For our last day in Darwin, we booked a tour called Litchfield Escapes, which took us to the 1500-square kilometer Litchfield National Park. It is one of two well-known parks in Darwin, the other being Kakadu National Park. We heard from locals that Litchfield was better suited for one-day excursions and swimming in waterfalls, while Kakadu had more heritage and cultural activities to explore.
We woke up before sunrise to get ready for the 6 a.m. hotel pick-up. Our hotel provides free buffet breakfast, and we went down late with only about five minutes to devour our plates of eggs, bacon, and tomato before the tour guide arrived in the van – already filled with the other tourists – and threatened to leave us behind (among my friends I *may* have a reputation for being slightly late, or as I like to think of it, exactly on time, but if you think I’m bad you should see my family).
We scurried to the bus, where the other tourists proceeded to stare us down as we struggled to find seats for five. The bus was a bit small for my taste – it didn’t help that I was sitting with someone who was more full-bodied – but it was lovely to see the sunrise as we drove on the highway through the rugged Northern Territory terrain.
Our first stop was the Jumping Crocodile Cruise. Darwin is known for their crocodiles, and here we were going to seek them out in the wild and attempt to bait them with fresh meat and make them jump for pure entertainment.
Our boat guide was a 60-year-old-looking guy with a scraggly beard and wearing a muddy green tank, his years of experience in the wild worn not only on the serious expression on his face but also apparent in the blade and gun slung around his waist. The image of the scaly beast clamping its jaws around my arm momentarily creeped into my mind, but crossing over the bridge to the boat as the sun began to rise with the view of the murky green Adelaide River and water bushes in front of me, I felt as if I were going on a National Geographic Expedition and was excited for an adventure into the wetlands.
As we began hunting for wild crocodiles, our guide told us about the reptilian creatures. Crocodiles go back at least 200 million years and are as old as dinosaurs. This is different from alligators, who have only been around for the last 15-20 million years and are the “least aggressive creatures.”
Our guide spotted a female crocodile and started inching towards it, fixing a raw piece of meat onto one end of his spear and dipping it into the waters. This attracts the attention of the crocodiles and heightens their senses, he said.
He parked the boat by the bank, and every time the croc went in for a bite, he would lift the spear up into the air, making the crocodile jump (ha). He explained that as much as possible, crocodiles don’t want to make a lot of sudden movements because it’ll only attract other, larger crocodiles. Many crocodile clusters have claims over certain territories and are protective of their own.
“Every crocodile you see, there’s ten more.”
I shuddered at the thought that hundreds of crocodiles lined the river floor under our boat, but our guide told us that crocodiles have the brain the size of its eye. He said that they’re not the smartest creatures, but then continued on to say that their reaction time is 10 times faster than that of a human.
We came across an alpha male crocodile who was 45-55 years old, and weighed 900 kilograms. Our guide said the crocodile could turn around and have its jaws reach its tail in the blink of an eye.
“They have high power reflexes,” he said. “Even a lion or a tiger wouldn’t stand a chance against this guy.”
He kept baiting the crocodiles on my side of the boat, and because I was sitting in the middle towards the edge of the railing, every time the crocodile jumped I could see the creases of its throat, the blots on its teeth, and the slit in its eye. It was pretty amazing.
When I was researching things to do in Darwin, the jumping crocodile cruise came up in almost every search. It’s uniquely Darwinian and makes you feel like you’ve seen the wild, gritty side of Australia that a Steve Irwin-lookalike in a bucket hat and khaki shorts who says “crikey!” shows viewers on the National Geographic.
After the cruise, we climbed back onto the bus, where our tour guide offered us slices of raisin bread. He turned on the radio, playing road trip classics like Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” and Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” as we headed off to our first waterfall swim in Litchfield National Park.