Chasing one of the deadliest animals in Australia
Exciting encounters and spine-chilling near misses
"You are OBSESSED with crocodiles!" my mum told me every time I posted a new crocodile picture on Facebook. It's strange being called "obsessed" with something that you are terrified of.
Whenever the conversation comes up, what would be the worst way to die? I always say animal attack. That is a violent, drawn-out, shocking, frightening, and agonizingly painful death. It wins, hands down.
Given this fear, Australia may seem like an odd choice of destination. Everyone jokes that everything there can kill you, except it's not a joke.
The list is of deadly creatures is ridiculous, and even innocent things which shouldn't kill you can, such as a poisonous shell and the World's only poisonous bird. I mean, really? Added, of course, to the Great White Shark, Tiger Shark, and Bull Shark. The Box Jelly Fish, Blue-Ringed Octopus, Stingrays, and Stonefish. Not to mention some of the most deadly snakes and spiders in the World. That's just for starters.
But nothing is trying to kill you quite like the saltwater crocodile. They're not just something off the discovery channel casually waiting for a tiny gazelle, and they're not some toothy cartoon in a children's book. They are real-life murderous monsters. And I couldn't get enough of them.
I often say that some people survive shark attacks, they might lose a limb, but human isn't exactly it's preferred prey. Nobody survives a saltwater crocodile attack. Nobody. They're not fussy. They will pretty much eat anything, or should I say anyone.
My first encounter with them in the wild was in the Corroboree Billabong Wetlands in Northern Australia. We took a boat tour across this incredible habitat teeming with wildlife, with the most extensive range of birds I think I've ever seen. Hundreds of new birds I couldn't name, skimming across the water, nesting in the trees, dancing across Lilly pads, and hiding in the undergrowth.
It felt tranquil until you spot your first beast sidling past the boat or conniving on the shore. Corroboree Billabong is part of the Mary River Wetlands, which has the largest concentration of saltwater crocodiles in the World.
Those cold, malevolent, yellow marble eyes are something I will never forget.
I remember arriving in Darwin and walking along the promenade, looking out the long, empty beach. Not a soul was swimming or sunbathing on this enticingly hot day. Why not? I think you can guess.
So much of the Northern Territory is like that, beautiful, cool bodies of water, just a tease surrounded by danger signs or even a croc trap.
You always keep your distance from the water except for a few designated spots deemed safe by the authorities. Some genuinely incredible waterfalls and natural hot springs are safe for swimming in the National Parks, which I fell deeply in love with.
One day, I went with my Australian friends on a day trip to a swimming hole. It was a river set in lush greenery which floating in was pure heaven.
A week later, they told me the sight had been closed due to a crocodile sighting. My blood ran cold, and I felt sick. I imagined what would have happened if it came while we were there. I thought about those families and children in rubber rings. I couldn't shake those thoughts for a long time. Little did I know this wouldn't be the last near miss I would encounter in Oz.
The Australian Saltwater Crocodile is the World's most aggressive crocodile, beating six other species around the World.
They have powerful jaws that can snap bones like twigs, and they're sneaky opportunistic hunters who use their powerful tails to lunge and grab their prey and drag them into the water. In the murky depths, they will perform the "death roll," clamping their jaws around their game and spinning their body round and round until it drowns.
Adult males, on average, grow up to 3.5 meters (11ft 6 inches) to 6 meters (19ft 8 inches)—my God, these dinosaurs are terrifying.
But maybe crocodiles should be more scared of me? I did eat one, after all. That seemed wrong, a human eating a crocodile, the food chain all upside down. But there it was on the menu at Mindil Beach Sunset Market in Darwin, crocodile burger. When in Rome! I wouldn't recommend it. Imagine chicken, if the chicken was tough and fishy...
They also had an insane amount of crocodile skin products for sale, an assortment of belts, whips, and handbags. It turns out these horrible creatures are farmed for their skin. The meat is more as an afterthought so as not to waste the animal.
My subsequent encounter was more educational. I moved to a magical seaside town in Western Australia called Broome. It will always have my heart, and even though I travelled the full breadth of the country for two years, this forever remains a favourite.
We spent a day at crocodile park, learning all about them. It was fascinating. We watched an insane Aussie in a cowboy hat feed them from his bare hands, throw out a tire for it to death roll and poke one in the eye while explaining that it isn't good defense because they can submerge the eye ball deeper down in the socket. Ridiculous.
On the opposite side of the country, in Queensland, Eastern Australia, I lived in yet another crocodile hotspot. Port Douglas. An hour north of Cairns, it's an incredibly gorgeous, bourgeoisie town alongside the tropical four-mile beach. It is a jumping-off point for both the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Paradise in all sense of the word.
Yet as the boats sail out from the yacht club, they sail the same waters as the salties. I was told one year, a giant one was found on the golf course. Long-termers in the hostel even told me that last wet season, the town flooded, and one day they saw a crocodile float down the street past the hostel like a scene from Jumanji.
But the beach was deemed safe, it was always busy, and I went there most days.
One night I went for a run. I often ran very early in the morning or the evening due to the heat and humidity. I left just before sunset, and the beach was beautiful as always. I ran, and I ran, quite far out past where most people sunbathe and swim.
When I felt like I was getting too close to the mangrove end, and it started to get dark, I headed back. That night felt strange. Not like any other night before it. The beach was dead. Empty.
The following day at breakfast, everyones' heads seemed to be down, huddled, and in deep, intense conversation. They turned to me and asked if I'd heard.
"The beach has been closed. There was a croc sighting last night. A big one. Four meters."
My eyes bulged, and I could have thrown up. Again my imagination ran wild. I imagined a four-meter croc lunging from the ocean and dragging me from the beach to my death. And nobody would have known. I would have been a missing person forever hiding in a stomach. I couldn't believe how lucky I was.
That day we walked past the ghostly beach to see new warning signs posted up all across it, yellow and black tape stopping access. It was surreal.
I had many nightmares about them while I was there and even now to this day. Yet, I was drawn to them. They are enthralling and extraordinary. I am not obsessed with crocodiles, but I am morbidly fascinated by them.
Georgina Nelson. Traveller. Writer. Photographer. Yoga teacher.
Sh*t Happens — because the things that go wrong make the funniest stories.
Hi! I’m Georgie and I share travel stories of when sh*t happens. I think that sometimes the worst things that happen to you traveling, are often the funniest
Follow me on Instagram! https://www.instagram.com/sh.t_happens_lost_girl_travel/