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About Kakadu National Park
Kakadu is a place like no other on earth...
World Heritage listed for both its spectacular environment and cultural values. Its natural environment has remained relatively undisturbed for tens of thousands of years and contains a large array of unique, rare and exceptionally beautiful features seen through its diversity of environments such as ancient high rocky plateaus, tidal crocodile inhabited wetlands and eucalypt woodlands, this along with its high rate of biodiversity (home to almost one-fifth of Australia’s mammal species), creating a place which is unmatched for natural beauty and significance.
Aboriginal rock art of the Bininnj/Mungguy artists gives one of the longest historical records of any one group of people in the world with over 5000 know art sites, some dated as old as 20,000 years. Kakadu also plays hosts to a wide range of recreational activities such as world class fishing, wildlife viewing and camping and bush walking to name a few (weather and season permitting). Kakadu’s international cultural and environmental significance and attractions make Kakadu a must visit location.
During the course students will stay at the following camp locations:
Gunlom is located along South Alligator River, the only large tropical river system in the world to be entirely protected within a national park and a World Heritage Area. This has lead to the surrounding natural river system and environment to remain relatively undisturbed, with the wetlands providing home to thousands of migrating birds and lovely water scenery such as waterfalls and pools (dependent on seasonal rainfall).
The South Alligator River is inhabited by Saltwater Crocodiles so caution is necessary. Gunlom Plunge Pool is seasonally available as a swimming hole for those of strong swimming capability and is frequently monitored by park management for possible crocodiles and flooding, however swimming remains at own risk. However the pool is still worth a visit to check out its waterfall and the amazing views of southern Kakadu.
Maguk (Barramundi Gorge)
A popular camping site, the local area is great for short walks through monsoon rainforest habitat that is home to a wide range of species. The area also plays host to amazing waterfalls in the wet season and sparkling waterholes in the dry season, offering attractions all year round for visitors. Saltwater Crocodiles have been spotted in the area so crocodile safety should be observed.
Located in the Northern half of the park in the Yellow Water region, Mardugal campground offers great access to Yellow Waters, Nourlangie and the Warradijan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. It is also a good place to start the day trip into the world renowned Twin and Jim Jim Falls.
Also, as shown in this picture, there are numerous Dingoes hanging around the park, giving students a great opportunity to see these amazing animals in their natural environment.
Geology, Landscapes and Habitats
Kakadu is home to a huge variety of landscapes that change dramatically from East to West and North to South. This creates a number of unique ecosystems that have their own flora, fauna and geology- making Kakadu the ideal location for anyone wanting to learn more about the rugged and beautiful Top End of Australia.
Below are just a few of the ecosystems that students on the course will learn about:
After the wet season a blanket of freshwater spreads over the Floodplains and fills the Billabongs. This breathes fresh new life into the wetland region, with endemic and migratory birds flocking to the area, Barramundi and other fish gorging themselves on the abundant food supply and crocodiles enjoying the increased fish activity! As the water recedes from the Billabongs you are able to witness the incredible congregation of waterbirds which has birdwatchers from around the world dancing with joy.
When you first look at a Savannah Woodland area (you will see a lot as around 80% of the park is made up of this) it might look fairly plain. However, there is a rich abundance of plants and animals that call this ecosystem home, and in fact, compared with other ecosystems in the park, it is the most densely populated area in terms of flora and fauna.
The dramatic sandstone escarpment which runs North to South along the park creates a spectacular backdrop to the Park. Along this escarpment, which rises from around sea level to above 300m in a very short space, has been home to Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. There are many reasons for this: there are cave and stone shelters that housed many families at one time, an abundance of fresh water, great views overlooking the floodplains, and the perfect place to stay right next to the floodplain (where the majority of the food came from) away from insects and mosquitoes that can make for unpleasant living conditions during the wet season. What is left is a rich concentration of cultural artifacts, rock art and sacred sights that make Kakadu so special.
There are of course many waterfalls along the escarpment for anyone wanting a refereshing swim!
When you step into one of these forests you immediately feel the temperature drop and the humidity rise, just as if you had walked into the Daintree Rainforest. These ecosystems occur is small isolated patches and create the perfect habitat for plants and animals that require more water. This is where you can find a number of unique species of flora and fauna in the park.
Kakadu National Park is home to an astonishing variety of Fauna species, a number of which are endemic to the region. (Endemic means they can only be found in one area)
There are approximately 60 mammals species, 117 reptile species, 280 bird species and over 10,000 insect species! This makes Kakadu an incredibly interesting location to learn about Australia’s unique animals in a serene and spectacular environment!
Some of the Fauna species you will learn about, and if you are lucky encounter, are:
- Black Wallaroos,
- Agile Wallabys,
- Short-eared Rock Wallabys.
- northern quolls,
- brown bandicoots,
- King Brown snakes,
- Frill-necked Lizard
- Freshwater Crocodile
- Estuarine, or Saltwater Crocodile
- Leichhardt’s grasshopper,
- Termites and Termite Mounds
The flora in Kakadu is amongst the most diverse in Northern Australia with more than 1700 plant species found in the park! This is largely due to the wide range of different geological features, and these distinctly different geographical areas have their own specialised flora which have evolved to suit the environment.
In the dry and arid Stone Country you will find trees and grasses that thrive in the extreme heat and have no problem living through extended dry spells and high rainfall periods. Monsoon Forests are much cooler and humid than other ecosystems of the park, and this supports a number of endemic plants such as the Eucalyptus koolpinensis. In the floodplains you will find plants that can survive in high levels of freshwater for several months a year. These floodplains support such species as water lilies, Melaleuca or Paper bark trees and freshwater mangroves. And in the Savannah Woodlands you will find a variety of Eucalypt trees, spear grasses and wildflowers.
For those who are feathered inclined, Kakadu is a must visit destination. Supporting a number of rare, endemic and iconic birds across a multitude of untouched ecosystems, Kakadu will impress any bird watcher from the novice to the expert.
As a field guide, it is therefore extremely important to have at least a moderate understanding of birds and during the course you will have the opportunity to see up to 300 bird species!
Some of the bird species you may see are:
- Gouldian Finch
- Jacana or Jesus Bird (picture right)
- Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon
- Banded Fruit-Dove
- White Throated Grasswren
- A fantastic variety of water birds
- And of course the Birds of Prey...
By the end of the 5 days you should have sighted well over 80 species, be able to identify a few calls, and have a greater appreciation of the need to protect vast tracks of bush in order to preserve Kakadu’s 300 bird species.
Cultural Places of Significance
In the stone country are a number of rocky outcrops that provided shelter to the Bininj/Mungguy peoples for thousands of years. What these shelters created were not just rock art sites, but more importantly they were places of living, classrooms, ceremonials sites and sacred sites. As a result, the art that has been left behing gives us a fascinating look into the ancient way of life, the daily and ceremonial rituals, religion and story telling.
The Bininj and Mungguy believe in the Dreamtime, which depicts a timeless creation of the rivers, the landscape, the plants and animals and everything to do with the world. Some of the main spiritual beings of the Dreamtime are the Rainbow Serpent, Bula (Jawoyn ancestor), Namarrgon the Lightning Man, Warramurrungundji the Earth Mother and the Mimi Spirits who were the first Creation Ancestors to paint on rock.
This spiritual connection with the land makes Kakadu a place of high cultural significance, and the internationally recognised rock art sites such as Ubirr, Burrunguy (Nourlangie Rock) and Nanguluwur have ancient stories that have been passed through the generations.
Recently George Chaloupka identified 11 main art styles that are spread across three main environmental periods, and when at Kakadu you will see a number of these painting syles from the following environmental periods:
The pre-estuarine period:
about 50 000 to 8000 years ago, when the sea level was much lower and the climate was much drier.
The estuarine period:
from about 8000 to 1500 years ago, which is a time when the river valleys flooded and the mangrove swamps formed.
less than 1500 years ago. This is when freshwater billabongs and paperbark swamps replaced saltwater systems. The freshwater wetlands brought new food resources to the area, and in more recent times there were paintings of foreigners, boats and rifles- also known as
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