The Real Kakadu

A new documentary delves deep into Australia's spectacular Top End and finds it as stunning an experience as the African savannah, writes Tiffany Fox Kakadu is a land of contrasts. The heat is crippling, spear grass forms dense barriers at every turn and dangerous beasts lurk beneath the surface of water holes and along the rugged tracks.

But alongside the danger and drama of Kakadu is a wild beauty which attracts 170,000 visitors every year to its ancient escarpments and vast flood plains.

Filmmaker Nick Robinson spent 12 months capturing the changing faces of the national park for a new four-part documentary series, Kakadu.

The documentary goes behind the scenes of Australia's biggest terrestrial national park to tell the stories of the traditional owners, rangers and scientists who devote their lives to the region.

Robinson said he aimed to create a cross between a traditional wildlife documentary and an observational series that would engage viewers with the balancing act needed to protect the wilderness region.

"Kakadu is an amazing microcosm of so many issues that Australia as a whole faces, whether it be the indigenous partnership that goes on there, or the maintenance of a wilderness area in the face of human pressures," he said.

"It is also the largest terrestrial national park in Australia and it was important to do something there to show people Kakadu is as good as anything you would see on the BBC.

"Everyone knows the wildebeest and the lion from the blue-chip (BBC-style) documentaries but Kakadu has landscapes that are just as fascinating, has large predators that are just as interesting and a myriad of other species that are far more than you would find on an African savannah."

The first episode, which premieres on Sunday follows the efforts of rangers as they attempt to open up the national park to visitors after months of monsoonal rains.

The biggest problem is a 4m crocodile which has taken up residence somewhere in the maze of billabongs and streams between some of Kakadu's more popular tourist attractions, Twin Falls and Jim Jim Falls.

Robinson said while the biggest challenges were the intense heat and difficulty in navigating terrain where swamps could stretch for hundreds of kilometres and were accessible only by air, boat or helicopter, the documentary could not have been possible without the co-operation of the people who lived and worked there.

"If you did not like getting bogged and changing tyres and getting mobbed by insects, you would probably find it horrible but luckily we all love camping," he said with a laugh.

"Once you spend a bit of time around the campfire, people really open up and . . . they ended up making the stories.

"They would tell us about this amazing place that you need a helicopter to get to, that they visited once 10 years ago, and we would get the helicopter and go off to look for lost rock art or rare animals or amazing places."

Robinson said he hoped to tap into the same level of commitment and passion on his next project, a film about the Great Barrier Reef, which he was due to start filming soon.

"Animals don't live on the planet alone, we are there too, and the great thing about (Kakadu) is that it shows you that balance and how it can be done to keep some wilderness areas," he said.

"It is not about highlighting how everything is doom and gloom, it is about putting the spotlight on people who are doing something about it."