The Australian institution where you can swim with crocodiles

Terrified, I take a deep breath and adjust my goggles. I descend the metal step ladder into a tube made from thick, transparent acrylic that’s peppered with small holes that permit the flow of water in and out. 

My heart is pounding like the ominous beat of a Jaws film soundtrack, each ba-dum ba-dum echoing in sync with my racing pulse. The tropical sun beats down from above, casting dappled patterns of light on the pool floor below. 

Encased within the tube, I’m carefully lowered deeper into the enclosure, the water rising only to my shoulder level, requiring me to bob down to swim inside it. This is it – the moment I’ve been waiting for: To swim with crocodiles, safely encased within the ominously named ‘Cage of Death’, here at Crocosaurus Cove.

Open since 2008, it has become a Darwin institution. Visitors of all ages go crazy for the Fishing for Crocs platform, in particular, where 100 juveniles jostle for prime pouncing position. Holding fishing rods loaded up with juicy meat as bait, my children take turns feeding the crocs, their faces lighting up as the reptiles claw over their scaly brethren in the feeding frenzy.

Fishing crocodiles

Fishing for crocodiles at Croc Cove. Photo: Crocosaurus Cove

But aside from the obvious stars of the show, there’s plenty more, too. The reptile house is home to more than 70 species indigenous to northern Australia, including goannas, blue-tongue lizards and a diverse array of snakes. 

There’s also the 200,000-litre freshwater aquarium, where turtles, barramundi and whiprays frolic in their aquatic playground. The Whipray Encounter offers a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with these fascinating, gentle creatures – and, not for the first time, I find myself wondering why I didn’t choose that option. 

Instead, here I am in the crocodile enclosure. With a deep breath, I sink into the warm, crystal-clear water and the world outside fades away, replaced by the muted sounds of bubbles and my heartbeat. And then, I see it. A massive silhouette gliding effortlessly, its powerful form cutting through the deep water with an eerie grace.

A primal instinct urges me to flee but I remain rooted to the spot, mesmerised by the raw power of this 4.6-metre saltie called William. Hiding in the corner of the pool is his partner, Kate, who stretches only to 2.8 metres in length.

With his unblinking, shiny brown eyes, William cruises closer to my tube, his predatory gaze fixated on me. William’s textured scales shimmer, grey-brown under the water’s surface.

“Are you going alright in there?” shouts the trained crocodile handler supervising my dive.

“I love it,” I reply. It’s comforting to know that if the experience of being in this tube to swim with the crocodile proves too frightening, I can always ask the attendant for an early exit. But I’m having far too much fun to take that route. 

Just as my racing heart gradually steadies, I see the handler reaching for a bamboo stick with meat attached, which means I’m into the next phase of the adventure: Feeding time.

With a practised hand, the enticing morsel is dangled over the swimming pool as an aroma of chicken wafts through the air. Suddenly, William spots his prey, his eyes locking onto the treat with a primordial intensity. 

Crocosaurus Cove feeding crocodiles

A light lunch at Crocosaurus Cove. Photo: Crocosaurus Cove

He launches upwards in one swift and explosive motion, breaking the surface with a mighty splash. The water churns and froths around him as his massive jaws snap shut. Undisturbed by the commotion above, Kate continues to sleep.

Having secured his lunch, William devours the meal before circling and knocking his long, slender nose against my tube, creating a dull thud. Is he still hungry, I wonder?

Gradually, my attention shifts from this apex predator to the realisation that a group of spectators is observing our underwater ballet from below, on the other side of the glass tank wall. With their cameras pressed against the transparent barrier, they click away, and I can’t help but feel like a celebrity in the company of my crocodile friend. In this underwater realm, amid the silent admiration of onlookers, William and I share a fleeting yet profound connection. 

Cage of Death Crocosaurus Cove

The writer, captivated by William’s powerful form. Photo: Leah McLennan

As my 15-minute encounter too quickly draws to a close, the realisation sinks in that it’s time to bid farewell to this reptilian royal couple. In the dwindling moments of my time in the water, I savour the sight of William’s imposing white teeth, gleaming in the sunlight like ivory daggers. I smile for a few last photos – my partner capturing the scene from below through the glass – and ascend from the depths.

Emerging from the water, I can feel adrenaline coursing through my veins. I’ve not only survived this heart-pounding encounter, but I’ve enjoyed every second of it. 

My two children are eagerly awaiting my return and when I reach them, their eyes sparkle with admiration as they gaze at their brave mum.

Little do they know that during the safety briefing for the experience, my nerves threatened to overwhelm me.

The thought of swimming with crocodiles filled me with a sense of apprehension so acute that for a moment, I almost backed out. Fast forward to the present and I’m chuffed that I summoned the courage to push past my fear. 

I’m also quietly relieved that my children will have to wait until they’re 15 years old to experience it for themselves.

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