Crocodiles are damn scary – they’re miles above us on the food chain. And although we need to be cautious while exploring croc country, they shouldn’t scare us out of visiting altogether.
Northern Australia is riddled with spectacular waterfalls, swimming holes, creeks, and beaches. It’s a wild swimming delight!
It also happens to be home to the largest reptile on the planet – the Saltwater crocodile. A truly astonishing animal, these feisty beasts are a threat to nearly anything with (or that once had) a heartbeat – including people.
Here’s how to explore this remarkable area of Australia without becoming a croc’s brunch.
Where do crocodiles live?
Crocodiles can be found in three states in Australia – WA, NT, and QLD – but they’re much more prolific in some spots than others.
The Northern Territory has the highest population of crocs, with an estimated 100,000 Saltwater crocs in the Top End. That’s almost the entire population of Darwin!
Anywhere along the northern coastline of the NT up to 200km inland counts as croc country. This includes down to Katherine, Nitmiluk Gorge and surrounds.
In WA, crocs can be found from anywhere north of Broome along the coastline and in inland waterways.
In QLD, crocs may be found as far south as the Boyne River near Gladstone, all the way up the East Coast and across all of Tropical North Queensland.
Threat to People
This size difference also determines a difference in threat. Freshwater crocodiles are not big enough and don’t have a large enough jaw to eat what Saltwater crocs eat, making them much less of a threat to humans.
Freshies are also less aggressive than salties – you’re not at risk of becoming a Freshwater croc’s next snack, but that doesn’t mean you can pet them! Freshies have still been known to bite people when provoked, but aren’t likely to approach you.
Saltwater crocodiles on the other hand are incredibly aggressive and stalk their prey before they attack. You do not want to run into one of these guys in a dark alley or even in broad daylight.
Freshwater crocs are mostly found in fresh, sandy-bottomed waterways, away from the coast, whereas Saltwater crocs can be found in both salt and freshwater. They like to keep you on your toes wherever you goes!
Cultural Significance of Crocodiles
Crocs are significant to many Aboriginal Dreamtime stories.
The Larrakia people, the Traditional Owners of the land that makes up Darwin and surrounds, believe themselves to be descended from crocodiles.
Dangalaba, the Gulumirrgin (Larrakia language) word for crocodile, is a major totem for the Larrakia people.
Croc Safety While Swimming
Depending on exactly where you’re exploring in northern Australia, the presence and threat of Saltwater crocs will differ.
In Tropical North Queensland for example, many swimming holes are open year round, so long as they’re not indicated otherwise. Whereas in the Top End of the NT, beaches and most freshwater swimming holes are only open for swimming during the dry season from May/June to September.
For specific information about the area you’re exploring, check out the relevant state government website before you get there.
If in doubt, follow the golden rule;
Only swim where there are designated safe swimming signs – if a waterway doesn’t have a safe swimming sign, don’t enter the water. A waterway merely lacking a croc warning sign isn’t an invitation to take a dip.
Croc Safety While Camping
It’s not just when you’re in the water that you need to be careful – crocs have feet! So when you’re camping in croc country, make sure you follow these rules;
- Camp at least 50 metres away from the edge of the water
- Camp at least two metres above the high water mark
- Avoid returning to the same spot to refill your water – crocs recognise repeated behaviour, they’re real stalkers!
- Never prepare food or wash dishes by the water’s edge
- Never dispose of food or other scraps by the water or by your campsite
- Before pitching your tent, check to make sure the campers who were there before you didn’t leave food scraps behind
Croc Safety While Fishing and Boating
Where there are crocs, there’s often good fishing – they love eating barra as much as you do! But don’t think they’ll be full up after one fish fillet.
The waterways where most people are keen to take the boat out or flick in a line are not likely going to be monitored for crocs like the swimming holes in national parks. That means your safety is in your hands – you’ve got to have ya wits about ya!
- Be alert when launching and retrieving your boat – keep the boat between you and the water as a barrier
- Don’t lean out of or dangle anything (including limbs!) over the edge of the boat – just because you’re in a tinny doesn’t mean you’re indestructible
- Don’t use kayaks, paddleboards, or canoes in croc country – the smaller the watercraft the bigger the risk
- Stand at least five metres back from the water’s edge while fishing and don’t stand on overhanging branches
- Don’t gut and fillet your catch by the water’s edge, you’re just teasing them!
- Dispose of fishing rubbish in a bin well away from the water
- Keep an eye out for slide marks on the banks of rivers and stay away from them
- Don’t enter the water to get back a fishing lure – let it go man!
And the really obvious advice;
- Never approach a crocodile
- Never touch a crocodile
- Never feed a crocodile
- Never smile at a crocodile – ok you can give them a little grin, but that’s it!
Feature photo thanks to Tourism NT/Shaana McNaught