We regularly get asked how and when to cross Cahills Crossing? As a tour operator on the Cobourg Peninsula it's a water crossing we do many times each week and have done so for the past 15 years. We thought we'd share this knowledge in the hope it makes your journey across this crocodile inhabited river an incident free event.
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So firstly - what is and where is Cahills Crossing? Cahills Crossing is located in the Northern Territory on the East Alligator River approximately a 3.5 hour drive east of Darwin in Kakadu National Park. It is named after the legendary buffalo hunter Paddy Cahill (1863–1923) who was one of the first European pioneers of the region. Today, the crossing offers the only road access point between Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park. It's a notorious river crossing due to high water flow and abundance of saltwater crocodiles. Evidence of overturned vehicles scattered along the edge of the causeway act as a timely reminder of the dangers of crossing when water levels are too high.
OK, so let's get back to how to cross Cahills Crossing? Well, first things first, you'll need a permit from the Northern Land Council (NLC) as presumably you'll be coming from the Kakadu side therefore entering Arnhem Land which is Aboriginal land requiring permission to enter. Once you have a permit then you'll need to make sure you have the right vehicle - a high clearance 4wd with a snorkel is your best choice.
Cahills Crossing is generally closed during the wet season (Dec-May) due to monsoonal rainfall raising the water levels to heights far too high for crossing. In the dry season (May-Oct) there is generally less freshwater pushing down the river from upstream catchments and therefore provides greater windows for crossing the causeway at a safe level.
Most people who call our office want to know the best time to cross Cahills Crossing and my answer is always; check the tides. Although Cahills is about 50kms from river mouth it's still very tidal and the best time to cross is around low tide (at the crossing). How do I find the Cahills Crossing tide times? I hear you say.... Well there's one easy answer, it's called Willy Weather, this site is extremely helpful and tells you the approximate tide times at the crossing - which you can check months ahead. To make it easy for yourself you'll want to cross at low tide but if the tide times don't work into your plans you can usually safely cross a couple of hours either side of low tide as the depth is the same (especially if the high tide is listed at 6m or under & there hasn't been any rain for a week).
Another question we regularly get asked is what depth should I cross Cahills Crossing at? This depends on three main factors; your vehicle weight/shape, depth of water and the volume/speed of the water moving over the crossing at the time. Most people get into trouble by crossing the river when there is too much water pushing over the crossing (getting pushed off the crossing and into the rocks on the side). Although you'll see some people cross the river at .8m (under the right conditions), we'd recommend erring on the side of caution and sticking to .5m or under as long as you are in a high clearance 4wd.
Be aware when undertaking a river crossing - your vehicle insurance policy will stipulate the height of water you can enter (this is often just halfway up the wheel)
Please note once the wet season rains set in the crossing becomes impassible and will close for the duration of the wet season. It usually closes in November or December and reopens around mid-April to early May. An easy way to check if it's opens is to look at the Kakadu Road Report for the most up to date information.
Cahills Crossing croc attacks do occur and there have sadly been 2 recorded deaths here so if you are not sure about whether to cross then it's best not risking it. If there are crocs on the crossing when you need to cross they will generally move as you approach in your vehicle (if not a quick toot on the horn will do the trick).
So to recap - to cross Cahills Crossing safely you'll 1) - want a high clearance 4wd with snorkel. 2) - need to cross at low tide (at the crossing). 3) - don't cross when the water depth is more then .5m. 4) - If you are unsure don't risk it.
If you decide the crossing isn't worth the risk and want to do it with an experienced operator you can jump on a 4 day eco-tour of Arnhem Land and Cobourg Peninsula from Jabiru or if fishing's more your things you can bypass the crossing all together and fly to Cobourg Coastal Camp from Darwin.
We hope the above info helps - please send us a quick email is you think there is some critical information we've missed and may help others. Safe Travels :)