Cruising with Crocodiles on Australia’s WILDEST River
‘There it is,’ shouted Pilchard, pointing towards the bank. I looked, but there was only an old tyre on the edge of the water nestled in the grass. Typical bloke. All excited about nothing. The boat moved closer to the river banks.
‘Where?’ I whined as cameras clicked all around me. Damn! If everyone else could see a monster crocodile, why couldn’t I? The boat edged even closer, heading right for the tyre on the grass.
‘There! There!’ Pilchard stabbed the air in a pointing frenzy. ‘If you can’t see it now, I can’t help you,’ he eventually shrugged, lifting his binoculars.
‘All I can see is that old tyre,’ I said, readying my camera anyway.
‘Look again! That’s NOT a tyre,’ Pilchard laughed as it finally clicked. And so did my camera. Better late than never, huh?
Half an hour later I’d seen more crocodiles than in the rest of my whole life AND Pilchards put together.
A lot of the bigger ones had names. Lord Lizard. Whitey. Old Broken Jaw.
Weirdly, there weren’t any called Freakin’ Scary.
There should have been.
As six scary metres (nearly 20 feet) of leather-coated muscle, razor sharp teeth and pre-historic cunning slid silently into the current swirling around our cruise boat on the Victoria River we waited for those cold yellow eyes to appear in the brownish water downstream.
If he (yes, I’ve assumed this macho melange of features to be male) surfaced directly under us, it SO wouldn’t be a good time to find out the purpose-built M.V Fleetwing wasn’t croc-proof! But that was just one of the hazards of taking a tour into the wilderness along the Northern Territory’s Victoria River – arguably Australia’s wildest.
The high crocodile count so far wasn’t doing anything to disprove it.
And neither was the scenery. As we raced 35 km (~22 miles) down the river towards our date with a Northern Territory sunset, the late afternoon glow was already lighting up the cliffs and escarpments of the wild and remote Yambarrin Ranges above the rivers broad, brown expanse.
Yes, brown. Just perfect for a crocodile to disappear in …
But the Victoria River Sunset Cruise isn’t just about crocodiles. Or sunset. From the Croc Stock Shop, owned and run by locals Meredith and Neville Fogarty, the 1971 bus took a roundabout route to the jetty at Big Horse Creek via some of the historic points of interest in and around Timber Creek.
So if the Suicide Tree, Timber Creek Musuem, Gregory’s Tree, Policeman’s Point, Live Croc feeding at the caravan park and the Bradshaw Field Training Area’s Bridge to Nowhere – with its vast array of signs warning of the horrible things that could, and WOULD happen to trespassers – sound intriguing to you, you’ll know why we stayed an extra day to explore. And if you stay tuned to this blog, you’ll eventually find out all about them AND get to read about our nightmare camper from hell story!
But I digress …
The Victoria River doesn’t discriminate between Australia’s two crocodile species, and neither do I. They’re BOTH scary – although the
smaller freshwater croc isn’t known for its murderous tendencies towards humans. So despite the distractions of the superb Top End dry season scenery, I kept my eyes on the water.
As we passed the gravel islands and sandbanks mid-river, the massive saltwater crocodiles we’d seen earlier gave way to the smaller freshies.
Was it a coincidence that the bird life increased, with Jabiru (actual name Black-necked Stork), White-bellied Sea Eagles, Whistling Kites – and the strange sight of an Australasian Bustard in full flight?
The croc sightings of any variety dropped off altogether as we drew level with the mid-river pontoon – another purpose-built structure surrounded by a cage of the extra-strength wire mesh that (we hoped) made it croc-proof. But this, and the superb array of hot and cold nibbles and drinks weren’t the only things to make this sunset memorable.
What do you do when nature calls and you’re in the middle of the wildest – and probably most crocodile-infested – river in Australia?
As we drank in our drinks, inhaled the superb array of hot and cold snacks and drank in the awesome scenery, the sun set in a blaze of gold against the clear sky, it’s final rays silhouetting the dramatic escarpment reflected in the river below. A houseboat floated over by the river banks and wallabies grazed on the grassy river flats downstream.
Magical. Memorable. Magnificent.
‘Wouldn’t it be great if a crocodile took one of those wallabies?’ a fellow passenger, drink in hand, stage-whispered to her husband, breaking the hushed silence.
Of COURSE that’s just what a panorama like the one above needed to bring it alive! Seeing a defenceless animal massacred by a crocodile right in front of us against that awesome backdrop of setting sun, ragged mountains and broad river would be the perfect way to round out the most sensational sunset experience ever. Wouldn’t it?!?!
I guess I just don’t have that bloodthirsty gene.
Anyway, everyone knows the Victoria River crocs are too well fed! Taking the cattle from the local stations as they graze the river banks is a cinch. And stealing barramundi straight off the line if the fisherfolk are too slow to bring them in is too easy.
Who needs a wallaby-hors-d’oeuvre anyway?
All too soon our time was up and we reluctantly finished up the snacks, left the loo behind and the wallabies intact and jetted back down the river with the sun’s last rays at our backs as the moon rose ahead.
If I hadn’t been too busy taking photos of the incredible scenery, I may have seen another crocodile – or two or three.
But by then I didn’t care.
Want your own croc experience but don’t have any transport? Start here with the best flights!
What: The Victoria River Cruise 3½ hour, 70 km round trip Sunset Wilderness Cruise
Where: Timber Creek, 285 km SW from Katherine along the Victoria Highway, Northern Territory
When: Daily from April to September (see website for exact dates)
Cost: $95 per adult, $50 per child (as at 13/2/15)
How to get there: Self-drive to Timber Creek from Darwin or Katherine from the east; Kununurra from the west. Or get up north REAL quick by checking out these cheap flights!
- Victoria River Cruise via Timber Creek, Northern Territory
- Victoria River Roadhouse, Northern Territory
- RedzAustralia Crocodile Hot Spots
- MORE Victoria River Region Photos on Flickr
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Disclosure: Pilchard and I booked and paid full price for our Victoria River Sunset cruise and did not ask for or receive any discounts or concessions.