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“Must do. Stunning for those from city areas”
Review of Koolpin Gorge

Koolpin Gorge
Reviewed 2 March 2012

The feeling and emotion attached to the sights and sounds.

June to September are my favourite months. Check out the Kakadu National Park website for open months and information.

1  Thank Hotelsareourlife
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 19 October 2011

Northern Territory 2011 by Campervan PART 1V

The Litchfield~Katherine~Kakadu Triangle
Koolpin Gorge

We returned to our van, made wraps to eat en route, and set off about 2pm for the southern entrance of Kakadu National Park, stopping only for more ice and petrol in Katherine on the way. We arrived at the Mary River Roadhouse about 4.20pm, but only because half way between Pine Creek and the entry to Kakadu, we passed a rolled over caravan and stopped to help. It had happened only minutes before we arrived on the scene, and belongings were strewn all over the side of the highway. Luckily the middle-aged couple were okay, although the wife was badly shaken. I also felt a bit sick in the stomach just seeing the damage and realizing how much worse it could have been. The trailer caravan had flipped 180 degrees and was flattened, although the 4WD car was still upright, off down a ditch with a big dint in the rear. The wife had been driving but she was at a loss as to what had happened. It served as a timely reminder to take it easy on the roads, especially as there is a 130km speed limit on many of the highways in the Northern Territory. In the end, a couple of blokes going the other direction towards Pine Creek said they’d alert the police and get a tow truck, as there wasn’t much help in the direction we were going. We wished them luck and continued on.

The Mary River Roadhouse marks the southern entry to Kakadu National Park, and it was here that we picked up the key for the gate to Koolpin (Jarrangbarnmi) Gorge after showing the permit that I had organised by email before we left Melbourne. About 10km after the roadhouse we turned right and followed the sign to Gunlom Falls. The tarmac soon ran out and we found ourselves on a red dirt track heading east.

For the next 26km the track was pretty good and we were averaging about 50km per hour until we reached the T-junction where Gunlom Falls was signposted to the left, and Gimbat to the right. We turned right and the road deteriorated noticeably. After a further 7km we experienced our first proper water crossing at South Alligator River. Greg put the van into low ratio 4WD again and locked the wheel hubs. You are advised not to do this too close to the river because of the risk of saltwater crocodiles.

Shortly after, we came to the locked gate for Koolpin Gorge. I hopped out of the car, unlocked the padlock and relocked it once Greg had driven through. It was like driving through somebody’s paddock, and then it got really rough.

We followed a river on our right and started to drive through massive sand banks and almost became bogged. The foliage closed in and we shook our heads in disbelief. We backtracked and realized we had missed two rocks and a long branch blocking that route—but what was the alternative? Then we realized we hadn’t seen a track because it had disappeared into the creek! It was another river crossing. We continued up the other side, crawling along on a very rough and winding track with lots of potholes for another 7km until we reached the Koolpin Gorge campground at about 6pm. We were surprised to see five other camping vans already there as we had thought we might have been the only ones. Well, it was by no means crowded! We did our usual setting up; luggage out, food out, luggage in, etc and drank our chilled ciders and snacked on rice crackers while I made tortillas with corn, cheese, jalapeno, egg and avocado for dinner, followed by fresh pears. The other campers had nearly all lit fires, which may have kept the bugs away but would have generated some unwanted additional heat. The only facilities at this campsite were an emergency telephone and a composting pit toilet. The toilet was clean but the smell was horrible. If you held your breath it was still better than going to the trouble of walking 100m away from the site and using a shovel, especially in the dark. We had a solar shower but decided to heat some water and have a ‘French’ shower from the sink, to tide us over until the next day. What we did do though was boil some water for the bucket and stick our feet in it, which was absolute heaven: a lovely way to end the day.


Koolpin/Gunlom: Seclusion and Top Pools

Friday, 2nd September

Mercifully, I hadn’t woken during the night to go to the loo, as I didn’t fancy wandering through the scrub in the dead of night and sitting on the smelly pit toilet, even with a torch at hand. We had a leisurely breakfast and were the last walkers to leave the camp at 9am. The night had been reasonably cool, but by the time we set off it was already hot, but bearable. The heat at this time of the year is dry, and providing you are vigilant with the mosquito repellent, the bugs and flies aren’t too bad.

Greg was torn, as the more direct route was by the riverbed only metres from our campsite, and the alternate route was an unmarked track through the scrub. We had been advised by the rangers not to walk along the riverbed, as they were unsure whether there were still any ‘salties’ in the creek, although the last one sighted there had been October 2010.

But everyone else had set off in this direction and one of the other campers has told us it was really beautiful down there. We decided we would have a look and then make up our minds which route to take. The creek and the vegetation were indeed beautiful, with crystal clear water, sand banks and huge water smoothed boulders. There was no path; you just followed the river and scrambled over the rocks as best you could, and before we knew it we had progressed quite a way, on the lookout for anything that even closely resembled a crocodile. At one point we had to wade through the water to get to the rocks on the other side, and Greg said we should go back. But I persuaded him we had come too far and that the water was clear enough to see any crocs advancing and he conceded begrudgingly.

We knew we had to cross between the long pool and the vegetation pool, but the creek turned into a scattering of black boulders and we were unsure where one ended and the other began. Luckily we saw another couple crossing the rocks from the other side and they told us we needed to cross to where they had come from. We clambered over another rocky outcrop keeping to the left of the first lake and climbed up over the cliffs until we could see a clearer lake with a small waterfall. We paused to catch our breath and admire the view.

The rocks surrounding the pool were a hotchpotch of red, purple, ochre and black, while the pool itself resembled a camouflage uniform with its light and dark greens, brown, tan and beige sandy depths. This was the first of the clear pools to tempt us in, but it was still close to the vegetation pool and potential crocodiles, so we pressed on. We skirted the lagoon, still keeping to the left, and climbed ever higher towards another, larger waterfall in the distance.

A few times we came to an impassable crevice and had to retrace our steps and ascend higher still to get around the lower lake. When we reached the second pool, it was like Shangri-La: a pristine, perfectly round lagoon surrounded by towering rock walls.

We knew that it would be safe to swim there, as it would have been impossible for crocodiles to reach this altitude. But at the far end of every ‘giant step’ was another waterfall cascading from a tantalizingly hidden pool beyond that one, and so we were drawn on. We could see no way to climb up the sheer cliff face on the left towards the third pool, and the right hand side looked nearly as bad. Greg wanted to do a very circuitous route up over a very high hill, but it was not so much the height and length of the detour that bothered me as much as the scrubby brush that would shred my bare legs. I managed to get Greg to agree to have a closer inspection of the cliffs to the right of the waterfall, and sure enough, as we approached, we saw a cleft in the rock face with a blue nylon rope dangling from the roots of a tree up above. Greg thought it looked dangerous, but I pleaded that it must be the best route up if a rope had been left there, and so we began to climb up the 20m crevice until we reached the rope. We offloaded our backpacks so we wouldn’t overbalance, and Greg managed to get a toehold and pull himself up. Then he lifted up the bags with the rope, followed by me with a helping wrist grip. Once we’d reached that point, Greg was adamant that there was no safe way to continue to the next ledge and suggested we should turn back. However, I was almost sure I could see a shelf of rock between two footholds that looked solid, and sure enough, there was a fairly easy way up using the branches of the tree to hoist ourselves out of the crevice. Once we reached the top I realized that my legs were wobbling like jelly, although I’m not sure if this was from the exertion, or looking back down the cliff face that we had just scaled!

We climbed out of the ravine over the rocks until we came to a third spectacular pool of grey rocks with a clear sandy bottom, only this time a little bit smaller. We were tempted to set down our things and have a swim, but there was yet another mini waterfall tumbling over a low wall of rocks so we hopped over the boulders and arrived at the fourth pool. This pool was more rectangular in shape and broken up with rocky ridges. In the far corner a waterfall gushed through the rocks from only a couple of metres above. This was the spot we decided to rest at, as I had read it was possible to keep following the pools all day. We had a swim, ducking under the cascade, and spread ourselves out on the rocks to drink water and have our morning tea. It had only taken about an hour to reach the second pool, but considerably longer to negotiate the cliff face and the rope. Apart from the couple we had passed crossing the creek, we hadn’t seen another living soul. We could not believe that the other walkers we had seen depart in the morning had not discovered the upper pools. Perhaps they had been content to meander along the river and look at the first pool. After an hour or so, we packed up our things and headed back to camp as we still wanted to visit Gunlom Falls on the way back to the highway, which was only a short detour. I actually found it more scary going down the rope on the way back, even though it took a fraction of the time.

10  Thank Abby L
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 16 June 2010

I used to visit Koolpin Gorge on a weekly basis as a bushwalking guide and is by far the best swimming and walking gorge in the spectacular Kakadu National Park
It takes a lots of climbing around rocks and hot walking but the rewards are amazing
you need a permit to get in but its worth every cent

5  Thank Graeme1966
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 13 January 2010

For those who don't mind getting sweaty, who love long bumpy 4wd tracks, for those who can deal with walking where there are no tracks, and who like to carry some equipment Koolpin in Kakadu is a must.
You will need to get a permit, so book early.
You need to pick up a key from Mary River Roadhouse. $50 deposit.
From here take the Gunlom Road to the T-Intersection and turn right.
On the Map it is now refered to by it's local name Jarrangbarnmi.
There is a basic campground with a single drop toilet.
Campfires were still allowed in 2009.
Opposite the campground is a sacred and prohibited area so please consider the wishes of the traditional owners.
The lower levels of the river are also close to croc country so I wouldn't personally swim there, although I have seen many doing just that. Like we in the know say On top of rocks no crocs, in other words get up high enough that crocs cant swim before you do.
The walk is just to follow the river, a few hints.
From the campsite walk back up the road about 600m to a track on the left this is a shorter way to the safe swimming areas.
At thye first waterfall go up the left hand side and cross over the river at the top, you may have to get your feet wet. Here is the start of the fantastic swimming areas, sometimes called the giants staircase there are multiple large swimming holes. You can walk up the gorge as far as you want provided you make it back to the camp that night (you can stay at Mary River Roadhouse or Gunlom campground and make this a day trip). If your lucky you might see some rock art, although it is not publicised. Usually you will only see one or two other groups of people which make this the best water feature in Kakadu. A great walk, fantastic gorge, awesome rock features, cool large beautiful swimming and no-one else. This is the best place in Kakadu in my books, go before august before the water starts to drop, you can still go in November and swim and is still beautiful, the waterfall may not be flowing like you'd expect. Why deal with the hundreds at Jim Jim when with a little more effort you could go here. In fact it so good I shouldn't be telling you about it.

7  Thank kenhoath
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 11 June 2017
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1  Thank Sam V
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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