Getting up early for the sunrise Yellow Water boat cruise wasn’t too difficult as it’s usually too hot to sleep in past 6am anyway, so we pulled in to the billabong area at 6.30 as the sun was rising through the gum trees and making the mist over the water turn gold, which was a lovely sight.
Two boats departed in different directions, and we headed downstream with our very helpful guide talking about the history of the area, the changing of the seasons, and pointing out the incredibly varied amount of wildlife that was in and around the water. The saltwater crocodiles were impressive in size and numbers – every where you looked there was a head or tall in the water, a few on the banks, little baby sized ones in the shallows… It got to the point where our guide was getting a little frustrated with everyone diverting their attention to the crocodiles every 2 minutes rather than keeping watch on the many different birds that we spotted. The magpie geese were everywhere at this time of the morning – huge flocks of them hanging around the reeds and when one took flight the whole lot of them erupted in to the sky, an awesome sight!
We saw a number of pairs of sea eagles, Australia’s second biggest eagle to the wedgie, who mate for life – easy to spot since they are so pristinely white and huge animals. There were plovers and christ birds running across the lillypads and a beautiful female jabiru (females have yellow eyes, males have black), which was huge, and the metallic green feathers were beautiful… A highlight was definitely seeing all 5 varieties of kingfisher present in Kakadu: the woodland kingfisher, the azure kingfisher, the little kingfisher, the sacred kingfisher, and the blue winged kookaburra earlier in the morning. The azure kingfisher was incredible with its bright orange and blue plumage and the little kingfisher was tiny and so hard to spot, but we saw a couple of them thanks to the keen eyes of our guide.
There were brumbies and wild cattle across the floodplains in the distance and a golden tree snake curled up in the branches of one of the trees by the riverbank. And even more crocs. Totally understand how the boat cruise is such a popular activity in Kakadu, it was really informative and great to see so many birds and animals up close and in the cool morning they were full of activity. It finished up around 8.30am and we also got a buffet breakfast from Cooinda Lodge included in the cruise, which we obviously took full advantage of, and had another swim to cool off.
Then off to explore more of the southern area of the park, which was more 4WD orientated but we gave it a go anyway. We’d been told the road to Gunlom swimming hole and waterfall was the only section that was really doable in a 2WD, so we opted for that. Let’s just say that it was the roughest stretch of road we’ve been on in the Renault so far, and probably will be the most we push it on two wheels ever again! The road was terribly rough and corrugated and then bumpy and rocky with dry crossings that only just passed our very low clearance, and sometimes didn’t really but we just winced through the scrapes and took it very very slowly. A van and a bigger 4WD were behind us and they were both taking it very slow too. And the red dust was back – hooray! We finally pulled in to Gunlom and walked down to the water to discover from tacked up signs around the walking tracks that swimming was prohibited as a saltwater crocodile had been spotted a week ago in the bottom of the falls, and it was way too hot in the middle of the day to warrant the 2km climb up to the top of the falls, so we sat in the shade by the water and chatted to some backpackers who bravely (foolishly?!) went in up to their knees to cool off. We kept a lookout but nobody got eaten, so all was well.
We all wondered how keen the saltwater crocs must have been to walk and swim all the way upstream from the lower section of the river up in the northern end of the park to get all the way to Gunlom. Scary stuff. When we’d had some food we got back on the sketchy road back to the highway, past a group of brumbies and foals which was lovely, and drove back up to Mardagul to camp for the night. And of course dropped in to Coonida next door for a beer/Canadian club and a swim. Awesome day.