At first I don’t see it – although it is big, it is very well camoflaged, lying motionless and sun-dappled in the mud, in the mangroves on the edge of the small stream. It’s length is more than twice my height, and longer then the little three metre tinny with outboard motor that we are putting along in. Our guide kills the engine, and we float in place, watching (and photographing) this crocodile who doesn’t move, although his eye seems focused on us unblinkingly as we slowly cruise by.
He is only about ten metres away from us, and we are sitting about a foot above water level. “Do they ever attack boats” I ask the guide, “given that he is almost bigger than our boat?” “Yes, not often but sometimes that happens if he thinks you are a threat, we’ve known them to come in and bump the boat, try and take a bite out of it.” No doubt seeing the look on my face, the guide adds “But see how his legs are stretched out behind him like that, that means he’s relaxed, if he starts pulling them forward and up, to position them to give himself a powerful push-off to launch at something, thats when you want to get out of there.” He still hasn’t moved a muscle, but I am happy when the guide decides its time to restart the outboard and chug a bit further along the riverbank.
The remote Coburg Peninsula, far north Australia
We are in the tidal estuaries, on the northernmost edge of Australia, the Coburg peninsula, looking north over the Arafura sea towards Indonesia. To get here I took a small plane ride from Darwin for forty five minutes to a tiny airstrip, where I am picked up in a jeep and driven through to Seven Spirit Bay Resort, an amazing luxury eco-resort in an almost completely unpopulated remote tropical area.
On the first evening, I am sitting on a bench on the top of a small cliff, watching the sunset over the sea with a glass of champagne in my hand, watching three shark fins circle in the bay below, near the large crocodile track where a local inhabitant supposedly drags himself in and out of the sea. So no beach walking or swimming for me then! – this is a national park in Far North Australia and there’s a lot more danger in the water here than there is on Bondi.
So a couple of days later I find myself drifting through the mangroves in this little tinny, looking for big crocs. Its only when we find them that I start to realise how much I don’t like them close up, all that prehistoric power is quite a chilling thing to see when its not behind a fence in a zoo. A hundred metres past the big motionless one we find a couple more, one even larger and older, sunbaking on the bank.
When one of them slides forward into the water and starts to head toward us quite quickly, I am glad that the guide moves us out of there, and also glad that the river is a lot wider here as it starts to merge into the sea. The bit I like the least is when the one in the water sinks completely below the surface while heading towards us, so I know he’s under there somewhere but we cant see him. I don’t completely relax until back at the lodge enjoying a degustation dinner under the stars.