Most national parks are known for their scenery, others for their wildlife. A few are notable for their cultural significance. Kakadu's got it all: wetlands and waterfalls, crocodiles and wallabies, and one of the world's best ancient rock art collections. Not to mention it's partly owned and managed by Aborigines, whose ancestors have lived on this land for more than 40,000 years.
Kakadu's natural and cultural features have made it one of the few UNESCO World Heritage sites listed for botha world-class recognition for this park tucked into the top of Australia's Northern Territory, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from a town of any size.
The park covers some 7,700 square miles (20,000 square kilometers), an area about the size of New Jersey. Its landscapes range from mangrove-fringed coastal wetlands and waterfowl-filled floodplains to an eons-old rocky plateau and a dramatic escarpment that winds some 310 miles (500 kilometers) through the park. Kakadu also includes four river systems and encompasses an entire drainage basin from source to coast.
Our WildCam is located on the edge of Kakadu's Mamukala wetland, an ideal place to spy on crocodiles, wallabies, magpie geese, and other creatures who head here during the dry season, one of the Northern Territory's two seasons. From May to September, when little or no rain falls, creeks and floodplains dry up and crocs and other wildlife head to billabongs (watering holes) and permanent wetlands. October ushers in the wet season, and by mid-December monsoon rains overflow creeks and rivers, turning the landscape a lush green and fostering mold on anything that doesn't move.
"Mamukala is a really good example of a seasonal wetland in Kakadu," says Paul Styles, the park's tourism and visitor services manager. "There's dramatic seasonal variation in the amount of water. Before the first rains, it gets down to the stage where it's pretty much an area of saturated ground—no standing water left at all. Then as the rainy season comes in, the water levels rise."
The transformative wet season helps support the park's amazing diversity of plant and animal life. More than a third of Australia's bird and plant species are found in Kakadu, as well as a quarter of its freshwater fish species, about 60 mammal species, and a staggering 10,000 insect species.
"Kakadu is an incredibly rich place, in wildlife, landscapes, and in culture," Styles says. "And one of the most unique aspects of Kakadu is that its traditional owners continue to live there and manage the land as they have done for tens of thousands of years."