Litchfield vs Kakadu National Park; how to enjoy both parks

You’ve probably heard people say don’t waste your time with Kakadu National Park. It’s too expensive. You can’t swim anywhere. There’s too much driving. It’s not Kakadu, its Kaka- don’t! We’ve written a full post about that here; Kakadu National Park, but ultimately you should make your own mind up.

In June 2018, we spent 7 nights at Kakadu National Park, followed by 4 nights at Litchfield National Park, and want to share our experience with you.

You see, We’ve never really accepted on face value what people tell us about different places. Of course, we like to hear people’s opinions, but we also like to experience it for ourselves.

We’ve had amazing times at places that people have told us are not worth going to, and everyone see’s things differently.

Litchfield attractions
Litchfield vs Kakadu; which is best?

In the same way that some people absolutely despise El Questro in the Kimberley, we absolutely love it and rate it one of the best places you can visit on the Gibb River Road.

Kakadu and Litchfield are two very different parks, but in the back of our minds, we were really hoping that Litchfield would suck. We wanted to be able to say so many of you are wrong; Kakadu is so much better than Litchfield. You know what though? We can’t, and we’ll tell you why below. 

Koolpin Gorge is spectacular
Koolpin Gorge at Kakadu, a hugely special place

Why compare Kakadu to Litchfield?

I suppose people compare the two parks because they are both relatively close to Darwin. Asides from location though, and having amazing water falls they are worlds apart, and really don’t deserve the comparison they get. If you do have to choose Litchfield or Kakadu, its quite easy to do.

What’s the differences?

Kakadu is a privately owned national park

Litchfield National Park is state owned. This means, like the rest of National Parks in the Northern Territory, you pay absolutely nothing to enter, whether you are a resident Territorian or a visitor.

It also means there are no lease payments to be made, and 39% of the money raised from camp ground fees in Kakadu goes to lease payments to the traditional owners.

Jim Jim Falls
Kakadu is privately run

Crocodile management

Kakadu have tried to pass the risk of crocodiles onto the visitors, by saying that anywhere you swim is done at your own risk. Litchfield is completely different; they say here’s where you can swim, and here’s where you shouldn’t. If you want to know more about staying safe, read Crocodile Safety in the NT.

I spoke to one of the rangers about this, and he said they do risk analysis, and depending on what the lawyers have to say, don’t try and pass the risk onto visitors. No doubt the geography plays a huge role in the risk between each park, but I found it very fascinating how differently it was treated.

Crocodiles at Kakadu
Crocodiles are managed very differently between the two parks

Kakadu is huge and far less accessible

Kakadu is about 14 times bigger than Litchfield, and Litchfield isn’t a small national park by any stretch of the imagination.

When you visit Litchfield, you can comfortably see 3 or 4 things a day. Whilst there are some places you might scrape this in at Kakadu, normally you are seeing one thing every day to day and a half.

The driving between the places is substantially longer, and the walks take much, much longer too. Beyond this, a number of the attractions are on pretty rough gravel roads, and really should be done in a 4WD. Litchfield only has a couple of attractions that need a 4WD, and that makes a big difference.

Jim Jim Falls walk
Everything is bigger at Kakadu, like Jim Jim Falls

Kakadu is a dual world heritage site

Kakadu National Park is a dual listed world heritage site, for both its natural and cultural significance. There is a lot more aboriginal culture to see and learn about at Kakadu than their is at Litchfield, and places like Ubirr make this very obvious.

Kakadu National Park
If you want to learn about aboriginal culture, Kakadu will give you a far better experience

Litchfield is crazy busy

At Kakadu, the only real interaction you had with other people was at camp grounds, or when bumping into others along the various walks. Its that big that even a decent number of visitors barely makes a dent.

Go to Litchfield though, and you’ll interact with hundreds of people. We walked to Florence Falls on a Saturday afternoon, and I reckon there must have been 150 people at the bottom, all trying to find a spot and have a swim.

It really felt crowded and unpleasant, but Litchfield is closer to Darwin, free to access and much easier to get to the different places too.

A lot of locals will visit for the day, but that is far less common for Kakadu National Park.

Compare that to Gunlom Falls, where you have to do 39km of terrible gravel roads before hiking to the top of a small mountain, or swimming at the bottom in the plunge pool. It’s harder to get to, and therefore less people get there. Pretty simple, really.

Litchfield vs Kakadu
Lots of people at Litchfield, as its far more accessible

How to enjoy Kakadu

Stay a while

Yep, if you call into Kakadu for a night or two and then leave, its going to cost you a chunk of money. This is because of the park entry fee, which is in place in a number of different locations in WA, like El Questro and Cape Keraudren.

If you only stay a short time, your cost per day will sky rocket. Stay a few more nights though, and the cost per night drops a lot.

Kakadu Billabongs
You can easily spend a week at Kakadu

Visit Kakadu first

I’m really glad we went to Kakadu first. We had an absolute ball, and loved every moment of it. Litchfield then, was super special too, as you could swim more, everything is easily accessible and the falls are beautiful. Litchfield was a far more relaxed pace, because everything is so close together.

Big crocodile at Kakadu
You’ll see a heap of crocodiles at Kakadu

Understand it requires more effort than Litchfield

If you go to Litchfield first, and then expect the same thing at Kakadu, you will feel deflated. Kakadu requires more driving, more effort to get to each place and the hikes are considerably longer. Go with the right expectation, and you’ll love it.

Is Litchfield or Kakadu National park best?

We love both parks, and would recommend them both in a heartbeat. If you only have a couple of days, Litchfield is the pick of the bunch simply because its so accessible and quick to go from one attraction to the next.

If you have time, do both parks, and take your time enjoying them, as they are both incredible.

Sandy Creek Falls
You won’t go wrong with either park

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