Gunlom Falls

Kakadu National Park / West Arnhem / near Cooinda, Northern Territory, Australia

Rating: 2.5     Difficulty: 1
Gunlom Falls

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Gunlom Falls (we've been told it was also called the UPD Falls) seemed to us like the quintessential Australian Outback waterfall complete with a 30m drop into a very wide plunge pool that was free of Saltwater Crocodiles. Fringing this big plunge pool was a coarse sandy beach bathed in warm tropical sun with gum trees protruding over the pool. To Julie and I, this was the most idyllic spot to chill out by a waterfall as we showed up early enough in the morning to have it to ourselves. Apparently, we weren't the only ones who thought of this place as an ideal Outback getaway spot. I recalled seeing one of the TV syndications of the movie "Crocodile Dundee" and immediately recognized the swimming hole that the main characters were at. It was too bad that the falls was dry in the movie.

Speaking of dry, it turned out that the timing of our waterfall was fortunate. Our visit to Australia's Top End occurred in June 2006. That happened to be the start of the Dry Season, but that particular year also happened to be a month after a freak and unusually late cyclone (I believe it was Cycone Monica) had hit this part of the country. So the flow you see in the photos here might be a bit on the high side for this time of year. Moreover, this happened to be the lone waterfall in Kakadu National Park that we were able to visit by land considering all the rest of the 4wd roads were closed due to the threat of Saltwater Crocodiles. The access to Gunlom Falls was largely because its access road didn't really require a high clearance 4wd (though it would certainly help in some of the rougher spots; see directions below).

As for the road closures, it turned out that Gunlom Falls was also the replacement waterfall for land tours to Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. We found this out the hard way and had to fight real hard to ensure that we weren't forced to pay for a re-visit to Gunlom Falls after having pre-booked that tour prior to arriving to the Top End (then cancelling once we learned of the intent to replace the attractions with this already-seen waterfall).

As you can see from the photos on this page, we were pretty much looking right against the sun whenever we gazed upon the falls. We showed up at around late morning to midday, and the harsh light combined with the position of the sun made for very difficult conditions to take photos. If I had to guess when would be the better time of day to show up and take photos here, it would be in the afternoon when the sun would've had a chance to get lower on the horizon and possibly provide some warm backlighting on the falls.

In addition to taking photos, we did notice that there were trails that allowed us to go to the top of the falls. The trail looked steep and the heat from the height of the day conspired to keep us from going up there. However, we learned after the fact that there was another attractive swimming hole above the top of the falls as well as another smaller waterfall spilling into it. We also missed out on the view over much of the sacred Aboriginal bushlands from the edge of the escarpment. So, I guess we'll have to come back one of these days to complete the Gunlom Falls experience.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

With the sun being in such a bad spot, we had to figure out other ways to compose decent photos of Gunlom FallsWith the sun being in such a bad spot, we had to figure out other ways to compose decent photos of Gunlom Falls
Gunlom Falls was the replacement waterfall of our pre-booked Jim Jim Falls Land Tour, and as you can see from this photo, it would've been a real bummer to have missed out on Jim Jim FallsGunlom Falls was the replacement waterfall of our pre-booked Jim Jim Falls Land Tour, and as you can see from this photo, it would've been a real bummer to have missed out on Jim Jim Falls
We stayed in Cooinda, which was the home of the Yellow Water Cruise on the Jim Jim Billabong, where you can see Saltwater Crocodiles like this one.  By the way, Gunlom Falls doesn't have themWe stayed in Cooinda, which was the home of the Yellow Water Cruise on the Jim Jim Billabong, where you can see Saltwater Crocodiles like this one. By the way, Gunlom Falls doesn't have them
Part of what makes Kakadu National Park a powerfully immersive experience as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the chance at seeing Aboroginal artifacts at Ubirr and Nourlangie RockPart of what makes Kakadu National Park a powerfully immersive experience as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the chance at seeing Aboroginal artifacts at Ubirr and Nourlangie Rock
Sign indicating that there's more to do around here like walking to the top of the escarpmentSign indicating that there's more to do around here like walking to the top of the escarpment (which we didn't do)

Our first look at Gunlom FallsOur first look at the falls

Taking long exposure photos of Gunlom Falls with the harsh sun was not easyTaking long exposure photos of the falls with the harsh sun was not easy

Probably the most angled shot of Gunlom Falls that Julie and I could getProbably the most angled shot of the falls that I could get

Gunlom Falls in shadow with the bright coarse sand and gum tree growing towards itThe falls in shadow with the bright coarse sand and gum tree growing towards it

The wide plunge pool of Gunlom Falls fringed by gum trees, bush, and bright coarse sandThe wide plunge pool of Gunlom Falls fringed by gum trees, bush, and bright coarse sand

Perhaps this photo shows the clarity of the plunge pool beneath Gunlom Falls as that log was submerged in itPerhaps this photo shows the clarity of the plunge pool beneath the falls as that log was submerged

Another gum tree growing over the plunge pool towards the sunAnother gum tree growing over the plunge pool towards the sun


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS




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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

Getting to the falls requires driving some 39km (each way) on wide but rough, bumpy, dusty, and washboarded unsealed roads. I remembered that a 2wd can definitely make it with a little careful driving. Since we had hired a high clearance vehicle, then we didn't have to worry so much about the obstacles as much. That said, conditions can change year after year as the Wet Season monsoons dump heavy rains and can flood the track (thereby beating it up and creating new obstacles). So while it may have been doable by 2wd passenger vehicles during our visit, there's a chance it may not be in other years.

As for navigating, the signposted turnoff for Gunlom Falls leaves the Kakadu Highway (Hwy 21) about 100km south of Cooinda and about 70km north of the junction with the Stuart Highway (Hwy 1) at Pine Creek. Once on the unsealed road leading to the falls, you drive about 30km or so to a T-intersection before turning left and following the unsealed road to its end at the car park for the falls.

For context, Pine Creek was 225km (about 2.5 hours drive) south of Darwin and 164km (over 2 hours drive) southwest of Cooinda. Coming from the other direction, Jabiru was 57km (over 30 minutes drive) northeast of Cooinda and 253km (under 3 hours drive) east of Darwin.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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What Other Visitors Have Said

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UPD Falls 
This used to be the UPD Falls when we visited 30 years ago. We were the only ones there all day and overnight. It is truly beautiful and we swam for hours. …

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