One of the better known attractions at Kakadu National Park is Gunlom Falls, and for good reason. This is an attraction that is absolutely worth the visit.
Getting to Gunlom Falls
Gunlom is at the southern end of Kakadu National Park, and the road in starts only a few km from the St Mary Rangers post. Simply turn off Kakadu Highway towards Gunlom.
What’s the road like?
I’ll start off by saying this road is supposed to be 2WD accessible. It is gravel, and there are a few danger markers that point out bigger holes and bumps. We had read a heap of people that complained about the road in, and I’d have to agree. For a 4WD with lowered pressures, its in fairly normal condition for an average gravel road. Corrugations were about 80 – 90mm deep, and maybe 300 – 400mm apart. Some spots were good, and some were not good at all.
In the condition it was in, there is no way I would drive a 2WD vehicle in. You will cause problems for yourself in the future, and could easily break something going in or out.
We came across a 2WD pop top trailer that had snapped the U-bolts, and was left on the side of the road (presumably to go and get help).
Slow down for the danger signs, or you’ll get slowed down with an almighty bang.
I suspect the road condition relates to a lot of vehicles not letting their tyres down (which you would rarely do in a 2WD vehicle) and the heavy tour busses/trucks that frequent the area.
I don’t know why they don’t manage the road better. Its 39km long, and can’t cost that much to grade every month or so. In the dry season, the camp ground usually has about 100 – 150 people staying a night, which is somewhere in the realms of $5000 to $16,000 made a week prior to any expenses.
This road is also the one that you take for most of the way to get to Koolpin Gorge, and does get a fair bit of traffic each year, being one of the major attractions.
Pick your walk
There are two walks at Gunlom – the one on your left hand side that goes to the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls, and the one on the right that goes to the top of Gunlom
Plunge Pool walk
The walk to the plunge pool is an absolute must. Its been made wheelchair accessible, is pretty much flat and will take you a few minutes at most. You arrive at a stunning little ‘beach’ with amazing views of the falls and pandanas palms lining the water.
Walk to the top
The walk to the top of Gunlom is 1km return, so one of the shorter walks. That said, it was by far and away the hardest walk we did, purely because you walk pretty much straight up, and then straight down. There’s only a really short section of flat ground in the middle, and you have to do a lot of uneven rock walk.
If it wasn’t a climb up or down the walk would be a piece of cake. The only saving grace is that the first half of the walk is in pretty good shade, which makes it far more comfortable.
Now, I’ll point out that Sarah did the walk at 12 weeks pregnant, and she’ll admit to not being the fittest person in the world even without the bub. I did it carrying Oliver in a baby carrier, and it was hard work, but easily doable.
The walk up is certainly worth the effort. You can pick your spot to stop; there are lots of places to swim, there’s a reasonable amount of shade and its got great views
What’s it like at the top of the falls?
Gunlom surprised me; I expected a big pool natural pool, with the affinity edge that you see in all the photos. The reality though, is its a series of smaller pools, many of which have their own infinity edge. There’s heaps of room between the pools to walk around cautiously, and I’ve got no idea how many pools there are before it drops to the bottom.
Its a great place to spend a few hours relaxing; take plenty of food and water, have a swim if you accept the risk, and soak it all up.
Can you swim at Gunlom?
Like the rest of Kakadu, Gunlom is a crocodile management zone. At the plunge pool there is a couple of buoys which are monitored for crocodiles, and thousands of people swim in the pool.
I’ll admit to having a bit of a splash there, but didn’t go much deeper than knee level!
At the top, things are a bit different; there are lots of smaller pools, and some of them you can clearly see the bottom. I too had a splash up there, in one of the pools that was clear to the bottom. The chances of a croc being in the pools up the top is incredibly low, but you have to weigh it up for yourselves. If you want to know more, have a read of this – Crocodiles in Australia.
What are the camp grounds and day use area like?
From the comments I read on Wikicamps, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. I’ll tell you though, these are one of the best ‘bush camps’ in Kakadu. You have flushing toilets, hot showers, drinking water available and the camp ground is huge.
It’s split into generator/normal camping, and there are no silly bollards or posts around to make your camping setup difficult.
Yes, the camp ground is not green grass, and is sand in spots, but it has plenty of room, a fair bit of shade and for $15 per adult per night, its pretty reasonable value despite what the whingers on Wikicamps have commented.
The day use area is fantastic, and by far the best one that we saw in Kakadu. It’s got lots of picnic tables, heaps of green grass and shade, toilets and sprinklers that keep it all healthy. I watched a beautiful bright blue king fisher here for some time, and we relaxed on the lawn after a nice lunch while Oliver slept.
Should you go?
Absolutely. If the road is terrible and you have a 2WD, get on a tour and be driven in. This place is fantastic, and a lot of fun. You can easily spend a full day here.