Two of Kakadu’s most spectacular attractions are Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls, especially in the wet season when water roars over the 150m cliffs. At that time of the year these falls can only be viewed from air. However during the dry season the falls reduce enough for the tracks to re-open making access possible. The gorges and falls are incredibly spectacular even with the dry season flows, and the other good thing about these locations is that they are only accessible via a high clearance 4WD which is the way we like it!
We’ll start this trip at Yellow Water Billabong, Kakadu’s most famous wetland which is located at the end of Jim Jim Creek that flows into the South Alligator River. This river system, which is the largest in Kakadu, contains extensive wetlands that include river channels, floodplains and backwater swamps.
The only way to really see this area is via boat, either your own or the famous Yellow Waters Wetlands Boat cruise. There are several cruises each day, with the early morning cruise (which includes breakfast) or sunset cruise the pick of the bunch. From a boat you will see plenty of birdlife and animals as well as some very big crocodiles!
The fishing is also excellent here, with good size barramundi regularly caught when the conditions are right. The Gagudju Lodge Cooinda is great if you’re looking for a resort style accommodation or a campground with full facilities, with the national park campground at Mardugal a good option if looking for a more basic spot.
From Yellow Waters its 6km back to the main Kakadu Highway then another 6km to the turn-off to the Jim Jim Falls area. The road from Kakadu Highway to the camping area is a wide maintained gravel road that stretches for 60km. There are corrugated patches and usually plenty of dust so watch out for on-coming vehicles, particularly ones in a hurry. Not all that long ago it used to be a rough 4WD track that would take over two hours to transverse – that’s progress for you! It still is a very scenic drive however as you approach and drive along the escarpment – particularly late in the afternoon when the surrounding ranges light up brilliantly.
Once at the Jim Jim camping area (now called Garnamarr) pick out and reserve your place even if you arrive in the morning as it can get quite busy. It’s worth catching up with the campground manager who can fill you in on the road conditions and sell you shuttle boat tickets for the Twin Falls cruise (the only way to access Twin Falls – more on this later). The campground is quite good with shady areas, firepits, and amenities that include solar hot showers.
Right at the campground the road ends and the track to the falls is protected by a gate. This gate is locked at night to prevent people camping overnight nearer the falls. Once through the gate the track becomes narrow with plenty of sandy patches and some creek crossings. After 9km you come to a fork in the road with Twin Falls to the right and Jim Jim Falls to the left. We’ll continue to the left to Jim Jim Falls carpark, which is only another 1km.
The walk from the carpark to the plunge pool at the bottom of Jim Jim Falls is only 900m long but don’t underestimate it. The 400m is easy enough to the viewing pool which you get your first view down the gorge to the falls and it’s fantastic. Great spot for a photograph before tackling the more difficult second stage which involves scrambling and rock hopping over boulders. These are often slippery with sand so take extra care. We came across a gentleman who had slipped and put a large gash on his hand that would have needed a large number of stitches to repair.
The closer you get to the end of the gorge the more impressive it gets! This is one massive cliff face. The plunge pool is enclosed on three sides by vertical cliffs and is huge. Jim Jim Falls (Aboriginal name Barrkmalam) descends from the an elevation of 259m above sea level via one drop that ranges in height between 140m and 200m.
The water doesn’t see much sun so is refreshing (well pretty cold actually). A better option for a swim is the other pool back a little, that has a nice white sandy beach and is much warmer.
It is believed that 140 million years ago much of Kakadu was under a shallow sea. The prominent escarpment wall formed sea cliffs and the Arnhem Land plateau formed a flat land above the sea. Today the escarpment, which rises to 330m above the plains, extends over 500km along the eastern side of the national park and into Arnhem Land. It varies from vertical cliffs in the Jim Jim Falls area to stepped cliffs in the north.
For the more adventurous there is a walk to the top of the falls which provides panoramic views across the valley below, as well as providing views of the upper falls which cannot be seen from the valley floor. This walk is called the Barrk-Marlam and it is a difficult 6km walk starting with a very steep climb up the escarpment.
Once up the escarpment the walk is a relatively easy stroll amongst bushland. Allow 4 to 6 hours return for this walk, and walkers should wear appropriate walking attire and carry plenty of water as it can get very hot on the plateau. Hence early morning is the best time to tackle this walk. Try to make time to do this walk as the views from the top are just spectacular!
From the Jim Jim carpark it’s 1km back to the intersection then continue to the left towards Twin Falls. From here it’s 10km to the Twin Falls gorge. After 1.5km you come to the old camping area that is now a picnic area and then comes the biggest challenge on the track – the crossing of Jim Jim creek.
This concreted crossing can be quite deep especially early in the dry season with a depth around 1m, so a snorkel is highly recommended. It is also not a creek to walk as saltwater crocodiles are prevalent in the area – need to keep away from those snapping handbags! After the excitement of Jim Jim creek the track meanders through bushland before arriving at the Twin Falls carpark.
Twin Falls gorge is stunningly beautiful and now much easier to access. Back before 2004 the only way to access the gorge was by swimming several hundred metres upstream against the current, but now a shuttle boat takes you up to the walking track to the base of the falls. Tickets are required for the shuttle boat and these can be purchased from the Jim Jim campground manager or from the Bowali visitor centre in Jabiru. Don’t make the mistake of arriving at Twin Falls without tickets and missing out on viewing the gorge and waterfall.
Before the boat shuttle a net used to be placed across the creek in the dry season to prevent crocodiles heading up there and allowing people to swim. However a large crocodile was once found on the wrong side of the net and when rangers attempted to trap this crocodile it dived through sand under the net and escaped. Obviously the net wasn’t working and abandoned, with swimming now banned and the boats providing access to the falls.
From the boat drop-off point it’s a short walk with some rock-hopping to the sandy beach and spectacular twin falls waterfall. Great spot for a photograph and to take in the beautiful surrounds, but with no swimming it’s not a place to linger for too long. But there is an alternative – take the longer walk from the carpark to the top of the falls where you can swim and take in the breathtaking views into the gorge below.
Returning from Twin and Jim Jim Falls stay overnight at the campground and make sure you’re back in time to watch the surrounding hills ignite with the setting sun perhaps while relaxing with a cool beverage after a great day 4WDing and walking in one of the most spectacular places in Australia.
The Twin and Jim Jim Falls area is worthy of several days – try to allocate a day for each if you can afford the time.From the Jim Jim campground drive back to the Kakadu Highway turning right and then travel 12km to the Muirella Park turn-off on the right.
Muirella Park is a large campground adjacent a billabong which is a great place for fishing and perhaps even a decent (legal) size barramundi. There is a ramp for launching your boat, and the amenities even include solar showers. Another option is to camp at Sandy Billabong, which is 6km further on along a 4WD only track to a basic campground adjacent the billabong. This is another popular fishing place as well.
Heading back to the highway it’s another 7km to the turn-off to the Nourlangie area. This area is famous (and popular) for its Aboriginal art at Nourlangie rock which is only a short stroll on well-formed paths from the carpark. Leaving Nourlangie rock it’s worth stopping at the scenic Anbangbang billabong with the pretty billabong framed by Nourlangie rock making a great spot for lunch or a cuppa.
Back to the Kakadu highway it’s 19km to the Bowali Visitors Centre on the outskirts of Jabiru. The visitors centre is a great place to learn about Kakadu with extensive displays, videos, information sheets, friendly staff to help, and café & gallery.
The whole visitors centre is a work of art itself, with every detail of the building lovingly crafted. Jabiru is only a short drive further on, and a good place to fuel up and replenish your supplies.
From Jabiru it is 48km north on the Oenpelli Road to Ubirr, famous for its rock art and views across the floodplains. The views from the lookout across the Nardab floodplains and into Arnhem Land escarpments are spectacular, especially at sunset.
The big attractions of Kakadu such as Twin and Jim Jim Falls and the surrounding area are well worth visiting especially since you can only access them with a 4WD. Take the time to explore and experience this area as it is one of the premier and iconic locations in Australia.
This trip covers the iconic attractions of the Kakadu National Park including Jim Jim and Twin Falls, which is located in the Top End of the Northern Territory.
There are national park campgrounds at Garnamar Camp (Jim Jim Falls), Mardugal Camp (Yellow Waters), and Muirella Park (Nourlangie area) with firepits, shower & toilet facilities. Sandy Billabong has firepits with long-drop toilets.
There are commercial campgrounds at Gagudu Lodge Cooinda and Kakadu Lodge Jabiru if looking for a little more luxury, with the price tag to suit.
WHAT TO TAKE:
Limited food and drink supplies are available within the Kakadu National Park so take appropriate food and drinks for your planned stay. In particular, there are strict rules regarding alcohol purchase so stock up before entering the park. There is only limited mobile phone coverage so it is prudent to also carry a satellite phone.
SUPPLIES AND FACILITIES:
Jabiru is the major town within Kakadu and has a well stock supermarket as well as fuel and other supplies.
Cooinda Lodge has basic supplies and fuel available.
If possible stock up at one of the major centres on the outskirts of the park such as Katherine or Darwin suburbs which have all the services such as supermarkets, fuel outlets, mechanics, and even 4WD accessory suppliers.
Trip rating A through to E grade, with E meaning a 2WD could do the trip, and A requiring a lift, lockers, a winch and aggressive tyres to complete.
The main access roads are bitumen and graded gravel which are maintained regularly. Rating E.
The track to Twin Falls includes a deep crossing of Jim Jim creek and some sandy sections requiring a high clearance 4WD. Rating D.
Sandy Billabong is accessed by 4WD only. Rating D.
MAPS AND GUIDES:
HEMA Kakadu National Park
(At time of trip)
Cooinda: Diesel $1.45 Unleaded (Opal) $1.50
Jabiru: Diesel $1.53 Unleaded (Opal) $1.62
The road conditions were generally good at the time of the trip, with the main access road to Jim Jim area recently graded. The 4WD track to Jim Jim and Twin falls was also in good condition with only a few sandy areas causing concern.
RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS:
Kakadu National Park requires a parks pass that can be purchased from several outlets within the park including the Bowali Visitors Centre and Cooinda Lodge.
Budget attractions include bushwalking, photographing the magnificent scenery, fishing the rivers and billabongs, swimming and snorkeling in the spectacular gorges, or just relaxing at the campsites or within the gorges.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
The dry season (April to November) is the best time to travel, as most of the tracks are closed during the other months. Check road conditions and track openings prior to travelling.
TIME OF TRIP: May
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