Saltwater crocodiles are the world’s oldest and deadliest predator, so it is natural to be curious and want to get up-close and personal with this prehistoric reptile. Australia has the highest concentration of crocodiles in with more than an estimated 100,000 living in the Northern Territory wilds, so there is no better place to witness their mystique, grandeur, power, and ferocity.
Cuddle a crocodile
Forget cuddling a koala in Darwin and cuddle a cute crocodile instead! Sure, your baby croc looks oh-so-sweet and compliant as you hold it and pose with it atop your head, but these juvenile crocs have their snouts taped shut for a reason – they still bite! It’s still a great opportunity to touch and feel these smaller predators and you will be surprised at its relatively soft skin. Remember to get photographic proof of your encounter, otherwise no one will actually believe you! Get your photo taken with a crocodile at Territory Wildlife Park, Crocosaurus Cove and Crocodylus Park.
Take the plunge
If cuddling a croc doesn’t quite make your heart skip a beat, head to Crocosaurus Cove in the heart of Darwin’s CBD. Enter the cage of death to be immersed into the croc enclosure waters while its fully mature occupant snaps at enticing chunks of meat dangling above. It’s the only place in Australia where you can dive with a crocodile and it’s not for the faint hearted; especially with names like Chopper and Houdini. The minimum age for undertaking this stunt is 15 years, and 15 – 17 year-olds must be accompanied by an adult in the cage. Younger thrill-seekers should head to the juvenile croc enclosure to ‘fish’ for a croc instead.
Regular feeding tours at Crocodylus Park are not to be missed – you might be lucky and get to feed one too! It’s an easy 20-minute drive from Darwin’s CBD, and guests gather on boardwalks above the cages to witness the adult crocs snap for their food. Some will come out of the water a little, while others remain still before unexpectedly snapping the water to nab a tasty snack. The guide explains how the park looks after its inhabitants, their food consumption, mating and nesting habits, and provides some interesting stories about how their guests came to be at the park. One was caught near the notorious Cahill’s Crossing in Kakadu National Park. He is thought to be the culprit in the death of a local man in 1987. Crocodiles are legally protected in the Northern Territory, and have cultural and spiritual significance to Aboriginal people, so he was relocated here for the term of his natural life.
Into the wild
Less than an hour’s drive out of Darwin, board a jumping crocodile cruise on the Adelaide River and watch wild crocodiles effortlessly launch their weighty bodies high above the water to capture food. The expert skippers and guides identify crocodiles by name, as if they’re old friends, and explain hunting and territorial habits. Seeing a mature crocodile’s underbelly just meters away and hearing the distinct hollow pop and chomp of its jaws as it claims its meat reward is an exhilarating experience. Keep your eyes peeled for Brutus who is distinguished by a missing arm. He lost it in a shark fight several years ago but it doesn’t seem to hold him back.
To see crocodiles in a more tranquil state, take a wetlands cruise on Corroboree Billabong in the Mary River region, just 90 minutes from Darwin. Watch these formidable creatures glide silently and majestically through calm waters, seeming to mind their own business. Your skipper will be quick to point out that while the crocs may seem oblivious to your presence they will know all about you long before you see them. Spy some crocs sunning themselves motionless on the banks and look for tell tale croc-slides on the banks as evidence of a crocodile having turned back into the water.
A placid encounter
Smaller travellers, who may be a little apprehensive about seeing a live crocodile, will enjoy seeing the impressive and infamous crocodile named ‘Sweetheart’ at the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery which is located by the beach just five minutes from Darwin’s CBD. Legend has it that Sweetheart was terrorising fisherman at Sweets Lookout billabong, south-west of Darwin in the 70s. By 1979, Sweetheart had been captured but was drowned accidentally while being taken to shore. The intention was to relocate it at a crocodile farm, but due to its notoriety, it was decided to preserve Sweetheart through taxidermy. Today the 5.1-metre, 780-kilogram crocodile is a museum icon that lives up to its name.
No matter how you hunt for your crocodile in the Northern Territory’s Top End, you will smile with delight at seeing these wonders of the reptile world. After a few gasps of course!