Only accessible in the Dry (season) and by four-wheel-drive (well, in theory), Maguk is a verdant gorge complete with tumbling waterfall, deep blue plunge-pool with crystal clear water teaming with fish, and even a “secret” path leading to a series of sparkling swimming holes hidden behind the top of the falls.
(“Secret” in the sense that it’s not advertised, signposted or mentioned in any brochures or guidebooks. Not secret in as far as almost every local knows about it and is quite happy to spill the beans.)
Despite being in a national park frequented by tourists, Maguk has somehow (perhaps due to its relatively inaccessible location) escaped the larger visitor numbers that you might expect at nearby Gunlom.
With all the things to do in Kakadu, everyone has their favourite spot in the park. This is mine (and Azza’s, who recommended it to us). In a place so dry, it’s no wonder all the best attractions are water-based. (Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls, Maguk, Gunlom, Mamukala, Yellow Water, the billabongs, wetlands, rivers…I rest my case.)
I won’t bore you with words when the photos speak for themselves. (In the travel blogging industry, we like to call this a “photo essay”, by which we mean we’re too lazy/busy to write and we know you’re too lazy/busy to read it.)
Having just had a new set of wheel rims and eight-ply tyres, we decided to take on the unsealed, 4WD-only road to Maguk in our (non-4WD) van. The corrugations, though they may not look like much to the uninitiated, gave us one hell of a beating. Seb had told me that if you go over 100 kilometres an hour, you fly across the top of the corrugations and barely feel them. This is true, but, as I got over fifty, I went into a slide, realising I had almost no control over the vehicle and almost veering off the road.
The only other way to do it was to crawl along at less than twenty.
What’s only a 10 km turnoff seemed to take an agonisingly long time.
Luckily for us, the part that makes the road only suitable for 4WDs – an area of deep sand that we would’ve had to floor it through if there was any hope of not getting stuck – had miraculously been filled in with gravel, so we made it through without incident.
We parked up and followed the rest of the trail – a 2km return walk – on foot.
A path, marked only by the occasional arrow in the rock, lead through “monsoon forest”, over jagged rocks, through the river (which, I remind you, may have crocs in) and along its sandy, sometimes even beach-like banks.
As you work your way upriver, beautiful pools reflect the blue of the sky and the vibrant greens of this strange oasis and you’ll want to jump in and start swimming already, but keep going and you’ll soon be blown away by Maguk itself.
I laid down on the stone slab at the water’s edge and marveled at the blue-green reflection of the gorge shimmering simultaneously along with the fish that danced in the deep blue beneath the surface.
Photos just didn’t capture it. I had to go video.
We swam out over the deep plunge pool (in which many Taiwanese people have drowned for some reason) – the scene (almost) too perfect to be thinking about crocodiles – to hidden ledges, through vast shadows, into the sparkling sunlight and even beneath the waterfall itself.
While we were out there a local guide appeared. We told him we’d heard about a secret path that leads to the top of the waterfall and a series of swimming holes in the rock and asked him if he knew where it was. Of course he did. “You head back along the river until you see the first place to cross without getting wet. On the other side, keep walking straight, with the river to your back, and eventually, after 100 metres or so, you’ll cross a path. Turn right and just keep following it…”
Then he dove into the water and swam to a little nook in the rock that we hadn’t even noticed, just big enough to conceal him, and he was gone…
We followed his directions. The path he’d spoken of was barely distinguishable from its surroundings and at first I wasn’t sure if it was the right one…
…but soon a couple of partial footprints instilled us with confidence, and it all came good in the end.
The path emerged from under the foliage and into the unforgiving heat of the sun. It wound around the edges of what felt like a hot, dusty canyon, then up over the crest and down again. Then we knew for sure we’d found the place.
We climbed down the steep rockface to the gleaming pools.
We clambered over the damp rock, these tiny black frogs jumping around all over us, and followed the course of the water even further, every step revealing a new series of pools.
Azza had told us about one pool that, once you get into it, the only way out is to swim down. So of course we stood on the rim and took photos.
I considered diving in, but couldn’t see this tunnel he’d mentioned. The blackness was impenetrable. (He later told us it’s a couple of metres down…)
Hours passed as we swam, dove, bathed and just relaxed and enjoyed the view from our very own, personal infinity pool atop the waterfall.
Eventually the threat of imminent sunburn caused us to flee the scene, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the beauty of this place.