When to Visit Kakadu National Park
The Dry And Wet Season In Northern Australia
Average Monthly Temperatures In Kakadu
Many Kakadu National Park visitors, especially those from overseas, are unfamiliar with the climate in Australia's tropical North and the idea of a dry and a wet season.
Usually they are only given very little information about those seasons, something like:
"The best time is in the dry season between June and August. During the wet season it rains and it is too hot."
While there is some truth in that, it's certainly not the full story. Any time of the year has advantages and disadvantages for travel in Kakadu, and any time can be a good time to visit Kakadu National Park.
Kakadu National Park In The Dry Season
The north of the Australian Outback has a tropical climate, meaning a distinct dry and wet season. The dry season (May - September) is considered the best time for travel. Most roads are open and the weather is reliable.
Sometimes you hear that June to August is the best time, because it is the coolest time of the year.
Well, that's correct, but they always neglect to tell you that mid June to mid August are the school holidays in Australia and that everything is packed!
I have visited Kakadu National Park several times, and always either at the beginning or towards the end of the dry season. That's just how it worked out.
(To see Kakadu during the wet season has been on my wish list ever since my first visit.)
I think those shoulder seasons are the best times to visit Kakadu. The weather is not too hot, rain is highly unlikely, and the visitor numbers are very low. You don't sit on top of each other in the campgrounds, and in the less visited areas of the park you may even have a waterfall or gorge all to yourself!
Early in the dry season (May to mid June) there is also still a lot of water coming down those waterfalls! Most of them will dry up soon.
Downside is that a few places may still be closed. It all depends on the previous wet season. You can find the latest seasonal access updates here.
The late dry season (September/October) is the best time to see wildlife. The big floodplains that you see during the wet have been reduced to isolated billabongs (permanent waterholes) and that is where all the birds and other wildlife congregate in huge numbers.
(Also see Anne's great trip report about her Kakadu visit in November.)
Mind you, by October it does indeed get uncomfortably hot. We are used to hot weather, but for people from colder climates I would recommend to avoid to travel between October and mid December. But September, especially the first half, is still a really good time of the year in my opinion. It all depends on your comfort levels.
Average Monthly Temperatures In Kakadu
Here is a table with average monthly maximum and minimum temperatures in Kakadu National Park to help you with your decision. (Temperatures are in °C.)
Keep in mind that those maximum and minimum numbers are monthly averages, and that on any given day the actual maximum or minimum may be 5 degrees above or below!
In my eyes any time is a good time to see Kakadu National Park. The different times of the year will provide you with different experiences, and they all have their advantages and disadvantages.
For a summary I have also created a list with the pros and cons below.
Dry Season in Kakadu National Park - Advantages
- True, it is cooler. I can't argue with that.
- The roads are open and the attractions are accessible. (In some years some roads may open as late as June.)
- Important if you plan to camp: It is extremely unlikely to rain, and there are fewer insects around.
- Crocodiles tend to be more visible in colder weather, as they warm themselves up in the sun.
Dry Season in Kakadu National Park- Disadvantages
- Kakadu National Park is extremely popular and will be crowded with tourists, especially between mid June and mid August.
- Prices are higher everywhere.
- Waterfalls will dry up towards the end of the dry season.
- Wildlife is not as active and plentiful.
Wet Season in Kakadu National Park - Advantages
- You don't have to share the place with many other tourists.
- Park rangers and staff have more time for you.
- Low season prices, and no need to book everything months in advance.
- Wildlife, wildlife, wildlife. Everything is busy mating and breeding.
- The waterfalls are roaring.
- Everything is clean and fresh and green, everything grows, and the colours are amazing.
- Tropical thunderstorms are just spectacular. The cloud formations, colours and fantastic lightning shows... you will be spellbound, I can guarantee it.
Wet Season in Kakadu National Park - Disadvantages
- It is hot and humid.
- Some roads might be flooded and closed.
- Insects can become annoying for campers. Trying to cook a meal without that extra protein can be a bit of a challenge after dark... And don't forget your mosquito repellent for the evenings.
- You might find the frequent showers unpleasant. (But let me tell you that everybody who lives here loves them...)
- You could have really bad luck and your time in Kakadu National Park coincides with a cyclone somewhere along the coast. That could mean heavy persistent rain for several days and extended flooding.
But cyclones don't appear out of nowhere. If you plan to visit Kakadu National Park during the wet season keep an eye on the weather forecast and be flexible.
As a general rule wet season travel in northern Australia is great for people who have more time and a flexible schedule.
The transitional periods between the dry and wet season (April/May and September/October) are also an excellent time to visit Kakadu National Park. At the end of the dry season, before the first rains, huge numbers of birds and also other wildlife congregate around the receding waterholes.
The time just after the wet season lets you experience the waterfalls in their full glory. The land is still lush and green, but it is dry enough for all roads to be opened again.
Tourist numbers in either shoulder season will be low, and the temperatures high. You can't have everything...
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A Different View
The Aboriginal inhabitants of Kakadu National Park lived, and still live, in tune with nature. The shifts and changes in the weather influenced their lives a lot more than they impact on ours. Animal behaviour, food availability and the need for shelter all change as the weather changes.
It makes a lot of sense to divide the year in more than two seasons. These are the six seasons as known to the traditional owners of Kakadu National Park:
Gunumeleng (October - December)
This is the period that we call "the build up for the Wet". The pre-monsoon weather is hot and humid. Thunderstorms release the electricity and tension of the afternoons in sudden downpours, which bring a welcome drop in temperature.
Thousands of fruit bats can be heard squabbeling in the trees at night.
Creeks begin to flow again. The birds that had congregated around the last water resources now disperse, as fresh growth and more water becomes available.
The people moved their camps away from the floodplains, seeking shelter from the storms.
Gudjewg (January, February)
This time of the year brings widespread rain and flooding. It is the main breeding and growing season.
Magpie geese are nesting and for the people in Kakadu it was egg gathering time. It was also the time where flooding would drive goannas, snakes and possums into trees where they could be caught easily.
We call it "knock'em down time", as the two metre high speargrass is flattened by the last storms of the season. Most plants are fruiting now, and the flood waters recede and the streams run clear again.
Yegge (April, May)
The time to burn the land. Drying winds have begun, but plants still contain a lot of moisture. Small areas of bush are burned to encourage fresh growth. These early fires will leave a patchwork pattern on the land and help prevent the destructive hot fires that could occur later in the season.
Wurrgeng (June, July)
The creeks stop flowing and the floodplains dry. It is the coolest time of the year, with night temperatures around 15oC (60 F), and days between 25 and 30oC (75 - 85 F).
Birds and other animals start to follow the receding waters to the permanent billabongs. Burning continues, the fires moderated by the moisture of dewy nights.
Gurrung (August, September)
The air is still and hot, and the land is starting to look parched. Waiting... waiting... and scanning the horizons for the first glimpses of thunderheads building, promising the return of the rains, ...Gunumeleng.
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