Crocodiles, cane toads and the eerie calls of the Bush Curlew are all part of the adventure of a visit to Kakadu National Park, in Australia's top end.
There's also plenty of brazen Buffalo, an incredible amount of birdlife and a culture that is one of the oldest living cultures on the earth.
Accessible by a 2.5 hour drive from Darwin, Kakadu is the country's largest national park and has dual world heritage status. Its 20,000 square kilometres is known for its outstanding natural and cultural values. Kakadu is Aboriginal land and today the traditional owners work in conjunction with Parks Australia to manage it.
There are a range of highlights in the park - Ubirr, Nourlangie Rock, Jim Jim Falls, Gunlom Falls and the Yellow Water Billabong to name a few. If this is your first visit the Yellow Water cruise is a great introduction to the park and offers an insight into the wildlife, history and aboriginal heritage of the area. Operating from Cooinda, it is an integral part of all self-drive or group tour visits to the area.
Also located at Cooinda is Cooinda Lodge, a shady, well laid out village style property which sits beside the Yellow Water and Home Billabongs. Two swimming pools, a great restaurant and friendly service make this an ideal place to set yourself up for a few days of exploration.
Benjamin Brown, Cooinda Lodge's General Manager, was first lured to the area 10 years ago and worked at the resort for three seasons. He returned as the GM in December 2018.
"Being in the middle of Kakadu guests are not always expecting small touches of luxury and our newly renovated lodge rooms are a welcome surprise to many.
"A bigger surprise is how knowledgeable our cruise guides are, and how animated about the area they are, and just how breathtaking the land and its animals here are."
The Yellow Waters cruise operates up to six times a day from sunrise to sunset and if you have the time it's worth doing the cruise twice, at different times of the day. They range between 90 and 120 minutes and a discount for your second cruise is the perfect incentive to discover the different aspects of wildlife movement from morning to night.
The waterway is stunning to say the least. Giant Sacred Lilies, Paperbark trees, Pandanus palms and Mangroves line the water's edge - although it's hard to say where the water's edge is in some places. It's March and White Bellied Sea Eagles glide overhead, Cormorants and Darter birds abound, the Magpie Geese are just starting to arrive in greater numbers and Whistling Ducks are already in huge quantities. It's hard to know where to look.
About one third of Australia's bird species are represented in Kakadu, with at least 60 species found in the wetlands.
The tour provides commentary on a range of aspects and is often guided by questions from those onboard. If you are an avid bird watcher make yourself known - you might even be called upon to help spot for your fellow guests. It's said the rare Yellow Chat frequents the area and Black Bitterns have been spotted in recent times. The long legged, long necked, long beaked Jabiru is always a crowd pleaser.
There's no doubt that each cruise is a little different - the guides (up to 15 in the busy season) each have different approaches and it's evident what their favourite subjects are. The cruise also varies as the wet season rainfall recedes and the banks start to rise (May - October) - this usually means more crocodiles will be spotted and the birdlife will become more concentrated around the billabongs.
The wildlife is plentiful and varied. Listen out for the eerie call of the Bush Curlew at night. Another nocturnal visitor - this one unwanted - is the Cane Toad and you will spot these big ugly creatures gathering under night lights feeding on insects. Buffalo are another introduced species and roam the park today. They are a sight to behold but can be dangerous so should never be approached.
The huge expanse of the park is home to numerous habitats that host more than 280 species of birds, some of which reside over several different habitats in the region, but many can only be found in singular environments. You can download an app called Kakadu Birds that will help you on your journey.
If it's culture you are searching for you've also come to the right place. The Aboriginal people have called this place home for more than 60,000 years. Art, language, ceremonies, kinship and caring for country are all aspects of cultural responsibility that have passed from one generation to the next, since the Creation time.
A wonderful place to gain an understanding of this is at the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre, also at Cooinda. Aboriginal people are called Bininj in the north of the park and Mungguy in the south. Some of them live in Kakadu's towns and others live in more remote parts of the park, but they all have a deep spiritual connection to the country.
In the Kakadu area, their kinship system is very complex. All people, plants, animals, songs, dances, ceremonies and land are divided into two groups, or 'moieties': Duwa or Yirridja. Each moiety is subdivided into eight 'skin' groups. A child's skin group is determined by their mother's skin group but they inherit their moiety from their father.
In simple terms, kinship can be described as a system that defines how people relate to each other. Through the use of 'skin' names they identify the people around them as mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, potential marriage partners, and so on, and modify their behaviour accordingly. Almost every aspect of day-to-day communication with other Aboriginal people is governed by kinship ties.
Since the late 1970s Kakadu's traditional owners have leased their land to the Director of National Parks. Joint management is about Bininj/Mungguy and Parks Australia working together, solving problems, sharing decision making and exchanging knowledge, skills and information.
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