Cruising with Crocodiles on Australia’s WILDEST River

Freakin' Scary!  Monster Crocodile, Victoria River, NT

Freakin’ Scary! Monster Crocodile, Victoria River, NT

‘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.

Croc on Victoria River Cruise

Are you SURE that’s not a tyre?

‘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?

Crocodile from Cruise Boat, Victoria River, via Timber Creek

Crocodile from Cruise Boat, Victoria River, via Timber Creek

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.

White Crocodile, Victoria River Cruise, Northern Territory

White Crocodile, Victoria River Cruise, Northern Territory

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.

Lord Lizard leaves the Victoria River Banks, Northern Territory

Lord Lizard leaves the Victoria River Banks, Northern Territory

They didn’t.

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.

Broken Jaw's actually FATTER than the other crocodiles!

Broken Jaw – he’s actually FATTER than the other crocs!

 

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.

View of a Bridge, Victoria River, via Timber Creek

View of a Bridge, Victoria River, via Timber Creek

 

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.

Tour Bus at Museum

Tour Bus at Museum, Timber Creek, Northern Territory

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

Sea Eagle, Victoria River

White-bellied Sea Eagle, Victoria River

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?

Jabiru (aka Black-necked Stork), Victoria River

Jabiru (aka Black-necked Stork), Victoria River

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.

Sunset on the Victoria River

Sunset on the Victoria River Cruise, via Timber Creek

What do you do when nature calls and you’re in the middle of the wildest – and probably most crocodile-infested – river in Australia?

You visit the pontoon loo – scenic enough to deserve its own post AND one of the coveted spots in my book – of course!

Pontoon Loo, Victoria River Cruise

Pontoon Loo, Victoria River Cruise

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.

Silly me.

Sunset Silhouettes, Victoria River

Sunset Silhouettes, Victoria River

 

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?!?!

NOT!

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?

Moonrise on a Croc-proof boat, Victoria River

Moonrise on a Croc-proof boat, Victoria River

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!

Freshwater Croc under Timber Creek Bridge

Freshwater Croc under Timber Creek Bridge

Fast Facts:

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!

Escarpment View Above Timber Creek at Sunset

View from Escarpment above Timber Creek at Sunset

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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.

Lookout over Timber Creek township, Northern Territory

Lookout over Timber Creek township, Northern Territory

36 comments

  • Beautiful animals to watch swim (as long as you’re in the safety of a boat)

    • I was VERY happy to be on a croc-proof boat, Mallee – but I couldn’t help wondering how they KNEW it was croc-proof?? How does one test a boat for croc-proofness, anyway?!?!?!

  • Saw one way too close in Kakadu NP – never again, ewww, that was not respect, that was fear on my side! I´d prefer an old tyre for sure 😉

    • Crocodiles deserve respect AND fear, Iris!! With so much difficulty telling a live crocodile from an old tyre, maybe it’s just as well I was on a croc-proof boat!!

  • Agree, I have a lot of respect for the croc. Living dinosaurs unchanged for 100 million years or there abouts. Evolution was not necessary for this perfect survival machine.

    • I have to admire how a creature with no natural predators has survived the most destructive force of nature – colonisation – even while they scare me rigid, Tracey! And to think we used to turn them into shoes and handbags 😀

  • And this is why you should be on the Travel Channel. Check my latest post. I think I got their attention this time.

    • There’s my problem. I don’t want to EAT the crocs – but just looking at them is probably just a little bit too dull for the Travel Channel!!! I’ll let you know ‘when’ I hear from them 😀

  • Red, thanks for sharing your visit to a crocodile infested area – they are certainly silent and deadly killers, and I always feel nervous when I am visiting a crocodile area. But they are also amazing to see!

    • Feeling nervous around crocodiles is normal, Anne – or should be – because it means you’re paying them the respect they deserve! I’m awestruck by their ability to survive virtually unchanged in todays world without any real need to adapt. You’re right – they ARE amazing!

  • Looks like quite the romantic getaway – As long as you don’t go in the water. Those guys look a whole lot meaner than the Florida Alligators we have in the canals and swimming pools around town.

    • Maybe being on a croc-infested river forces the ‘romance’ – the alternative is clear if it all goes sour, Bob!! Up north in Cairns (similar distance from equator to Florida) they put out nets during summer to keep the deadly jellyfish out of the swimming areas on the beach. A few years ago they kept the jellyfish out all right, but there was a large saltie swimming around in there! ARRRRGGGGHHH!!

  • We haven’t been to this part of the NT….yet…. I’m constantly adding to my list of places to go. Those salties are massive aren’t they? You certainly wouldn’t want to get too close to one. We saw a couple in the Kimberleys, but mostly the fresh-water variety. Although they aren’t supposed to be aggressive to humans, you still wouldn’t want to get too close to find out.
    Happy travels Red.

    • It’s not that far from Keep River National Park, Jill – I think you’ve been there?? Sometimes I think the whole Top End must be awash with crocs – we saw them wherever we went!! Both varieties – and while the big ones are scarier, the small ones could give a nasty bite if they were so inclined – and if you were close enough, which I never would be! Hope 2015 is treating you well so far, my friend!

  • What a great post. Completely enjoyed both your story and the photos. Those crocs look huge to me. Even being in the reasonable safety of a boat doesn’t make them any less scary. Those tires have big teeth, and can out run a human over a short distance. Watch out for the salties. There is good reason they look fat. They eat quite well.

    Thank you for all your comments. I did post that red farm machinery thinking of you. The red sunset with rainbows was just good luck. We’re here in San Diego, California enjoying the sunshine and warmth while the snow flies and thermometer plummets back home. But one of the benefits of living in the cold north country is no crocs to worry about.

    • Thank you TFG! This tour is one of the best I’ve been on in OZ – and it wasn’t all about the crocs, either! It’s not every day you get the killer combination of scenic loo, sunset and snacks – the crocs were just a bonus!! If you’re enjoying the sun, you’ll know what it’s like down here at the moment!! Have a great week ahead, my friend!

  • My pulse actually raised quite a few beats reading this post, Red!
    Your images are spine tingling.
    Such magnificent creatures, crocs. I have so much admiration for these literal killing machines, whose efficient evolutionary design hasn’t had to change much over millions of years.

    I’d be seriously questioning the croc-sturdiness of the boat as well 🙂

    I can’t believe that someone actually considered the bloody slaughter of a wallaby for their own personal entertainment!! Some people 🙁
    As if the thrill of being so close to a huge croc (or two, or three) isn’t enough – some people are so jaded that the blood of an innocent would be required make the experience more thrilling.
    Not to say it (wallaby chew) doesn’t happen, but do we really need to see it??

    Having a long tall glass of something cool, while watching the stunning shimmery silver sunset, would be such a perfect end to an amazing day!

    Although, hovering my bare butt mere inches from a murky lurking presence, despite the enforced steel, would give me shivers…

    Such experiences make for wonderful memories. You have a whole book to write about one day, Red.
    And, what a read it would be 🙂

    • I know crocodiles kill and eat other creatures (so do humans!!) but I don’t need to see it either. And if I did, I sure wouldn’t call it ‘entertainment’!! You’re right – using the loo was almost as much excitement as seeing the crocs – if only I’d have been able to open the door & watch the sunset at the same time 😀 Thanx for your kind words – it’s always a pleasure to hear from you!

  • The photos of those huge beasts are scary enough for me. I think I’d rather do my croc-watching from a safe distance – such as England!

    • Hahaha, that’s a bit extreme isn’t it, John?!?!?! I just had to trust that croc-proof actually meant croc-proof!! One day I’m sure I’ll see a horror movie about a giant killer croc (a la Jaws) and that will be when I stop going out to see them in the wild 😀

  • That’s one cruise I’d be happy to take. Modern time dinosaurs! I love them, but wouldn’t go swimming with them like I might with dolphins. I know April to September is cooler down in the south, but what about up there? Is it still steamy hot? The riverbanks look so lush and green, almost like the Amazon, if you stretch the imagination a bit.

    • It’s always hotter up there, River, but winter is much less humid (although it’s ALWAYS more humid than Adelaide). If you’re on a tour you would probably be able to retreat to air conditioned accommodation, although we were quite happy in the shady caravan park. My pix were taken in the DRY season (there in early July), so the lushness is what’s left after the wet!! Not much comparison with down South, huh?!

  • And just to confuse tourists, a river thereabouts is called Alligator River. We too did the Adelaide River cruise where the sea eagles were fed in flight. Crocs are certainly frightening beasts. We did not see a wallaby disappear, but we did see a water bird disappear with a bit of a splash.

    • Haha, Andrew – it’d be interesting to count the number of creeks/rivers/streams up north called ‘Alligator’ or ‘Crocodile’! I didn’t mention the Sea Eagle feeding – our guide Neville actually caught a fish (in about 2 seconds), put it on a special platform that swung out over the water on the pontoon, and we watched the Sea Eagle come in to get it. I’ve got a photo, but it was a bit dark by then. I’m actually glad I didn’t see a croc take anything!!

  • They are scary alright! We have been through this area on our recent trip but didn’t do the croc cruise. We have done one at the Adelaide River near Darwin where they actually dangle meat off a pole so that the crocs jump up out of the water to eat the meat – very frightening. We also did a croc cruise down the Daintree River in Northern Qld. They are just such prehistoric looking creatures.

    • We’ve done the Jumping Croc cruise and the Daintree one as well, Kathy – both good, but this one is wilder, and has more AND bigger crocs. And if that doesn’t do it for you, then the sunset probably will!! There is NO WAY I’d camp/swim/explore those northern rivers – the crocs are WAY too scary!!

  • What creatures they scare the hell out of me

  • G’day Red! there’s just too much to love in this post – the crocs, the moorise, the sunset, the birdlife, the thrill of the trip up the Vic, but you can rest assured I’m staying tuned to this station for the nightmare-camper-from-hell-story 🙂
    It’s a tyre………hahaha – poor Pilchard…….. 🙂

    • Maybe I’ll schedule the camper from hell story a little sooner than I planned then, Rose! And if you’re looking for a culture shock for a Scotsman, this could well be it 😀 This was one of the highlights of our trip across the Top End, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

      • haha, don’t have to go past my own locale – there’s crocs swimming off the local beaches at the moment – oh there’s a great to-do going on about it. So I’ll just take him to the beach and dare him to go for a swim hey?!
        Still, I’d love to cruise up the Vic! or even just get to the top end.
        (PS. those Magpie geese roost high in the trees – did you know?)

  • Oh my, they’re such incredible creatures.

  • Oh my! Those crocodiles are just amazing… A-Mazing! We saw them on the Adelaide River in the NT… and at a crocodile farm… some are sooooooooooooooo huge! Another great post, thank you Red.

    • We’ve done the Adelaide River croc thing as well, Lizzy – but these ones are BIGGER! Whether or not that makes it better depends on whether or not you believe that size DOES matter 😀

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