Mention ‘wet season’ in the tropics, and I usually think it would be better to visit in the dry – isn’t sightseeing hard in the rain? But when I had the opportunity to visit Kakadu with a couple of friends in February (wet season is Oct/Nov to Mar/Apr) and I took it. Here’s the pro’s and con’s of going in the wet season.
- There’s not many other visitors. This can mean that the tours from Darwin don’t run as frequently, although we didn’t find it difficult to get the dates we wanted. We found it meant we were travelling with, and running into, only a few other people. And for one amazing day it was just the three of us and the local guides, incredible for such a well visited area. We had Ubirr and the stunning rock art to ourselves, climbed to the lookout and could see to the horizon without being able to see another vehicle or person, an amazing privilege.
- Some of the roads will be flooded and and the areas that can be reached are more restricted than in the dry. Exactly what will be accessible will not be very predictable in advance, as it depends on the amount and timing of rain each year. The locals and tour operators know which areas will flood more than others, and which ones are pretty much guaranteed to be inaccessible. We thought the road closures were a great bonus, because we then transferred to small shallow bottomed boats and cruised serenely through flooded forests of soaring paperbark trees – we were floating in nature’s cathedral.
- Its harder to see the crocodiles. We all want to see crocodiles in Kakadu (as long as we are safely out of the water), and they are still there in the wet, but with all that extra water, it’s much easier for them to hide from us. They’re not sitting under the bush on the bank, as the bank has disappeared under water. And its the season when they are protecting their young in their nests, another reason to hide themselves more than normal. So we did not see a single croc (except for a stuffed one at the hotel). Apparently its a rare day when you don’t see at least one in one of the billabongs, but you will definitely see more in the dry season.
- It’s not just the roads that can flood, its the walking paths to the famous rock art sites. If the water levels are particularly high, more of the rock art sites might be closed. The paths don’t even have to be flooded, the water just needs to have risen close enough in the vicinity, to make it possible for a croc to move in close by and decide the track is a good hunting spot. We were fortunate that the water levels weren’t that high during our visit, so we had no problems getting to some amazing rock art. And much as we would’ve liked to have seen crocs from a boat, we did not want to see one while we were walking.
- One area virtually guaranteed to be inaccessible all wet season is the waterfall area, particularly Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls, running off the escarpment. Of course the waterfalls are at their most spectacular during the wet. The solution is a scenic flight, which not only allows a spectacular view of the whole western escarpment and the spectacular falls, but also a perspective of the splendour of the whole park, with the rock formations rising above the green wetlands. In the dry season the roads run right up to the base of the falls, the waterfalls will be very diminished or even dry but they have spectacular rock pools for swimming at their base.
- The locals say the timing of the wet and dry seasons are very predictable, but how heavy the rain, how frequently, in which parts of the season, cannot be predicted. So a wet season visit could be days of continual downpour, or just an evening thunderstorm. We were very lucky, we had clear blue skies and no rain at all, which is very unusual weather, so I can’t promise that you’ll be as lucky. We went with the assumption that it would rain, we had rain jackets, and the weather was going to be hot no matter what, so we wouldn’t mind if we got soaked – but we were fortunate enough to not even have to test that. All I can say is, I’d love to go back again, any season.