Kakadu National Park delivers all the wonder it’s renowned for and more during a day’s adventure complete with ample swimming opportunities.
In Kakadu National Park, the Indigenous place names are as beautiful as the scenes themselves. Among the wetlands and escarpments, there are places such as Anbangbang, Yurmikmik and Bukbukluk, and tucked among them is another spot with an even more curious title: Motor Car Falls.
Taking its name from the actions of a tin miner who made the first attempt to drive a vehicle into the area in the 1940s, this beautiful waterfall is the major attraction along the Yurmikmik walks at the southern end of Australia’s largest national park. It’s one of Kakadu’s less-visited sights, but it’s also one of the park’s finest walks and most inviting swimming holes.
For most walkers, Motor Car Falls are an end goal, a cooling reward at the end of a couple of hours of hiking through heat, but the Yurmikmik walks extend beyond the waterfall to Kurrundie Falls, and it’s here that we’re ultimately heading, combining the two waterfalls into one perfect Top End day.
From beside the road to ever-popular Gunlom, the walk sets out funnelling between two low ranges, following the course of Boulder Creek, a dry crease in the earth masquerading as a waterway. Rainbow bee-eaters soar overhead like tiny, colourful jet fighters, and the trail tunnels through speargrass that rises above our heads. The white trunks of the trees stand like glowsticks in the harsh landscape.
Among the low, rocky peaks that crown the range to our right, flashes of greenery reveal the positions of Motor Car Falls and Kurrundie Falls, luring us forward like bait.
For a long time, the trail to Motor Car Falls suitably follows a disused vehicle track, which ends beside an emergency radio post. Here, we turn towards the range, stepping suddenly out of the dry savanna and into lush monsoon forest. Beside a series of pools, we approach the escarpment, finally rock hopping to an enormous boulder hanging over the pool at the base of the falls.
In midwinter, Motor Car Falls are reduced to a trickle, but even with minimal flow the pool is deep, cool and irresistible. The boulder serves as a DIY diving board, and soon we’re joining the handful of other people here leaping into the water.
Ledges along the base of the waterfall provide poolside seats, and there’s a tiny cave notched into the cliffs beside the falls. Swim into it and the sun casts the water into a vibrant green glow (and fish will likely nibble at your toes). On a shadowed cliff along from the cave, hundreds of butterflies roost along the rock, taking off in clouds as I walk beneath them.
After several swims, we return to the junction beside the radio post, turning up the valley, where the trail continues to skim along the foot of the range. The day’s heat and the land’s aridity are suddenly so much more acute after a swim among the monsoon forest. Slender termite mounds spear out of the earth, though they are like scale-models compared to the enormous mounds out beside the nearby Kakadu Highway.
Beside a burnt-out track sign, the trail veers back towards the range, following Kurrundie Creek into another notch in the escarpment. The trail is faint, and it’s a make-your-own puzzle beside or in the creek bed until a final bouldery scramble – and a squeeze through a narrow space between boulders – emerges above the green pool at the base of Kurrundie Falls.
This waterfall pours down more powerfully through a crack in the cliffs. I swim across the pool and scramble into the waterfall, which thunders onto my shoulders as tiny frogs hop about the damp rock walls.
In the late afternoon, after a couple of hours lounging around the pool, we begin the return march to the car park, ducking in once more to Motor Car Falls for a final swim. It’s nearing sunset by the time we approach the car park, prompting a final detour up the slopes to Yurmikmik Lookout, draped across the rocky shoulder of a low hill.
From this vantage point, we look down onto nearby hills armoured in black rock, and back along the range to the green glow of Motor Car Falls and Kurrundie Falls – it’s a view that’s also a mud map of the day.