The Yellow Water is a massive river-wetland habitat in the heart of Kakadu. Visitors to Kakadu are privileged to have two ways to see it: there is a short walk of a few hundred meters along a platform that gives great views of a limited portion of the habitat, and the two-hour Yellow Water Cruise that gives extensive views of the habitat.
However, even though the platform walk is short, it actually gives pretty good views of wetland birds. On this walk, you can see Great, Intermediate, and Cattle Egret in large numbers. Other waterbirds like Magpie Goose, Nankeen Night Heron, Plumed Whistling Duck, Green Pygmy Goose, Australasian Darter, Comb-crested Jacana, Radjah Shelduck, and Royal Spoonbill are pretty much guaranteed. We even saw two Brolga mates. If you also visit other wetlands on a NT trip like the impressive Fogg Dam, Mamukala, and Anbangbang, you’ll probably see around 90% of all the possible wetland birds you could theoretically see without actually having to go on the cruise.
Despite this, the cruise can be worthwhile. And by cruise, I really only mean the earliest one leaving at the horribly brutal time of 6:45AM, because it is cooler and the best time for birds. What differentiates the cruise from the platform walk and other wetlands bird-wise is a much greater chance to see certain rarer birds. For us, Azure Kingfisher and Black Bittern were two we saw on the cruise and nowhere else. Little Kingfisher, Great-billed Heron, and Red Goshawk are also possible but we did not see them unfortunately. And, even though it is possible to see Salt-water Crococdile elsewhere in Kakadu from land, nowhere will you get a better and closer view than on the cruise.
So, should you go on the cruise? The early morning cruise is $99AUD per person1. If you have not yet seen any of rare species then you absolutely should try the cruise because you’ll see at least some of them. Also, the early cruise offers a relaxing and cool two hours to see amazing landscapes and close views crocodiles. Finally, even if you have seen most of the bird species already, you’ll definitely get good viewing photographic opportunities for birds you may already have seen. Compared to the other wetlands, on the cruise we got better views of Plumed Whistling-Duck, Comb-crested Jacana, and many egrets.
I hope that with that information you should be able to decide whether the cruise is worth it for you.
Even if you do go on the cruise, I still recommend checking out the platform walk as well. It will give you even more opportunities to see different birds and view this beautiful wetland one more time.
Check out eBird’s complete list of reported birds for Yellow Water.
1. Note that the early morning cruise is $20AUD more than the other times because it has an included breakfast. I wish it could have been excluded because it was underwhelming. However, even though the other cruises are only $79AUD, I would not recommend them because it gets so hot during those times.