If you’ve ever wanted to see a crocodile in the wild, the NT is the best place in the world to do it.
The impressive Nitmiluk National Park and World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park provided the perfect backdrops for the filming Rogue and Crocodile Dundee. You can experience these beautiful locations without concern aboard a guided tour or in Nitmiluk, hire a canoe and go at your own pace.
The NT is home to the world’s largest wild crocodile population, with more than 100,000 of these apex predators in the wild. There’s plenty of opportunities here to learn more about these amazing creatures.
From crocodile parks and river cruises to adrenalin-fuelled swimming experiences, the Northern Territory can get you face-to-face, as safely possible, with our oldest and most fierce inhabitants.
Given their reputation for being grumpy and dangerous, we recommend you don’t attempt to find a crocodile in the wild yourself. Instead, take a guided cruise and capture some happy snaps instead.
Saltwater vs. freshwater crocodiles
There are two distinct species of croc native to the Northern Territory. The smaller of the two, the freshwater crocodile or ‘freshie’ is generally less aggressive and rarely grows larger than 3 metres (10 feet) and mostly eats fish and birds. They’re not usually known for attacking humans but can give a bite if they’re provoked.
The more common and more dangerous species is the saltwater crocodile. These ‘salties’ reside along the coastline and waterways of the Territory and have a taste for fish but will eat just about anything including cows and buffaloes, wild boar, turtles, birds and crabs. They can grow up to 6 metres long (20 feet) and weigh up to 1 tonne.
While you don’t want to get close enough to see, freshwater crocs have smaller, thinner heads and jaws, with teeth that are almost the same size. While their saltwater cousins have large, broad heads, uneven jaws and very prominent teeth.
Crocodiles in Aboriginal culture
Crocodiles play a very important part in Aboriginal culture. It’s believed that crocodiles represent the spirit of important people and signify strength and skill.
The Crocodile Dreaming story that originates in the Daly River region is one of power and jealousy. A legendary fisherman was believed to have been killed by jealous men when their wives became too admiring of his prowess. The fisherman was rolled in a net and left to hang over the waterway. It’s believed that the net marks in his skin became the scale pattern of the crocodile, and that the fisherman now prowls the shoreline awaiting his revenge.
This is just one of many Dreamtime stories about crocodiles that are still told today.
History of crocodiles in the Territory
While crocodiles may be the oldest residents of the NT, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for these carnivores. From the end of WWII until the early 70’s, crocodiles were hunted for their leather hides to the point of near extinction.
Since then, unregulated hunting has ceased, and our world-renowned conservation industry has ensured that over half of the Australian crocodile population are found in the NT.
Now, with a sustainable and protected population, crocodile conservation is a priority across the NT and numbers have recovered almost completely in the past four decades.
Where to see crocodiles in Darwin
If you want to see the impressive crocodile up close, it’s best to do it somewhere safe.
In Darwin, you can get up close and personal with one of the Territory’s most famous crocodiles, Sweetheart. Now located in the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory at Fannie Bay as a taxidermy attraction, Sweetheart was the inspiration for the horror film, Rogue. In his golden days in the 1970s, Sweetheart was known to stalk fishing boats, attack outboard motors and tip the occupants into the water. Luckily he didn’t hurt anyone, but a 5 metre crocodile chasing your boat is a scary prospect!
Darwin crocodile parks
If you want to see a live crocodile, there are lots of options. Visit Crocodylus Park on the outskirts of Darwin and see a range of animals including more than 1000 resident crocodiles. Check for feeding times to see these beasts in action.
In the centre of Darwin, visit Crocosaurus Cove to see crocodiles of all shapes, sizes and ages in purpose-built aquariums. If you’re feeling brave, you might even try the Cage of Death: a perspex tank that’s lowered into an enclosure of crocs, so you and a friend can see them closer than you ever thought possible. If you’re lucky enough to be in the cage during feeding time, you’ll see their powerful jaws in full force.
Join a crocodile tour in Darwin
If you’re happy to explore further afield, join a day trip to Adelaide River, just an hour from Darwin for the Jumping Crocodile Cruise, or head a little further to the Mary River Wetlands cruise. If it’s more adventure you’re looking for, why not take a scenic flight with Outback Float Planes and airboat ride up Sweets Lagoon, cruise through the wetlands, or swim in their crocodile-safe enclosure.
Where to see crocodiles in Kakadu
If you’re up for getting wet, you can’t beat seeing this cold-blooded hunter in its element at Kakadu National Park. Yellow Water Cruises are provided year-round in the park and offer tourists a peaceful and unique view of one of the world’s largest nature reserves. Watch crocs weave their way through the waters, snapping for bait just a few feet away – we recommend keeping your hands in the boat at all times!
Where to see crocodiles in Katherine
Three hours’ south of Darwin is the town of Katherine, home to the incredible Nitmiluk National Park, housing Katherine Gorge and Katherine River. To experience crocodiles in their natural habitat, book a leisurely cruise down the gorge and spot crocodiles sunning themselves on the rocks. Take a night-time tour along the Katherine River to see those eyes glowing back at you.
Where to see crocodiles in Alice Springs
If you’re heading to Alice Springs, there’s good news. You don’t need to worry about running into our scaly friends in the waterholes. Crocodiles simply don’t live this far south, so it’s safe for you to swim.
You can however see a live crocodile at the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. His name is Terry, and he lives in the largest private collection of reptiles in the Northern Territory alongside goannas, thorny devils, lizards, geckos and snakes.
A crocodile souvenir to keep
Crocodile leather is some of the toughest and most luxurious in existence, making it highly coveted for clothing and leatherwear. Many top European fashion brands source NT leather for their premium, designer products. At local suppliers in the NT, these fine leather goods can be picked up at a fraction of the price.
The best bit about shopping in the Top End: all Northern Territory crocodile leather is farmed sustainably, with the future of the industry and the crocodile population in mind.
Di Croco is a Darwin boutique renowned for its luxury goods made from the highest quality NT crocodile skin. They utilise only the saltwater crocodile, which is the most desirable due to its intricate small-scale pattern.
With so many crocodile souvenirs and gifts on offer in the NT, we’re sure you’ll find something to take home.
Even though ‘saltwater’ crocodiles are the most dangerous, visitors should be aware that they can be found over 200km from the coast in fresh water. Crocodiles can also travel up to a kilometre over land, remain concealed for long periods inland, stay submerged without moving during a hunt, and run incredibly fast. So just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there. Observe the signs and stay safe.
Do not attempt to feed any wild crocodiles during your stay, and don’t swim in any waterway or camp, fish or walk in any area where crocodile hazard signs are posted. The best way to avoid getting hurt is to avoid crocodiles on your own in the wild altogether. Check out the Be Crocwise website for more information.