Kakadu National Park by Campervan

I picked up the campervan that I was relocating from Darwin to Cairns for $1 a day from Imoova. On the way, I stopped in Kakadu National Park to explore the rock art, Yellow Water Billabong filled with crocs, and hiked to a natural pool.

Days 415-416

It was time to leave Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. I had reserved a campervan on Imoova, which rents vehicles for $1 a day. They do this because the car companies need to get the vehicle back to a specific city. It’s a win-win because they get the vehicle to where they need it, and I get a ride and a place to sleep (most of the vehicles are campervans). The only problem is that you don’t get a lot of time to get from point A to point B. 

In my case, I found a two-person campervan, so it was basically a taller mini-van. I felt comfortable driving it, and it had a bed in the back, so I only had to pay for RV parks or find a place to do free camping. In the deal that I found, the company was also offering $250 in fuel reimbursement. This was the perfect way for me to continue my trip around Australia.

I had to take the campervan from Darwin to Cairns in five days. I paid an extra $40 to keep the vehicle an additional day (the max allowed). I couldn’t pick it up until noon, and I had to drop it off in Cairns by 3:00 pm six days later. 

I left my hotel, looking like a mad-woman from the things I had collected, like food. I knew I would need my cooler later, and I wanted to take advantage of being able to cook inside the campervan, so I had some food items. I loaded all my crap into an Uber to take me to the car rental place. 

When I arrived, it took almost an hour to go over all the paperwork and for the girl to show me how to operate it. The girl convinced me to pay an extra fee for insurance if something happened (like a rock hitting my windshield). Considering all of the issues that I had with my car in Australia, I decided the insurance was worth the cost. 

The small fridge battery in the back would last up to two days, but then I needed to plug it in at a campsite. The girl explained that I likely wouldn’t need to replace the water because it was just me, and I’d only use it for the sink. 

View from side door
View from the back

The campervan had a very tiny front end, and it was much taller than I was used to driving. I put my stuff in the back and had a hard time pulling the vehicle out of the tiny parking space. It was so close to the fence and other vehicles, and I was afraid of hitting something. I asked the girl working there to help me, and she pulled it out so fast, I almost closed my eyes, thinking she was about to hit something. She was successful, and I took off. 

Leaving Darwin

I was still used to driving on the left, thank goodness. I went to a grocery store and got some food items. Then I was off. It was already around 3:00 pm, not giving me much time before it got dark. 

When I met up with my friend Andy earlier, he gave me lots of tips on what to see and do in the region because he had already explored it. I wanted to make it to Jabiru in Kakadu National Park. The campervan was fun to drive! I bounced around on the smallest of bumps, but it felt good to have a vehicle again. As I’ve mentioned before, cars feel like freedom to me. I was happy that I could go wherever I wanted. 

I made it to Ubirr Rock Art and found a parking spot. The sun was starting to set, but I was determined to see it before I had to set up camp. I followed a walking path through the trees, and a few people were leaving. 

I arrived at different rock art murals that were created by Aboriginal people. I had a hard time making out what each piece was, but signs helped me understand what it meant. One sign explained that they painted pictures of crocodiles as a warning to others. 

One of the signs read, “During the creation time, when the First People created the landscape and all it contains, Garranga’rreli visited this place as the Rainbow Serpent. She painted her image on this rock to remind people of her visit.” It goes on to explain, “When girls and young women are told about Carranga’rreli they learn about puberty and how to begin life as an adult.”

I followed the path and started climbing up a massive rock section. As I got closer to the top, I noticed a lot of people there watching the sunset. I felt much better knowing other people were around. 

The views were incredible! I could see 360° as far as the eye could see. On the backside of the rock, there was a thick, bushy forest. To the side were more rocks. And to the front, the sun illuminated a flat, green field. There was a pool of water, like a marsh, reflecting the sun. The grass was a vibrant green, showing signs of life in an otherwise desert. 

I wandered around the rocks, enjoying different views. I was so thrilled that I made it in time for the sunset. I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked inspecting the rock art, but I was grateful for what I got. 

Once the sun was gone, I walked back to my campervan and drove to Jabiru’s nearest RV park. By the time I got there, it was dark and almost 7:00 pm, when most park lobbies close. The first park was completely full. The second park had a spot left but no power hookups. I took what I could get and was thankful that there were showers available. 

The back of the campervan had a table with two benches that turned into a bed. I decided to keep it as a bed because I didn’t feel like switching it each day. I made some dinner, got some writing done, and went to bed. 

Exploring Kakadu

The next day, I got up at 8:00 am and ate some breakfast. I put my swimsuit on under my clothes because I wanted to hike to a natural pool and go swimming. On my way out of Jabiru, I stopped to get gas, and it cost $75! I had only driven 155 miles (249 kilometers) from Darwin. My Subaru Outback got much better gas mileage. 

I stopped at the visitor center and found out that the cruise I wanted to go on would leave at 11:30 am. I booked it over the phone, which cost $70. The woman at the center said that I’d be driving through Kakadu National Park, so I had to pay another $40. 

I arrived at the Yellow Water Billabong (which I was told is not a river, even though it looks like one). I hopped on the bus that took us to the riverboat. 

We cruised along the billabong in a single-level boat while the tour guide talked over the loudspeaker. There were about 30-40 people on the boat, and he warned us not to put our arms on the railing because a crocodile might jump up and attack. It could grab a human by the head and pull them under the water. 

Ruben, the tour guide, was tall, had black curly hair, was 49 years old with some grey hair (but looked ten years younger). He had a thick Australian accent and was half Aboriginal and half English. Ruben was charismatic but had a salty personality, like many Australians in the outback. 

Ruben told us that there are 100,000 saltwater crocodiles (salties) and 40,000 freshwater crocodiles (freshies) in the Northern Territory. Saltwater crocs are aggressive and will hunt their prey, sometimes for days. 

As we pulled away from the shore, Ruben explained that the parking lot is underwater every year from October until April because of the massive flooding during the rainy season. His tour company never closes, but during that time, they move the starting location around. They’ve had to evacuate the area twice because the flooding got so bad. 

We cruised the water, looking for crocodiles. When Ruben saw one, he’d pull the boat near to them so we could get a closer view. Many were lounging on the banks. The crocs can stay completely underwater for four hours. They have to eat on top of the water, though. Salties can live in both freshwater and saltwater. They need to be between 30- 33 °C (86-91 °F) to digest their food. To avoid overheating, they will keep their mouth wide open, even when sleeping, which cools their brain. 

Ruben stopped the boat when he saw a large female crocodile swimming near the bank and trees. Then we saw a smaller, younger crocodile starting to swim towards her. Ruben told us to watch because they are very territorial. Sure enough, we were treated to a show when the female started lunging and chasing the smaller crocodile away.

We continued on our tour around the water while Ruben told us more about the surrounding animals. We passed some birds on the water’s edge. We even saw a Great-Billed Heron, which Ruben said was rare. One of the birds is called a Jesus Bird because it looks like it’s walking on water. The crocs can’t digest hair and feathers, so they’ll cough it up like a furball. 

We stopped at a section that had floating lotus lilies everywhere! They were beautiful, and I couldn’t believe how many there were. The green lily pads floated on top of the water while the pink flowers with a yellow center popped up from the pads. Ruben told us that Australia got the lotus lily from trading with Asia. There is a bird that uses the lilypad for nesting. The female is larger than the male, and she lays her eggs inside the lilypad and takes off. The male will sit on the eggs, incubating them for two months. 

Ruben was opinionated. He told everyone that we’re putting concrete over our wetlands, which are like the lungs of the planet. He said, “You’re putting concrete in your lungs. Stop bloody muckin’ it up!”

Ruben also advised us not to kill an animal in front of the wrong person. Being half Aboriginal, Ruben has no problem killing an animal for food. He said that if he killed that animal in front of a Gold Coast person, they’d say, “Who do you think you are?” If he did it in front of a Queenslander, they wouldn’t care. 

Ruben also pointed out that states now require a fishing license to do any fishing. He said, “Oh my. I’ve never had a license for a tiny fishing boat. You’re all getting ripped off.” He described the land as being of the people and how it’s insane that it’s licensed now in states outside of the Northern Territory. 

Being half Aboriginal and half English, Ruben said he gets the best of both worlds. Ruben explained that “his family” lives everywhere because they’ve been around for 65,000 years. He said that 70% of Australians have never interacted with an Aboriginal person before, but now we all had.

Ruben said, “The English taught us how to run a business. They taught us how to create tourism in this park. Now we’re multimillionaires. If you would have welcomed us in the 1700s, we’d be billionaires. But thank you for teaching us business. Now that we have our land back and we’re welcome…thank you. We’re going forward now, we’re not looking back.” Ruben was a huge proponent for working with tribes to teach them how to use their money, so they don’t just waste it on alcohol. 

Majuk Gorge

Once the tour was finished, I ate lunch at the restaurant on-site and met a guy who worked there who was from Lawrence, Kansas, USA. Once I was finished, I drove to Majuk Gorge. 

The last ten miles were unpaved and extremely corrugated. I worried about my campervan making it through the sandy areas, but I was determined to see the gorge. There were a few sections where I had to go extremely slow over large rocks in a dried riverbed. 

See the termite mounds?

I made it to the parking lot at 3:15 pm and started walking down the trail. A couple warned me that they had seen a snake on the trail. I was nervous and kept my eyes peeled. Then, I passed signs warning of crocodiles in the area. 

The trail got a little tricky, going over rocks near a river. I made it to the gorge after 20 minutes. A few people were swimming in the water and said there weren’t crocs in that natural pool. Another path took people to the top of the gorge, where a smaller pool was located. I had difficulty finding the actual path because of the thick brush, so I just skipped that part.

I got into the water, and it was cold, which felt good. I missed my group from the Kimberley region tour. I realized that I would not have done all that extreme hiking or swimming in the pools if I were alone. I missed their company too. 

I was nervous swimming in the pool, knowing there were snakes and possibly crocs nearby. After about five to ten minutes, I got out and rested on a rock. 

There was a family of four with kids in their late teens. The guy climbed some rocks near us and jumped off into the pool. There was another family with two young kids. They were from Melbourne. The husband worked in construction. The family had been on the road traveling around Australia for two months. The man told me that their funds were running low, so they were looking for work along the way. 

The man had received two calls about work, but they were each only for two weeks and in very remote places, so he turned them down. He recently noticed a “possible remote work” in Tennant Creek, so they were headed to check that out next. 

Creepy cave

I felt drained, and my heart was beating extremely slowly. I know I have a slow heartbeat (often in the 40-50s), but it makes me tired when it gets too slow and skips. I took some time by myself, sitting on a rock, and saying some prayers. 

I hiked back to my campervan and drove down the gravel road to the main highway. As the sun was setting, the mountains appeared, which were beautiful. 

I didn’t arrive at a campervan park in Pine Creek until 7:00 pm. I was able to get a powered spot and plugged in my van. I ate some leftovers and then fell asleep. I was exhausted. At 9:00 pm, I woke up and took a shower. Then I was back in bed before 10:00 pm. 

I enjoyed being in the campervan because I didn’t need to carry my luggage around. I kept my suitcase on the bed and used the other half to sleep. I was too lazy to keep moving it around. I didn’t know why I was so exhausted, but I hoped to get some rest. I still had 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) until Cairns. 

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5 Responses

  1. I can’t believe you went on that hike in spite of the croc warning!! But your t-shirt did say “adventure” so I guess you’re either all in, or not at all. As I was reading, I was afraid you were going to describe a croc eating someone… hahaha!

  2. The camper van seems like a very cool way to travel. And I like the $250 gas reimbursement. The pictures are lovely. I like the one with all your luggage. You look so young and carefree–like a girl going off to church camp. Ha!

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Throughout her wild 3-week journey backpacking 220+ miles in the California Sierra Mountains, Christy encountered freezing temperatures, pelting hail storms, and losing her way, but found trail family, incredible views, and experiences that would change her life forever. Hiking up and over ten different mountain passes gave Christy a lot of time to think about why her nine-year marriage was falling apart, gave her the chance to truly embody her individualism, time to make new friends, and the strength she would need on and off the trail. Her life could never again be the same.
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