By the time we arrived in Far North Queensland, we already had a pretty decent array of Australian wildlife sightings under our belt.
So far, we’d encountered Tasmanian devils, kangaroos, koalas, dolphins, and echidnas — to name a few. As far as kitschy animal spottings went, there was just one more big one to check off: the almighty crocodile.
The Daintree River lies about 100 kilometers north of Cairns, in the Daintree Rainforest. It’s well known for its crocodile cruises, which give you the chance to spot this famously dangerous creature — without the risk of incurring its famously dangerous teeth.
We picked up a rental vehicle in Cairns and drove from there to the river. This was in mid-August, which is high time for Far North Queensland. As part of Australia’s northern tropics, the area receives the most visitors during its less humid “dry season,” which lasts from May to October. That said, we didn’t bother booking anything in advance, and had no trouble getting a spot on a cruise when we arrived.
Our cruise boat was quite small, but so was our group. Besides us, there were probably around 10 other people, plus one guide. We set off down the river at a slow, almost lazy pace; everything was still and quiet, except for the occasional rustle of leaves in the wind and the buzzing of a few insects. Our anticipation was palpable.
The first crocodiles we saw were two juveniles. They were just a couple feet long and bore a remarkable resemblance to fallen tree branches. (Scared yet?)
According to our guide, these two were only sitting so close together because they were roughly the same size. Crocodiles will eat any other crocodile they can overpower; mothers will even eat their own offspring after a certain age. Needless to say, it’s in the best interest of the little guys to steer clear of their larger counterparts.
The little crocs are a bit difficult to spot in the photos, which I assume is no coincidence. These bad boys were trying to blend in, and doing a damn good job. (If you can’t find them, here’s a tip: look for the tree branches with snouts.)
Next, we came across our first adult crocodile — and this is where the fun really starts.
Our guide told us all about how, since crocodiles are cold-blooded animals that must preserve every last bit of their small energy resouces, they are very inactive. This one didn’t move at all as we approached, and she stayed completely still as we hung out and snapped photos.
Then our guide continued. “She might not be moving, but you can bet she’s paying attention. She’s surveying the boat and checking everyone out. If we sank right now, she already knows who she’s going for — the smallest person, who is usually also the weakest and so would take the least amount of energy to capture and restrain. Which would probably be…you.”
As he finished speaking, his eyes settled on me, along with the eyes of everyone else on the cruise. (And, apparently, the eyes of the crocodile.) At just under 5’5″ or 165 cm, I was the smallest person in our group (and probably the worst swimmer, though I don’t know how the crocodile could have possibly known that) — which meant that, in the case of a boat malfunction, I had the best chance of winding up lunch.
Luckily, the boat did not sink or malfunction, and we continued on our way.
The last crocodile we spotted on the cruise was lying along the bank in the last remaining sliver of sunshine. The top of his snout was curled slightly upwards, giving the appearance of a snarl — and actually, that’s exactly what it was. “He’s irritated,” our guide confirmed, “because the sunshine is going away. He’s trying to soak up as much of its warmth as he can before its gone.”
To be honest, I could identify with that problem. How many times have you sat outside, willing the sun to come out from behind the clouds, or wishing it didn’t have to drop below the mountaintop just yet? For a minute, I felt kind of bad for this poor animal who lived his life in cold and solitude, lest his peers gobble him up. It was really quite sad.
Then I remembered, given the first opportunity, he’d be happy to eat me, and probably before anyone else on the boat. The sympathy dried up real quick.
Crocodile river cruises: There are multiple companies operating cruises on the Daintree River. Their kiosks are grouped together on the riverbank, making it quite simple to choose one upon arrival. You can also book with some online in advance if you prefer.