I had read about it on the plane but it wasn't until I turned the corner in Darwin's Museum of the Northern Territory and gazed directly at the imposing jaw line that I fully understood what all the fuss was about. Sweetheart, a five-metre long saltwater crocodile that died during a relocation exercise in 1979, is one of the main attractions in the museum. The creature has been perfectly preserved for all to admire. Nearby a video that plays on loop explains Sweethearts ill-fated life.
Crocs are big business in the Top End. You can swim safely with a salty in Crocosaurus Cove in Mitchell Street, watch them jump for their supper on the Adelaide River south of Darwin and admire the largest collection of crocodiles in captivity at the Malcolm Douglas Wildlife Park in Broome. There's even an 18-metre long, three-metre high ‘Big’ Crocodile statue at the entrance to Wyndham, the Kimberleys' oldest town. Our fascination with these prehistoric creatures seems somewhat intoxicating.
However rather than observing crocs in a zoo, I wanted to study these magnificent creatures in their natural environment. Luckily, my trip through Kakadu and the Kimberleys with Adventure Tours gave me the opportunity I craved.
Here are my most memorable Northern Territory/Western Australia crocodile experiences.
Just outside of Darwin lies the Mary River where operators give tourists the opportunity of admiring saltwater crocodiles in the wild. The captain of my boat was Ted, who’s best described as a NT character, passionate about the preservation of our native fauna. Once aboard his vessel, Ted took us directly to a four metre croc basking in the sun. The animal was completely unaffected by our arrival - Ted explained that over the years he'd built up a degree of respect with this particular crocodile. Apparently crocs remember individual people. Ted explained that in water, humans are part of the crocodile’s diet, however on land we hold sway - not that any of us tested the hypothesis. In the same way that sharks are largely misunderstood predators, so too does Ted believe that crocodiles suffer from a significant amount of negative press. For example, crocs don’t chase after a meal but are opportunistic feeders that only snap when prey passes close by them. The photo I took of this salty shows him completely relaxed within his surroundings - check out his legs.
On the final night of the nine-day tour of the Kimberleys, the group camped at Windjana Gorge. We arrived just as the sun was setting to watch the colours of rock shift from a vibrant red into blackness. After dinner, our guide, Travis suggested a night time stroll into the gorge itself. We collected our torches and set off. Once we reached the river, Travis beckoned the group together and shone his touch into the water - dozens upon dozens of eyes were caught in his beam. The river meandering through the majestic Windjana Gorge is home to hundreds of freshwater crocodiles. The feeling of being watched by so many eyes is eerie indeed. Travis reassured our nerves by telling the group that the freshies are quite timid and when the torches caught their eyes, they tend to remain extremely still, hoping that we didn't see them - almost like playing dead. The following morning, I was eager to return to the gorge to observe these beautiful animals catching the first rays of sun.
Lake Argyle is Australia’s largest man-made lake and is situated south Kununurra on the Western Australia/Northern Territory border. It was created in 1971 with the construction of the Ord River Dam. As part of the tour, I was lucky enough to enjoy a boat trip around the Lake. After admiring the cute wallabies who grazed on the bank, our tour guide decided to show us Argyle's other inhabitants - the freshwater crocodiles that also call the lake home. On this occasion, the crocs were afraid of our approach and disappeared relatively quickly into the protection of the water below. But seeing them was a terrific experience.
One of the region's sparkling jewels is Katherine Gorge - the actual waterway is made up of 13 smaller gorges that are segmented by rocks. Some of the group chose to experience Katherine in a kayak. However, I choose to take a cruise - I'm not afraid of activities but sometimes it's just nice to relax. The gorge itself is justifiably famous – especially the second gorge - as towering walls of red rock encase postcard-perfect water. And yes, I was fortunate to again spot freshwater crocodiles. Perhaps lucky for the kayakers - they didn't see the freshies. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the crocs saw them. To protect the species, some beaches along the gorge are restricted to humans - this ensures that the crocodile eggs aren't damaged by unsuspecting visitors.
To experience Kakadu and the Kimberley's contact your local Flight Centre consultant who can give you all the information regarding the all-inclusive trips organised by Adventure Tours.