"If you look under your seats you will find there are no life vests. The reason is obvious."
Several crocs notice our presence and swim silently toward us. Luckily our boat has a solid, unsinkable feel to it.
We cast off and head for the far bank where 'Hercules', a reptile of gargantuan proportions, is warming himself in the tropical sun. He is so still it is hard to believe he is real. I can understand how hapless tourists coming across such an animal in the bush might be tempted to administered what our guide laughingly refers to as 'the poke test'. He definitely doesn't recommend it!
Continuing in the same humorous vein he draws our attention to a red-beaked water-hen.
"See those little black birds. They wander around sharing the banks with the crocs - and they disappear. They have to be the world's dumbest birds."
|Is this the world's dumbest bird?|
After a while we stop. Crocodiles swarm around the boat - looking for lunch. Our guide holds out a long pole with a baited hook at one end. Almost immediately a reptile shoots out of the water, its massive jaws snapping. The bait swings just out of reach.
"You have to make them work for their food, otherwise they get lazy," he explains.
It occurs to me that teasing such a creature isn't the safest way to earn a living. He repeats this process again and again from both sides of the boat in two different locations until all the bait has gone.
|Missed it by that much!|
As we head back to the dock we see a sea-eagle scanning the lagoon from a nearby gum tree. It is not only the crocodiles who get fed here. The boat stops next to a horizontal pole suspended between two uprights and our guide hangs out another bait. The eagle swoops, grabs the bait in its talons and flies off with its prize, all within the blink of an eye. It is one of those rare moments of pure magic.
|The sea-eagle swooping down toward the bait.|
After the cruise we follow a small crowd along the 'Wildlife Discovery Trail' to the 11.00 am crocodile feeding. There are two keeper's platforms, each surrounded by low steel fences. For some reason only one of them is connected to the path outside the enclosure. To get to the other the keeper must cross a couple of metres of crocodile infested open ground. As we watch him negotiate the distance a second keeper maintains a running commentary from the relative safety of his own platform?
"This is how promotion works around here," he jokes."This guy is new in the job. His boss and his boss's boss were a bit slow."
Not to be outdone however our commentator/comedian proceeds to feed several crocodiles by hand. Each one has a name and he treats them like pets, to the tune of more nervous laughter from the crowd.
|Imagine doing this every day!|
|Notice the 'freshies' waiting on the island.|
|Check out the bare feet.|
There are more crocodile shows later in the day. The dramatic 'Crocodile Attack Show' is still to come but for now I am glad of something a little less nerve-tingling.
Hartley's is not just about crocodiles. It is one of the few places you can see a Cassowary. These magnificent birds may look gentle, but they have a reputation as the world's most dangerous bird with quick tempers and vicious claws.
Hartley's also has kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, emus, snakes and turtles. There are shows and feeding times throughout the day. After the excitement of the morning, it is therapeutic to wander through the more peaceful corners of the park patting kangaroos and wallabies and posing for photos with koalas.
|It is hard to imagine that this guy is the world's most dangerous bird.|
|No Australian animal park would be complete without koalas.|
|It is hard to know who is looking at whom!|
Where is Hartley's Crocodile Adventures and how do I get there?
- Hartley's is on the Captain Cook Highway at Wangetti, 40 kilometres (24 mi) north of Cairns and 25 kilometres (15 mi) south of Port Douglas.
- There is ample free parking.
- Tours, coach transfers and chartered limousine services operate to the park from Cairns and Port Douglas. Click here for details.
What are the park's operating hours and how much does it cost?
- Hartley's is open from 8.30 am to 5.00 pm every day except Christmas day.
- The cost of entry is $37/adult, $18.50/child (4-15 years) and $92.50/ family (2 adults + 2 children).
- Concessions are available for local residents, students, school groups and Seniors Card holders.
Tips, tricks and things to know.
- There are tours, shows and animal feeding throughout the day. Click here for times and locations. Each show finishes in time to get to the next.
- When you arrive you will be given a map and timed ticket for your lagoon cruise. Try not to miss it, this was a highlight of the day. The boats leave at 9.00am, 10.30am, 1.00pm, 2.30pm and 4.00pm with extra cruises scheduled during busy periods.
- The seating on the lagoon cruise boats is tiered so there aren't any bad seats. Don't worry about getting a good view of the feeding, the crocs are fed equally from both sides of the boats.
- Give yourself plenty of time. We spent three and a half hours at the park and could easily have stayed the whole day. There is a great looking cafe with a deck over-looking the lagoon.
- Self-drive visitors are entitled to a 3-day complimentary return pass. Just don't forget to have your entry ticket validated before you leave.
A few crocodile facts.
- The Estuarine, or Saltwater, Crocodile is the largest of all living reptiles. In Australia they are found in northern coastal areas from Broome in Western Australia to southeastern Queensland. Able to cross large stretches of open ocean, they also occur on islands as far as 96km off the coast.
- Estuarine Crocodiles are extremely dangerous. According to the Australian Museum in Sydney, "A person seized in the water by an Estuarine Crocodile has little chance of escaping without serious injury, if at all."
- Other crocodile and alligator species are positively docile in comparison.
- Crocodile hunting (think Crocodile Dundee) was once a real profession, but crocs have been protected in Queensland since 1974.
- Don't let the crocs put you off visiting beautiful Far North Queensland. More people are killed each year by black swans and coconuts than by crocodiles - at least according to our guide at Hartley's.
Would I recommend you visit Hartley's?
- Without hesitation! David and I had a fantastic time there.
Note: David and I received complimentary entry to Hartley's Crocodile Adventures.
I have linked this post to Travel Photo Mondays