A breathtaking journey through Kakadu’s wetlands
This experience is certainly one for the nature lovers. Kakadu is a World Heritage listed area renowned for its rich wildlife, largely untouched landscapes and natural beauty. Yellow Water Cruises has exclusive use of Yellow Water Billabong. It offers intimate tours that will leave a lasting impression. From dawn till dusk, the cruise takes guests on a journey of discovery winding through the distinct ecosystems of Yellow Water Billabong and tributaries of the South Alligator River.
The cruise operates year round, offering visitors a closer look at a rich variety of wildlife. The different seasons provide vastly different experiences. There’s a variety of cruises on offer ranging from 90 to 120 minutes in duration. Essentially though you can make a selection from a sunrise cruise, day-time slot or sunset cruise. Just like the light, the wildlife you’ll see will change throughout the day. Both the sunrise and sunset cruise are very popular, and advanced bookings are definitely recommended. This cruise was a treat for me and I did it solo and opted for the sunrise cruise.
Known as Ngurrungurrudjba, the billabong is located near the small settlement of Cooinda, which is around 55kms from Jabiru. Our small group were welcomed by an experienced, Indigenous guide who provided a very insightful commentary throughout the day. Before we set off to discover the wildlife however there was of course a mandatory safety brief. I’m sure I wasn’t alone as I fleetingly considered the dire consequence of falling overboard with ancient, man-eating predators! However as passengers we were assured it’s highly improbable.
As we set off, we almost immediately spot a salt water crocodile and it ends up being just the first of countless others we sight over the course of the morning. After almost being hunted to extinction, these days crocs now exist in abundance within Kakadu National Park.
Although definitely a highlight for many – based on the oohing and ahhing reactions – the tour is not actually all about crocodiles. The wildlife in general is of National Geographic calibre here. The birdlife particularly is simply amazing. In fact, one third of Australia’s bird species are represented in Kakadu, with at least 60 species found in the wetlands.
Amongst the resident birdlife, visitors may be lucky enough to see jacanas, egrets, jabiru, sea eagles, whistling ducks, magpie geese and many other native species.
Our guide has ample local knowledge and offers perceptive commentary. Guests were treated to fascinating insights as to how the Aboriginals would live and hunt using the native flora and fauna to survive along with interesting information about the life cycles of the area’s most famous wildlife, such as the crocodiles and eagles.
Our guide informs us that a buffalo has recently died and that the crocodiles have been feeding. As we approach there’s a definite reek but that’s soon forgotten as we scan from one croc to another and yet another. We count as many as 16 different salties in one small section of river and there could well and truly be more that we can’t even see.
With predators of this nature there is of course, jostling for position and some of the larger crocs make their dominance known. We watch on in amazement, coupled with a tinge of disgust, as a large crocodile rips his share from the carcass. He then tosses the rotting meat back and we see his solid throat move as he swallows. Whist it’s certainly not something for those with a weak stomach, I’m torn between my feelings of fear and absolute awe for these prehistoric creatures and it’s definitely a demonstration of the pure strength they possess.
To come within such close proximity of these mighty creatures in their natural habitat is quite awe inspiring and truly a remarkable experience. It’s certainly as close as I’d like to get to a salty in the wild and I’m thankful to be well away from the water and protected on board the boat.
As the adrenaline from the experience subsides and we head back down the river, there’s a sense of calm as people settle back in their seats, seemingly reflecting on the happenings of the morning. We enjoy the breeze from the movement of the boat and appreciate the ancient landscape. Other than the low hum of the engine and the other passengers on board all caught in their own thoughts, it really feels like I’m miles from civilisation which reminds me just how timeless a place Kakadu always seems.