National Treasures - Kakadu turns 40

Publish Date:
9th March 2019

Excerpt from Lee Atkinson's story "National Treasures" published in the Weekend Australian March 9th, 2019

...Forty years later, despite the sealed roads, airconditioned hotels and licensed restaurants, Kakadu remains a wild at heart place where more than 10,000 saltwater crocodiles cruise the waterways, hiking trails lead to bird-filled billabongs and deserted swimming holes where freshwater turtles nibble your toes, and dazzling rock art galleries remind you this is home to the oldest living culture in the world. Beyond the tourist hubs of Cooinda and Jabiru are dozens of remote campgrounds, and you never know what kind of adventure is lurking at the end of a bumpy track.

Although access to Kakadu is open all year via sealed roads, getting around can be impossible in the summer months when floods swamp trails and campgrounds. But there is still plenty to see and do at this time of year, known as the green season. Take a breathtaking doors-off helicopter flight over the thundering waterfalls that run only after rain. Cruise the lily-covered floodplains of Yellow Water billabong and into beautiful backwaters that are grasslands in the dry. Linger as long as you like at the vibrant depictions of creation ancestors at the extraordinary Nourlangie rock art galleries without distracting chatter from tour groups.

And there are other advantages such as half-price rooms, one-on-one free basket- weaving workshops at the cultural centre and the wonderful sight of woodlands trans- formed into gardens with scarlet grevilleas and other wildflowers in bloom. The spectre of rain and road closures, however, keeps the backpackers, grey nomads and tourist buses away.

All that could be about to change though, with announcements earlier this year from both sides of politics pledging more than $210 million in funding for Kakadu. If all goes to plan, it will revitalise Australia’s largest national park no matter who wins the federal election.

Rick Allert, head of Kakadu tourism says he welcomes the recognition that significant upgrades to roads and infrastructure are needed “to ensure Kakadu becomes more of an all-year destination”. He also sees much to be gained from developing the town of Jabiru, population 1100, which was originally built to house mine workers. High on his list would be a makeover for Jabiru airport and starting direct flights from Darwin. “This would encourage more time- poor, higher-yielding visitors to come to the region. We are beginning to see more Asian visitors experience Kakadu, and to tap into this market, good access is crucial,” he says.

A masterplan for Jabiru released in the middle of last year by the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the traditional owners, includes a crocodile-free artificial lake for year-round swimming, a five-star luxury lodge with day spa, yoga studio and high-end dining options, glamping, a World Heritage Interpretive Centre, community centre, education precinct, medical centre and mobile phone connectivity....

Full story at The Australian