About Motor Car Falls (Yurmikmik)
Motor Car Falls (Yurmikmik) is one of the few Kakadu National Park waterfalls that you can actually hike to in the Wet Season.
That’s because the Wet Season tends to close most roads as well as trails due to flooding and the increased threat of saltwater crocodiles in all waterways, respectively.
In addition to this waterfall and its atmospheric large swimming hole surrounded by tall cliffs, there’s also the possibility of extending the walk to experience Boulder Creek Falls, which was another Wet Season waterfall.
Anyways, the catch to visiting Motor Car Falls is that you have to go on a bit of a half-day excursion, which is not trivial when you consider how hot and humid such hikes can get in the Top End.
Timing A Visit to Motor Car Falls
As you can see from the photo above, which was taken in early June 2022, Motor Car Falls struggled to flow even early on in the Dry Season.
That meant that you pretty much had to show up in the Wet Season in order to see this waterfall perform.
However, during the Wet, despite Motor Car Falls likely having better flow, the large plunge pool on Motor Car Creek would probably not be suitable for swimming due to strong currents and the possibility of a saltwater croc getting this far.
Indeed, it wouldn’t be until the Dry Season that the pool fronting Yurmikmik would likely be suitable for a swim, but then the falls wouldn’t be flowing.
If the desire would be to try to swim in front of a flowing waterfall, I’d imagine that you’d have to time your visit for right at the end of the Wet Season, which I’m guessing would be the end of April or as late as mid-May.
Options for Accessing Motor Car Falls
There are actually two main starting points for hiking to Motor Car Falls (see directions below).
The closest car park to Motor Car Falls is the Yurmikmik Motor Car Falls Trailhead, where the signs here suggested that the hike would be 7.5km return.
This car park is actually close to the Yurmikmik Lookout (which was another short detour for a little more variety to the experience), which was about 500m away (200m return detour from the Motor Car Falls hike).
That said, my GPS logs suggested it was about 6.8km round-trip, and this included the detour to the Yurmikmik Lookout.
Anyways, the other trailhead is the Yurmikmik Boulder Creek Trailhead, where you can combine Boulder Creek Falls with Motor Car Falls in a single half-day excursion.
According to the signs at the trailhead, the hike from here along with the Boulder Creek Falls detour added an additional 2km round trip (though my GPS logs suggested that it was more like 2.8km round trip).
The signs here suggested that it was more like an 11km round-trip hike from the Boulder Creek Trailhead to Motor Car Falls, but my GPS logs suggested it was more like 9.6km round-trip (including the Boulder Creek Falls detour).
When we did our hike in June 2022, we started from the Boulder Creek Trailhead so that’s how I’ll do the trail description below.
Trail Description from the Boulder Creek Falls Trailhead to the Motor Car Falls Trail
From the Boulder Creek Trailhead, it was a straightforward walk going roughly 600m before reaching a signed trail junction with the Boulder Creek Falls spur.
In this initial stretch, the trail briefly went across a seasonal side stream (which eventually would join up with Boulder Creek) before passing through some savannah-like area with little shade.
Once on the Boulder Creek Falls side track, we then walked about another 300m to the foot of the waterfall, which was aptly named since the area was full of boulders.
During our mid-June 2022 visit, there was only a trickle left going over the lowermost tier of Boulder Creek Falls, which suggested to me that it was clearly a Wet Season-only temporary waterfall.
Given the low flow conditions, I did manage to carefully scramble alongside the falls to reach a plunge pool and potentially a taller tier of the Boulder Creek Falls had it been in higher flow.
However, we didn’t linger here for long and went back to the main trail, where we then continued for nearly another 800m where we then encountered a well-signed trail junction.
Going right at this junction would continue the Motor Car Falls hike, but going straight ahead uphill for nearly another 300m landed us right at the Yurmikmik Lookout.
From here, we got to look across the valley carved out by the South Alligator River as well as some distant escarpments.
By the way, even though we’ve interchanged the names Motor Car Falls and Yurmikmik in this write-up, Yurmikmik is actually the native Jawoyn name for the area between the Marrawal Plateau and the South Alligator River (i.e. what we saw at the lookout).
Nevertheless, after having our fill of this nice view, we then returned back to the main signposted intersection to resume the Motor Car Falls hike.
Note that up to this point, we had walked about 3.4km (though it would have only been about 400m without the Yurmikmik Lookout detour had we started from the Yurmikmik Motor Car Falls car park).
Trail Description from the Yurmikmik Car Park and Lookout Vicinity to the Motor Car Falls
Continuing on with the hike from the signed trail junction near both the Yurmikmik Lookout and the Yurmikmik car park, we then hiked about 2.3km of mostly flat but unshaded terrain on the well-used trail.
The track was noticeably wide and flat, and it turned out to be that way because in 1946 a tin miner named Paul Allmich drove his truck as far as Motor Car Creek via this path (which is how the creek got its name).
While this stretch of the hike can seem somewhat featureless and long, there was always the intriguing knobby escarpments to the south (our right) throughout.
Nevertheless, it was this stretch that made the hike feel like it was long given the heat and humidity of the Top End combined with the relative lack of eye-popping features.
Anyways, we’d eventually reach a signed trail fork, where we kept to the right to continue towards Motor Car Falls.
By the way, the path on the left considerably narrowed even more, and it was part of the Kurrundie Creek Walk (to Kurrundie Creek Falls), which was rougher and should only be attempted by well-prepared and experienced hikers.
So continuing with the Motor Car Falls Track, we then went the final 400m as the track descended towards the imposing escarpments that we had been noticing throughout this hike.
As the track got closer to the escarpment, the on-trail hike then became a little more of a mild scramble though staying on the trail wasn’t difficult.
The scramble was more of the bouldering nature as it skirted alongside Motor Car Creek, and ultimately the trail would descend and end right at the fringes of the massive plunge pool in front of Motor Car Falls.
There was a huge rock slab that we took advantage of to have a picnic, but otherwise this was a nice quiet spot for a swim as well.
Even though the falls was only trickling, I’d imagine that its height was probably on the order of at least 35-40m or more.
After having our fill of the falls, we then went back the way we came where we encountered several more hikers going to the falls.
This attested to Motor Car Falls’ popularity though I suspected these people were really there to swim or at least have an alternative to Gunlom Falls, which was closed due to cultural reasons during our June 2022 hike.
By the time we had returned to the car, we ended up spending a little over 4 hours though I’d imagine that more determined hikers in a hurry could easily finish this hike in less than 3 hours (not counting the detours that we took though).
Motor Car Falls (or Yurmikmik Falls) resides in Kakadu National Park near Jabiru or Cooinda in the Northern Territory. It is jointly administered by the Jawoyn People and the Northern Territory Government. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
From the Kakadu Highway (Route 21), we turned off onto Gimbat Road, which was a wide and fairly smooth unpaved road (save for a handful of potholes).
This turnoff was about 70km northeast of Pine Creek or 163km southwest of Jabiru.
Once on Gimbat Road, we then drove about 21km towards the signed turnoff for Boulder Creek Falls, which led the final short stretch to the car park and picnic area.
Overall, this drive would take a little over an hour from Pine Creek or over 2 hours or more from Jabiru.
If you want to continue the drive to the Yurmikmik Motor Car Falls car park, then continue another 600m to an unsigned turnoff on the right.
This unsigned turnoff is easy to miss, and even the rutted and undulating dirt road leading to the car park would likely bottom out any vehicle with insufficient clearance.
For geographical context, Pine Creek was 225km (about 2.5 hours drive) south of Darwin, 164km (over 2 hours drive) southwest of Cooinda, 213km (over 2.5 hours drive) southwest of Jabiru, and 184km (over 2 hours drive) northwest of Katherine.
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