Cruising for ‘crocs on the Daintree
The Daintree River is one of Queensland’s most visited natural sites. It’s legendary for the ‘salties,’ salt-water crocodiles who cruise in the river and nest along the banks. Daintree crocs have been known to grab farm animals, wild animals, pets and even wandering tourists or boaters who make the fatal mistake of walking along the banks or wading in the river.
Dangerous salt water crocodiles
I read a story from a regional newspaper about a five-year old boy who was snatched by a croc on the Daintree in 2009 while his father and younger brother were nearby. His father jumped in theater immediately, but the croc had swum under water and disappeared. There were other stories I read in travel books and histories about other swimmers, waders, and hikers had also been victims of the wily creatures.
Some of the crocodiles are huge, four meters even, and feed on everything within their reach including fish, snakes, shrimp, birds, sharks, mammals, and even smaller crocs in their territory. They’re cannibalistic and hunt where females nest. After croc eggs hatch, their mothers escort them down to the river bank into the water where they begin their treacherous existence. It’s estimated only one croc out of a nest of 50 eggs matures into an adult crocodile.
Taking a croc cruise on the Daintree entails a little bit of risk, especially in one of the smaller flat bottom boats that cruise the river from the dock near the car ferry which takes people and cars across to explore Daintree National Park, a lush tropical forest that extends all the way up York peninsula on the northern tip of Queensland across from New Guinea.
Solar powered ‘croc’ boat
We boarded a small electric boat powered by solar panels operated by Solar Whisper near the town of Mossman. We were only about eight kilometers from the Coral Sea, the source of the salt water that flows up the estuary nearly the full length of the 120 kilometer long Daintree.
Jim, our experienced guide, left an office job in Sydney to venture north and so he could work in one of Queensland’s natural treasures. After an introduction, Jim guided our small boat onto the Daintree, which was swollen from recent rains, three meters higher than normal. The water was muddy brown and the current fast, not the best conditions for spotting ‘crocs‘ on riverbanks or back in mangrove swamps.
Jim warned us of the dangers of being careless in this part of northern Queensland. Crocs nest in dense mangrove swamps, and cruise along the river almost invisible except for their beady eyes and tip of their snout. Is that a log floating by . . . or is it a hungry ‘salty?’
First Croc sighting
After a half hour along the Daintree, Jim guided us into a narrow channel which circles a small mangrove island. He steered us into the mangroves, telling us a three meter long croc had been on the bank for the last few days, always in the same spot. We were in luck — we spotted him through heavy brush, but could only see his torso of brown and grey scales.
The croc was hard to see, but Jim maneuvered our boat so we could all get a glimpse of him. He said it was a mature male ready for breeding and there were several females in the area he would seek out during mating season.
Juvenile croc and tree frog
We sailed further into the narrow channel where Jim said he had spotted a smaller croc in recent days. He eased us into another grove of mangroves and there he / she was, laying across a partially submerged branch, but easier to see than our first croc.
“Saltie’ started to move, eventually crawling out on the branch lengthwise so we could see his body stretched out, about a foot in length, give or take. Jim estimated he was about 9 months old, still young and vulnerable to larger crocs in the area. Think he’ll make it to his first birthday?
Everyone oohed and ached, grateful we could watch him just a few meters away. But he wasn’t the only creature in the grove.
Camouflaged green tree frog
Jim called our attention to a green tree frog on a branch near the other end of the boat. The frog, about the size of a mouse, was stationary, blending so well into the foliage that it was hard to see him at first. It was his distinctive oval-shaped body that revealed him against the small branch and flat leaves around him.
Froggie was kinda cute, actually, clinging to the branch, probably mortified to the dangers that lurked nearby. A eight year old boy on our boat shouted, ‘there’s a croc in the water under the frog!’ Sure enough, you could strain your eyes, peer through the thick foliage, and spot the snout and head of a small croc, even smaller than the previous one a short distance away. Despite several attempts, I wasn’t able to get a photo of the little fellow with the movement of the boat and the very narrow window between leaves where he was lurking.
Crocs are territorial and larger crocs defend their territory to the death, theirs or their invaders. But these two small crocs must have had a gentleman’s agreement that they could hunt in the same area.
It’s the ‘wet’
We cruised out of the narrow channel onto the Daintree, and in minutes a deluge of warm rain drenched us. We scrambled under the metal roof of our boat, clutching cameras and loved ones. In a few minutes the rain ceased; the sun peaked out a bit, but the day was still muggy and mostly overcast.
We saw a few birds and unusual nests on our cruise. Tropical birds come up with ingenious way to keep their eggs safe from snakes, hawks, and crocs. Mangrove swamps are dangerous places, crafty predators lurk everywhere. We were glad they couldn’t leap into the boat and snatch one of us.
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Next: Cape Tribulation
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