We had high expectations of Kakadu, with images of tranquil waters reflecting clear blue skies, flocks of native birds worthy of National Geographic Documentary, crocs at every turn and visions of landscapes that haven’t changed since the original Aboriginal People lived on the land. The expansive Kakadu National Park does not always meet such lofty expectations, long drives through grassy plains particularly with kids in the back are often uninspiring. However, everything we hoped Kakadu would be was found during an unmissable cruise along the Yellow Water Billabong.
With courtesy of Gagudju Dreaming, here is a review of the Yellow Water River Cruise with kids. Our family were full paying customers and received no benefits from the tour operator. All opinions are our very own.
9am Yellow Water River Cruise for young kids
If staying at the popular area of Jabiru, consider the early start allowing for a 20 minute arrival time prior to the tour and a 50 minute drive from Jabiru to Cooinda Lodge, where the Yellow Water River Cruise departs. For our family with kids aged 2 and 4, the sunrise tour was too early.
Despite early birds getting the worm on Yellow Water Billabong and photographers chasing the best light at sunrise. Unless staying at Cooinda Lodge next door, it’s far better for little ones (and their parents) to be well rested before a 2 hour tour on a small river boat.
The 9am cruise following the sunrise tour is better for families. It’s a little cheaper, not as popular which means more space for kids to shuffle around and fewer elderly tourists to bother, a general rule is never get in the way between a grey nomad with binoculars and the prized bird they are looking to spot.
The 9am session is also ideal as the wildlife are just starting to warm up and you will catch more active birds and crocs either swimming in the water or coming up to warm themselves on the banks. Other sessions include a shorter 1.5 hour 11.30am, 1:15pm, 2:45pm and the very popular 4.30pm 2 hour sunset tour. Tours differ in the wet season, for a full list of tour times and prices click here.
Whichever tour time works best for you, the Yellow Water River Cruise with kids is a must when visiting Kakadu.
The best time to visit Kakadu is during dry season between June to October, with blue skies, mild weather, fewer insects and attractions which are open and roads that are not flooded. During early June, the Yellow Water River Cruise takes you through calm rivers, the serene wetlands is carpeted with bright pink and white water lillies and there are plenty of birds seen crowding the retreating billabong.
The very knowledgable Danielle from Bubs on the Move has visited Kakadu both in the wet and dry and advises that a Yellow Water Rivers Cruise in the wet season is to be avoided.
About the tour
Onboard there are rows of seats, each able to seat three, running either side of the custom made metal pontoon boat. The metal grill and high rails keeps little kids safely confined. Our experienced guide and skipper provides a mandatory safety brief, which makes you overthink the unfortunate event of ending up in crocodile infested waters. She goes onto assure us this has never happened.
In the excitement of spotting an impressive sized salt water crocodile swimming by the jetty, we failed to pay attention to the guide as she points out onboard amenities. Your guide will inform that there is drinking water and a toilet onboard. Very important information as a certain husband ends up desperately holding it for much longer than necessary, which posed a big distraction to enjoying the serenity of the two hour Yellow Water river cruise with kids.
Tickets must be pre-purchased at either Kakadu Crocodile Hotel, Cooinda Lodge, online or by the reservations hotline. Tickets cannot be purchased at the boat landing. Children prices are for kids aged 5-15. Kids aged 4 and under are free.
Eyeball a crocodile
Sensing the crowds eagerness to see crocs, our guide steers the boat closer towards the crocodile, gliding alongside this sleek prehistoric looking creature in the water.
When, others spot a salty with jaws open wide on the muddy banks, we are almost able to eyeball this beast, due to the smooth maneuvering of the boat by our guide. As you visit Kakadu, there are the all too familiar crocodile warning and danger signs. For the kids to come so close to this fierce creature within the safety of a metal boat is a remarkable experience and as close as we ever want to get to a salty in the wild.
As we cruise the tranquil waters of the South Alligator River, crossing river systems and flood plains we sight more crocodiles. We learn that the crocs are “doing very well in Kakadu” since being hunted to almost extinction, there are now over 100,000 wild crocodiles in the NT with a large concentration located in Kakadu National Park.
Not to worry, the “boss crocodiles” that grow over 5 meters in length are caught and taken away to nearby farms. Another nugget of wisdom provided whilst we admire these cold-blooded reptiles is that if you are ever confronted by a 3 meter or smaller crocodile, you may stand a chance of surviving an attack.
Our guide is a passionate local whom avidly supports the traditional ways of the Indigenous People weaving interesting tidibits on the local flora and fauna and providing stories on how the Aboriginal People use to hunt and maintain the land.
Plenty of birds, even ones that can die of a broken heart
It’s not all about the crocodiles on this tour, the cruise journeys past a variety of birdlife including: flocks of Magpie Geese and Whistling Ducks resting in the reeds, darters fanning out their wings to dry, little red Finches preparing a delicate new nest, graceful Jacana’s gliding over lillypads, beautiful kingfishers singing in the branches and majestic White Bellied Sea Eagles perched atop trees.
With over 60 species of birds in the wetlands there is an abundance of Aussie birdlife to see. Our favourite were a couple of Raja Shelducks paddling in a pool by the tall grass with their small family of ducklings. We were told that the Aboriginal People do not hunt the Raja Shelducks as they mate for life. If one is killed the other would die of a broken heart.
Once over the initial excitement, there’s a point in time during the cruise that it appears to shift gears. Everyone seems to recline a little further in the seat, enjoy the breeze offered by the motion of the boat and take in the exquisite glow of the Yellow Water Billabong as it comes to life for the day. Without a man made structure insight and our guide weaving in stories of how the Aboriginal People hunted the land. It’s not hard to be transported back in time whilst navigating the waterways.
Relax and unwind once the kids are refocussed
Even the guide becomes a little more relaxed, instead of hunting out particular bird species or crocs on the water, we slowly cruise along whilst being offered more interesting tidbits of local knowledge, pulling up to a lotus flower near a water buffalo and explaining that both were introduced species. Whilst the non-invasive water lilly is welcomed the water buffalo introduced by farmers in the 1820’s is considered a feral animal alongside cane toads and wild brumby’s. The numbers are kept in place by the traditional owners and provides a nice break from eating duck and barramundi.
At the same time when our fellow passengers begin to relax is also when the kids become restless, my 5 year old lets out a “Can we turn the boat back!” piercing the tranquility. Two hours is a little long to spend on a boat, be prepared with morning tea, snacks and entertainment to preoccupy antsy kids for the remainder of the trip.
Aside from the need to refocus the children a smidgen, the tour of Yellow Water Rivers Cruise with kids is a perfect way to see Kakadu in all it’s glory. A wonderful perspective of Australia, guided smoothly by generous local guides. Check out The best things to do in Kakadu with kids, for more information.
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