From High Heels to Hiking Boots in Kakadu National Park

In Kakadu National Park, the forest was dwarfed by the enormity and sheer scale of the canyon. Photo by Angharad Rees
In Kakadu National Park, the forest was dwarfed by the sheer scale of the canyon. Photo by Angharad Rees

The long and empty roads rolled into the deserted horizon. Nothing but red, sandy tracks lay ahead of me while dust choked my lungs and heat extracted sweat from every pore. Despite all of this, and the fact that mosquito bites lay across my skin like some sadistic dot-to-dot, traveling to Jim Jim falls in the Kakadu National Park was to be the best road trip I would ever experience. But in all honesty, I didn’t start off with the same sentiment.

My trepidations began as the four-wheel drive campervan bounced along the dusty sand roads in Kakadu National Park, a protected area in the Northern Territory of Australia. In truth, they were not really roads, just endless tracks that went on for miles and miles into the vast and seemingly empty horizon.

Despite the fact that the hire vehicle was supposedly made for coping with the Northern Territory of the Great Australian Outback, it seemed about as well prepared as I was. My bones rattled with the vibrations of the van that would be my home for a week.

Day one, hour one – this didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.

I should have known, I had swapped my Prada heels for hiking boots, my LBD for combat trousers, and any makeup I had put on my face had melted in the soaring heat. As I passed the rustic sign, “Welcome to Kakadu National Park. This is an alcohol free zone,” I sighed. I needed a glass of Sauvignon now more than ever.

A golden sun sets in Kakadu National Park. Photo by Angharad Rees
The sun sets in Kakadu National Park. Photo by Angharad Rees

So why was I making this arduous trip? Good question. I pondered on that while taking the challenging 60 kilometer (37.2 mile) off-road track to the Garnamarr campsite (this campsite has hot showers, real life flushing toilets and drinking water. It only costs $10 per adult per night, and children go free).

At the campsite I learned there were another 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of “serious” off-road driving over sandy tracks, through rivers, and a hike through a monsoon rainforest (which I am told would take about an hour or the fit and able) till I could see the Jim Jim Waterfalls. So I grabbed my rucksack (instead of my Gucci handbag) and began the hike.

I felt the real world drift away behind me as I scrambled over and around rocks and over fallen trees. Hundreds of butterflies danced around the air above me, enjoying like myself, the coolness of the tree cover. As beams of golden sunlight broke through some of the canopy, their colors shone bright blues and purples.

As I took one step out of the shadows of the trees, the view presented itself to the glory of my destination in the distance. I could see the canyon’s end and the magnificent power of the 200 foot (60-61 meter) waterfall raging over the top of it. Even from the far distance, I could hear the majestic fury of the cascading water.

It was at that exact point that the hidden beauty of the Australian Outback exposed itself. Despite nearing 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), I felt a shiver run through my spine. I resumed my rock scramble at a faster pace.

Nearly an hour later I reached the end of the canyon, the end of the waterfall and the end of my rainbow. The sound was almost deafening as the plunge pool absorbed the waterfalls continual offering. The water was a deep, midnight blue, and like the sky at night, it glistened with a million stars as the sun’s reflection danced off the surface.

It seemed there was nothing else to do but take the plunge, dive into the deep-end and experience the raw nature. I felt more naked and natural than ever while diving into the cool, crystal tipped water.

The fall’s beauty is unfathomable to anybody who has not witnessed it with their own eyes, and those who have seen it are rendered speechless.  I spent hours surveying my oasis. Hours drifted by as effortlessly as the river escapes the plunge pool, which eventually would become seemingly insignificant as it leaves this paradise. I knew this water would eventually flow past other people’s eyes. They would not know that the small trickle that passed them in the creeks was once a magnificent torrent of cascading power and awe.

I began to take the long walk home in the same direction as the flowing river, hoping to carry a piece of the paradise with me. As the sun began to set, the rugged rocks that spanned the horizon changed colors, and presented me with a mesmerizing medley of bright oranges and gold. The aroma of red soil beneath my feet smelt earthy as it cooled from the heat of the day.

From the campsite, the enticing wafts of steak and sausages made me hungry, and I was delighted when some happy campers asked me to join them.  As we sat around the roaring campfire under a blanket of stars, we chatted openly about our travels, our experiences and our lives. There is something about being in big open spaces and nature that makes people come together and open up in a way that you wouldn’t when shoulder to shoulder in the city.

Travel in Kakadu National Park
The wide open sky in Kakadu helps to open your mind, your heart and your soul. Photo by Angharad Rees

The fire crackled and the crickets sang a beautiful serenade, and I decided to hit the hay. I left my windows open, allowing me to hear the alluring night calls of the Australian Outback. I left my curtains open so I could see the stars from my bed.

Although it was one of the most peaceful evenings I had ever experienced, the hum of mosquitos was undeniable, as was the increasing number of sores forming around my ankles.  I couldn’t wait for the night to end so I could wake in the morning to discover more adventures, more hidden splendors and heart aching natural beauty. I couldn’t wait to hit the dusty sand roads, well not really roads, just endless tracks that go on for miles and miles into the vast and seemingly empty horizon once again.

If You Go

Kakadu National Park
http://www.kakadu.com.au/

 

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