“Dead tourist found in Adelaide River by tour company.”
The headline caught my attention so I continued to read the newspaper clipping. The gist of the article was a guy wearing nice clothes and an expensive watch was found dead in a crocodile infested river. They quickly tied a line around him and dragged him at full speed back to the tour company dock to keep the crocodiles from taking chunks out of him. His identity was a mystery, as was the cause of death, but one of the leading theories was that he fell off of a tour boat and drowned since currents rip through the river. He was on a similar tour to the one we were waiting to begin. We hoped for a better result.
We had been in Australia for nearly a week and had seen no kangaroos, koalas, or crocodiles. We really had not seen anything besides our tools and projects on Nor’easter. It was time to explore. I was the primary driver since I have had more experience driving on the left side of the road than my dad, who had to unlearn 50 years of American driving habits. We set off down the highway towards the Adelaide River and the world famous jumping saltwater crocodiles.
The crowd waiting when we arrived was diverse. There was a group of bogans (Australian rednecks) with mullets, a solo traveler with a nice camera, a stereotypical family that probably lived in the suburbs with their two children, an elderly couple, and my dad and me with our beer tank tops we picked up in Tahiti and Fiji respectively. Everyone else probably thought we were Bogans too with our beards and tank tops.
We picked up our boarding passes from the tiny office with room for no more than four people standing, and sat down at the café for a safety briefing. The rules boiled down to stay on the boat, remain seated, and keep your arms and legs inside the boat at all times or you will die. Surely, The safety briefing was implemented after the incident from the newspaper clipping that I read earlier. We boarded the boat, grateful for the high freeboard and guardrails.
Minutes after leaving the dock, our lead guide, Chewie – short for Chewbacca since he was big and hairy – spotted a crocodile. He guided the boat near it, stopped our momentum, and we waited for it to swim over to inspect us. Then, another crocodile swam over from the other side of the river. Chewie identified both, since they are territorial animals, they tend to stay in the same area, so the tour boats name them. These were both females. Chewie said we were too close to the dock to feed them, so we snapped a few pictures and headed further down the river. We saw a large male crocodile next, weighing an estimated 600kgs. He was much larger than the females, but again, we were too close to the dock to “interact”. I wish we could have, since he was the biggest we saw that day.
We passed two red markers indicating that it was ok to interact with the crocodiles and the other guides on the boat baited their poles. The procedure was basically tie water buffalo meat onto string. Attach this string to a long bamboo pole. Dangle The meat in front of the crocodile and pull it up at the last second. This causes the crocodiles to jump out of the water, which is their natural behavior since they snatch birds and other food off branches and even out of the air. However, we got an unusual experience because as soon as the guide baited the pole and dangled it over the water a large eagle swooped in and stole the meat. The speed was spectacular and unfortunately too fast for me to get a picture.
They re-baited and “jumped” a small female several times, then once she got a few steaks, we continued down the river looking for new entertainment. Next, we saw a nine foot white crocodile, which our guide said was incredibly rare to see in the wild. White hatchling occur more commonly but rarely make it to maturity because they lack the camouflage that their dark siblings enjoy and employ. This crocodile, “Pearl” is allegedly the only white crocodile of that size in the wild. She is not an albino, but has a condition called hypomelanism which gives her the white skin but normal colored eyes and black spots. Pearl hung around and gave us some great photo opportunities. She was the highlight of the day for me.
We continued down the river and soon found another hungry female, but I was still amazed by Pearl so it was not as exciting. The best thing about this croc was that when she slammed her jaws shut, you heard a bang and could feel the force. It’s no wonder that these crocodiles are known for ripping people’s limbs off.
We were running out of time on the hour tour, so we turned back towards the dock. On our way, the guides threw some of the scraps overboard while we were motoring full speed. Birds of prey called Black Kites and Brahminy Kites swooped in, snatching the small pieces of meat out of the air with their talons and beaks. They came within feet of the boat, so we were able to snap some close up pictures while admiring their coordination.
The tour ended, and I wanted to do another round, but we had to make it to the hardware store before it closed at six so we could complete some Sunday projects the next day. We departed, still amazed by nature and what we just witnessed. That was just the beginning of what Australia had to offer.