Experience the natural diversity of the Top End on this wetland cruise on Corroboree Billabong, situated ninety minutes’ drive east of Darwin. Enjoy your guide’s expert commentary during the drive and a picnic lunch on board the cruise boat. Cruise for 2.5 hours through the lush wetlands and see an abundance of birdlife, crocodiles, and other animal species.
Our jocular Wetland Cruises guide Evan — better known locally we’re told as ‘Evo’ — gently noses our flat-bottom boat in towards the bank of Corroboree Billabong.
‘There he is…’, Evo says quietly beneath his breath, pointing to a spot amongst the stems of the emerald-green sacred lotus plants that line the edge of this wild waterway. I scan the bank intently, but fail to find ‘him’. There’s much excitement in the boat though, as others are more successful. Evo gently reminds everyone not to crowd to one side. The last thing we want to do is end up in the drink with the Northern Territory’s fiercest predator — the saltwater crocodile.
When it comes to Top End wetland cruises, Kakadu generally gets most of the attention — and there’s no doubt that the world-famous national park’s wetland regions like Yellow Water are an absolute must-see. However, today we’ve travelled just ninety minutes south-east of Darwin, which makes this Darwin wetland cruise the perfect option for those who don’t have enough time to ‘do Kakadu’.
The day starts with hotel pick-ups around the city before we hit the Stuart Highway. Along the way, Evo gives us a rundown on the rich history of Darwin. He’s a great storyteller and the trip flies by. There’s time for quick photo stops at a giant termite mound, the picturesque Leaning Tree Lagoon, and historic Humpty Doo Hotel. No one’s too sure of the origins of Humpty Doo’s name, but the town has featured in any number of bush ballads. We also call in at the excellent Window on the Wetlands Visitor Centre, which provides useful context for the day.
After a quick break and final pickups at the friendly Corroboree Park Tavern (home incidentally to a massive penned saltie named Brutus, who according to the pub’s website, enjoys the odd chainsaw for breakfast), we head off the main drag towards the billabong itself.
Corroboree Billabong joins the main river system running through Mary River National Park, providing access to around 40 kilometres of waterways. Like its cousin Yellow Water further east, it’s home to prolific birdlife, some 250+ species, making these Darwin wetland cruises very popular with twitchers. For most visitors though, the main attraction is the prospect of seeing the native saltwater and freshwater crocodiles.
Finally I manage to locate our elusive friend, half in half out of the water. He’s a saltie — probably two metres long and incredibly well camouflaged against the muddy bank. As the boat edges closer he finally decides we look like more than a match, and glides away beneath the canopy of towering lily leaves, before silently submerging and vanishing altogether. You would never know he was there. He’s the perfect predator, and one that has remained largely unchanged for the past 80 million years.
It’s estimated there are now some 100,000 saltwater crocodiles across the Top End. With hunting outlawed back in 1971, numbers have continued to swell. It’s also led to larger animals. As Evo tells us, crocodiles don’t stop growing. Adult male crocodiles can reach anywhere from 5 to 7 metres in length (substantially longer than our boat!) and weigh in at anywhere up to 1,000 kilograms. These apex predators can live for more than a century.
The reverse is true however for juvenile crocodiles. As a baby croc, everyone wants a piece of you, literally, including turtles, barramundi, birds of prey and other crocodiles. If you can make it through the minefield that is crocodile adolescence, you can expect a long and happy life.
The cruise takes around 2.5 hours and includes a delicious lunch of cold meats and salad. With an average of six or seven crocodile sightings per cruise, this is an Aussie adventure that will hold the interest of just about any age group.
Feathered highlights on our cruise include tiny electric blue forest kingfishers, dainty jacanas that seem to walk on water, and a flock of indignant magpie geese — a savoured food source for Indigenous Australians for centuries. At the larger end of the scale, a majestic jabiru takes flight on its massive wingspan of up to two metres.
For a Top End wilderness experience that’s an easy trip from the big smoke, this Darwin wetland cruise is the perfect option.
The writer travelled as a guest of Wetland Cruises.
Additional images: Bigstock
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.