the tropic of northern Australia, has two official seasons - wet and dry. The aboriginal people beg to differ.
To them, their ancestral land of Kakadu has six seasons which they call Banggerreng, Yegge, Wurrgent, Gurrung, Gunumellang and Gudjewg.
This explains the uniqueness of their relationship with their ancestral land, which means a deep understanding about the essences of Kakadu's nature and adapting the use of the land for food, shelter and general well-being, which are fundamental to their culture.
Kakadu experiences the Yegge season in May, the transition between wet and dry season.
During this time, the traditional practice of burning bush takes place. Practised for generations, the burning regenerates a new growth of flora and, more importantly, it prevents wildfire during the dry season. While driving, we come across burning bushes. The variety of Kakadu's landform is an ideal habitat for many species of wildlife.
While driving, we run into agile wallabies, antilopine wallaroos and dingos. Birds are everywhere as Kakadu is home to 290 species of birds and one-third of Australia's birds. Even in our accommodation area, it is common to see ibis, sulphur-crested cockatoo, masked lapwing, kookaburra and blue-face honeyeater.
The best place to see birds is at the wetlands. In Mamukala Wetland in South Alligator region, we sit for hours in the observation hut watching birds. There are jacana, egret and heron. However, the highlight of our observation has to be the Jabiru stork, Australia's largest wetland bird. It looks so majestic when it stretches its 2m wings during flight. Apart from birds, Mamukala Wetland has lots of water lilies.
In Kakadu, wetlands (often referred to locally as billabong) are a prominent feature.
These wetlands are fed by two river systems, the South Alligator river and East Alligator river. These rivers were first explored by Lieutenant Phillip Parker King in 1820 who named them in the mistaken belief that the crocodiles he had encountered were alligators. Crocodiles are said to inhabit most area of water in Kakadu. But where are they? The safest way to see them is by joining a cruise. In Yellow Water Billabong, we join the sunset cruise operated by Gagudju Dreaming, an indigenous company that offers tours and accommodation in Kakadu.
We get more than what we bargain for. Apart from crocodiles, we see a variety of birds and waterfowls. We spot magpie geese, darters, whistling ducks and cormorants. Yellow Water is also popular for fishing. Even for a novice, three hours of guided fishing experience is enough to land a decent-sized barramundi. The sun is setting as the cruise ends. It is a beautiful sight. We couldn't have asked for better scenery to mark our last day in Kakadu.