Close encounters with crocs: a once-in-a-lifetime experience

Come face-to-face with crocodiles – and live to tell the tale – on a cruise of the Mary River wetlands in the Northern Territory.

The Mary River wetlands are home to the world's largest concentration of saltwater crocodiles.
  • Sarah Reid
  • September 2019

“If you like your arms, please keep them inside the boat,” instructs our guide and skipper, Tony Webb, as our 29-seat launch glides alongside a lush, floating lotus garden. Peering into the murky water beside me, a thin trail of bubbles rising from the depths confirms he wasn’t joking.

An estimated 100,000 crocodiles roam the Northern Territory alone. And just a 90-minute drive south-east from Darwin, the Mary River wetlands are home to the world’s largest concentration of saltwater crocs.

Part of the stunning wetland, which transforms into an inland sea during the November-to-March wet season, Corroboree Billabong is the closest location from the NT capital to take a crocodile-watching cruise. On a road trip to Kakadu National Park, I discovered that if you can get to the dock by 8.45am, you can, er, snap up an hour-long tour with Wetland Cruises for AUD $40. Wetland Cruises’ morning tours opens in new window run daily from April to October, and transfers from Darwin are available.

Croc-spotting cruises on the Corroboree Billabong aren't for the faint-hearted.
Croc-spotting cruises on the Corroboree Billabong aren't for the faint-hearted.

While most people visit Corroboree Billabong to eyeball the world’s largest lizards, this thriving microcosm of Top End wildlife also offers some of Australia’s best bird-watching (so don’t forget your binoculars). Within the first 10 minutes, I’ve seen everything from a majestic white-bellied sea eagle guarding its nest to cute comb-crested jacanas strutting along the tops of lotus leaves.

Between taking photos, soaking up Tony’s immense knowledge of the region and its wildlife and, of course, gawking at the half a dozen or so dinosaur-like creatures that are casually sunning themselves on the banks just metres away from me, the tour goes by in a flash.

The stunning wetlands are also home to hundreds of species of birds.
The stunning wetlands are also home to hundreds of species of birds.

“We just let nature do its thing here,” says Tony, as we near the dock where another group of travellers await their turn to experience this low-impact croc encounter. Not only do I disembark with my crocodile fix for the year but I have a new appreciation for the beauty of the NT’s wetlands – not to mention the dangers that lurk beneath.