Koolpin Gorge (Jarrangbarnmi) – escape the crowds of Kakadu

Koolpin Gorge - Pink Pool

Koolpin Gorge is a great spot if you want to escape crowds in Kakadu National Park. To get there you have to obtain a camping/hiking permit and take a 4WD drive track.

We returned to Kakadu after a few years after our trip around Australia, to explore Koolping Gorge as we missed it before. This time we drove from Brisbane to Darwin, looking for some adventure.

What Jarrangbarnmi means?

Jarrangbarnmi name comes from the Jawoyn (traditional owners) words ‘jarrang’, meaning flood or big water flow, and ‘barn’ meaning gift or gap.

Jarrangbarnmi has a high biological, aesthetic, and cultural value for the Jawoyn people.

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What to do in Koolpin Gorge?

Koolpin Gorge is located on the south-facing part of the main escarpment in the southern part of Kakadu. Koolpin Creek descends from the plateau to join the South Aligator River.

There is a lot to see in this remote place: falls and cascades, rocky cliffs and escarpments, deep water pools, rocky streams, and even areas of white sandy beach.

Access to Koolpin Gorge

You need a 4WD high-clearance vehicle to get to Jarrangabarnmi.

Getting to Koolping Gorge is via Kakadu Highway and Gimbat Road towards the Gimbat day-use area. At around the 30 km mark, you turn left to a 4WD track for an 11 km drive. 

At the beginning of the track, there is a locked gate. If you obtained your permit you will get a key for the gate.

Occasionally, the gorge is closed due to unpredictable seasonal weather in Kakadu, usually between October and April. During that time the area is not safe due to flood damage, road washouts, and saltwater crocodile movement.

If you booked your permits when the gorge is closed, you will be placed on the waiting list.

Australian Buffalo we spotted on the way to Koolpin Gorge

When we were driving we spotted a wild Australian Buffalo, nothing unusual in Kakadu.

Camping at Koolpin Gorge

There is a big campground available beside Koolping Creek. Toilets are provided. There are fire rings so you can make a campfire and cook your meal. Generators are not permitted.

The number of sites at the Koolping Gorge campground is limited to 40, so make sure to apply early. You need to allow at least 7 days to process your application.

Find out more information and apply for your permit.

We booked our camping for two nights. On the way, we collected some firewood and after our arrival, we had a campfire and a tasty meal. Kasha prepared bacon potato rolls in the dutch oven.

While Nell was sitting at the fire, and Kasha was preparing the meal, I went on an unmarked track uphill to the top of the hill to see Koolpin Creek for the above.

The view was stunning.

Koolpin Creek from the hill
Koolpin Creek from the hill

Koolpin Gorge Walk

The next day we went for a walk to the gorge. There are three pools in the first section of the gorge: Vegetation Pool, Pink Pool, and Black Pool. This is the most spectacular part, as the water cascades from pool to pool, among high cliffs making the unusual scenery.

Another three cascading pools that we found in Kimberley are Mitchell Falls. Read more here.

The track started behind a campground and went through the pandanus palms to finally reach the first, Vegetation Pool.

Jarrangbarnmi - Vegetation Pool
Jarrangbarnmi – Vegetation Pool

There are two possible ways you can walk to the top pool of the gorge. We turned left at the Vegetation Pool and walked around the pool from the west side. The second option was to go ahead and cross between Vegetation Pool and Pink Pool.

At some point, we were about to cross a little dry creek before the Vegetation Pool, and we smelled a saltie. We were not sure what to do, as the odour was quite intense.

It is that muddy swamp, a slight fishlike whiff of rotten meat odour that is very distinctive and it cannot be mistaken for something else.

After looking around, we decided to go further – maybe it was only a dead animal, who knows?

Travel Spiced Life

Salties have a very distinctive odour. Stay away from the water edge all the time.

Around the Vegetation Pool, there were some big pebbles so walking was safe, as saltwater crocodiles have soft bellies and would not dare to walk on it.

The track was marked with orange ribbon located on small metal poles or branches and later turned around the first pool. The Vegetation Pool is unsafe for swimming as there is a good chance salties are there.

After the first pool we had to do some little climbing, but nothing extraordinary. Reaching the Pink and Black Pool was very rewarding.

Little climb and we were at the Pink Pool
Little climb and we were at the Pink Pool

We were able to climb to the cliff and see all three pools from the top on one side and the rest of the gorge and vast plains on the northeast side.

From there, the track was unmarked and we decided to not go further as in October the temperatures were already very high.

We returned a different way by going through the escarpment and the east side.

What else to see around?

If you feel adventurous, you can take your chances by going to the Freezing Gorge which is located on the west-north side of Koolping Gorge.

It is an unmarked track, so it is advisable to go with a guide or someone experience who knows the area.

The walk to the gorge is difficult with some climbing, scrambling, and rock squeezing. 

It is possible to do a two days hike with an overnight camp somewhere on the way, but you have to be prepared very well.

Nell admiring the views
Nell admiring the views

Koolpin Gorge Summary

The best part of Jarrangbarnmi is that ordinary tourists don’t go there as it is remote and you have to apply for a permit, so it is a bit of a hassle. 

Obviously, in most popular months like June, July, August, you still see people at Koolping Gorge, but that’s nothing comparing to Kakadu crowds.

The whole area looks untouched and beautiful – something we always look for.

At the time we visited Koolping Gorge, we did not know we can also go to Freezing Gorge. I heard it is quite adventurous, but nothing that cannot be done and even older kids can do it. Maybe next time!

Have you been to Koolpin Gorge, or maybe Freezing Gorge? What was your experience?

Please leave a comment below.

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4WD Equipment Checklist

GPS Navigator or compass

Maxtrax – if you get bogged, you can use it for additional traction

Tire Deflator – deflate tires quickly when going on dirt or 4WD

Air Compressor – inflate tires quickly after going back on bitumen (we use MM)

Tire Repair Kit – to fix the tire by yourself when you don’t have access to the tire shop (we use Oztrail)

UHF Radio – for communication with your mates and in emergency

Full Recovery Kit (with Dampener Blanket) – must-have if you are going on real off-road

High Lift Jack – useful if you do serious 4WD tracks

Shovel – useful if you get bogged, also good for campfire cooking

Fuel funnel with water filter – additional protection when fueling up in dodgy places

Additional fuel canisters

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