Review: Face the Top End’s top predator in the Cage of Death at Crocosaurus Cove
Being lowered into a pool with up to 800 kilograms of saltwater crocodile at feeding time is not everyone's idea of a good time while on holiday. But visitors to the Northern Territory capital can choose to do exactly that at fascinating Crocosaurus Cove. Review: Jennifer Johnston
Crocosaurus Cove in the heart of Darwin is home to Australia’s only crocodile dive. The Cage of Death gives guests the opportunity to spend 15 minutes in an enclosure with one of the Cove’s monster reptiles as they’re fed by an expert handler. Come face to snout with the country’s most feared predator during this unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Duration: 15 minutes (approx.)
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With an estimated 100,000+ saltwater crocodiles inhabiting the Northern Territory’s waterways, there are plenty of opportunities to see these Jurassic-like creatures during your visit to the Top End.
But there’s one place in Darwin where you can actually get a whole lot closer to the action. Crocosaurus Cove on Mitchell Street in Darwin’s CBD is the only wildlife attraction in Australia to offer a crocodile ‘dive’. It’s known as the Cage of Death, and whatever images those three words convey to you — I can say it’s a memorable experience!
The reptile handler calls out, ‘Good boy Will, pick up!’
Will, a 690-kilogram saltwater crocodile who’s been circling the Perspex tank I’m sitting inside, suddenly thrashes in the water. One gigantic webbed foot claws the only solid object within reach — the wall of my protective chamber. I look up and wonder how strong the chain is connecting me to the over-head monorail that wheeled me into position above Will’s water-filled enclosure.
Any second thoughts about being here are quickly dispelled as Will’s gigantic jaws open and I realise its far too late to turn back now. A strange sound, like 50 people simultaneously slurping the last of their thick shake through a straw, comes from deep within Will. I see rows of teeth — so shiny and so very, very large. Fact: the saltwater crocodile has the highest recorded bite force of any living animal, thanks to his enormous jaw muscles (the big fleshy jowls hanging near the back of his mouth that I’m eyeballing right at this moment!).
Like a fisherman luring his catch, one of the reptile handlers standing outside the enclosure is using a long pole to dangle a piece of meat above Will’s snout. I watch spellbound from my ringside seat as this magnificent creature rises up and closes his powerful jaws around the snack.
Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide’s YouTube channel. In this video, we take you to fabulous Crocosaurus Cove in the heart of Darwin’s CBD.
Two Darwin businessmen — Doug Gamble and Mick Burns — are the force behind Crocosaurus Cove, which opened back in July 2008. The popular tourist attraction occupies 5,000 square-metres in a three-storey building in the heart of the Northern Territory capital, with eight purpose-designed display pools that can be viewed over three levels. It’s incredible to observe the crocodiles from above but wandering downstairs and watching them underwater provides an insight into how nimble (and comfortable) these prehistoric creatures are in the water.
Initially I was hesitant about visiting Crocosaurus Cove, as I don’t like observing animals kept in captivity. However, learning that the crocodiles might not be alive if it weren’t for the Cove altered my mindset. ‘All our large crocodiles were once out in the wild’, explains Leanna Whyte, Crocosaurus Cove’s marketing co-ordinator. ‘But if they prove to be a nuisance, by getting too close to tourists, fishermen, or farms, the crocodiles need to be relocated, or in some cases, destroyed. Alternatively, they can find a home here with us’.
‘Will was originally spotted hanging around popular Mindil Beach’, says Leanna. First nicknamed ‘Houdini’ after climbing into numerous traps to steal bait but escaping without getting caught, Will was eventually captured and sent to the Darwin Crocodile Farm (also owned by Mick Burns.) He ended up at Crocosaurus Cove, and was introduced to Kate (aka Bess) in 2011. It was the same year Prince William and Kate Middleton were married, and to celebrate, the two crocs received their new monikers.
Will and Kate have been inseparable ever since and Kate has laid eggs each year they’ve been together. ‘We have some of their babies on display’, says Leanna. ‘When Kate lays eggs, we remove them from her man-made nest, mainly because William would eat the young after they hatch, which is very common out in the wild. The eggs are transported to the Darwin Crocodile Farm and placed in a temperature-controlled incubator until they hatch, approximately 88 days later.’
There are four main enclosures at Crocosaurus Cove, each with their resident croc. Reptile handler Dana explains why they selected Will for my Cage of Death experience: ‘Often the crocodiles are slow first thing in the morning due to the cooler water’, she says. ‘They take a while to wake up. But we can always rely on William, our show pony, to perform!’
In addition to the Cage of Death, Crocosaurus Cove offers two public Big Croc Feed shows daily, and the behind-the-scenes Big Croc Feed Experience. Watching the 11.30am show starring Wendall, I can’t believe how close the reptile handlers get to this massive 5.5-metre croc, who weighs in at around 800 kilograms.
There’s also the opportunity to feed juvenile crocodiles (2 to 3-year-olds), and handle baby crocs under supervision. Leave enough time to visit the freshwater aquarium. The whiprays (cousin to the stingray) are mesmerising to watch.
If you can’t get out to see crocs in the wild in the Northern Territory, a visit to Crocosaurus Cove will enable you to observe them up close — unbelievably close if you choose to enter the Cage of Death!
Cover image courtesy of Crocosaurus Cove
About the writer
Jennifer Johnston is a Brisbane-based freelance writer and blogger inspired by travel, health and wellbeing. She juggles pursuing her passion for writing with raising three rowdy young men, a dog and a couple of goldfish. Jennifer has explored much of the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States (including Hawaii), Canada, New Zealand, Egypt, Israel, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan and Fiji. When she’s not writing, you may find Jennifer hiking in some distant part of the world.