Queensland, Australia is known as the land of adventure in Australia and it certainly rings true to its title. For our Queensland Adventure, we stayed 6 days in Port Douglas. During our stay in Port Douglas, we
spent a half day at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure. Hartley’s is home to a massive amount of salt-water crocodiles, including some who can jump over 5 feet (1.5 meters) into the air. Hartley’s is a huge tourist draw in Queensland. Everyone we talked to, whether a local or tourist themselves, recommended the crocodile adventure. I’ll admit, I don’t particularly like animals with scales, but can handle them if they have feet. So understandably, I was a bit hesitant about going to Hartley’s and being surrounded by reptiles. However, I realized that I would not have many opportunities to see jumping crocodiles in person, so my husband and I headed over to experience the jumping crocodiles first hand.
Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure is along the Captain Cook Highway, the main highway between Port Douglas and Cairns, which are two of the largest cities in the area. The parking lot for Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure is massive, because they get so many visitors, and parking is free.
A ticket to enter Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure costs $37 Australian dollars per adult. The ticket allows guests to view the crocodiles in Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure lagoon (a large man-made lake), take a boat ride through the lagoon, and tour a wild-life sanctuary that is home to koalas, cassowaries, wallabies, and more crocodiles. Lizards also pop up everywhere, with one greeting us as soon as we walked onto the deck overlooking the crocodile lagoon. I am pretty sure the lizard was there to catch crumbs from the snack bar nearby. I didn’t realize lizards liked fried food, but apparently they do, because this guy wasn’t leaving.
The boat tour leaves every 30-60 minutes and guests are given an assigned time to board. The boat ride around the lagoon is absolutely the highlight of the day. The boats hold about 20-30 people and is 23 feet (7 meters) long, so it’s not overly massive. It is about the size of a standard lake fishing boat. There is one super old crocodile named Big Ted, who is almost as long as the boat. There will be more about Big Ted later in this post, as he is a pretty famous beast.
The boat has large plexiglass panels on each side that serve as reinforcement in case one of the jumping crocodiles comes smashing into the boat. There is also steel fencing on all four sides of the plexiglass to really stop the crocs if they did damage the plexiglass and tried to wiggle their way onto the boat. Interestingly enough, the plexiglass and fencing are only present at the back and the sides of the boat. The front is open to where the tour operator/driver and his crocodile food stay. There is only a thin, blue rope that separates the driver’s area from the tourist area, so it is certainly not crocodile-proof. The crocodile wouldn’t even have to duck to get under the rope if he got on the boat.
The boat ride starts with the standard introduction from the driver, who names off all the crocodiles who live in the lagoon, and there’s a hell of a lot of them. Then, he pulls his boat up onto one of the small sand islands in the lagoon and the crocodiles immediately swarm the boat. They are not a stupid animal and know the driver has brought them chicken. But not just any chicken. The driver feeds them chicken heads. Yep, eyes and beaks and all. It’s super gross but the crocodiles go nuts for chicken heads.
The driver sticks the chicken heads at the end of a rope and dangles them over the lagoon like a fishing rod. The crocodiles stare at the heads for a while and then coil back, before popping out of the water. They seriously jump high enough that their back legs almost break the water’s surface. It is frightening, but in an exciting and fun way. As the crocodiles jump to reach the chicken heads, the driver pulls the heads out of the crocodile’s reach. The sound of the crocodile’s jaw snapping closed is an intense sound. It sounds like a heavy garbage lid slamming into a bolt of lightning.
It seems the driver plays a dangerous game. Honestly, if I was a crocodile, I’d get pissed with this daily act, but the crocodiles that live in the lagoon seem to enjoy the challenge of trying to catch the chicken heads. Eventually, one crocodile will always jump high enough and move quickly enough to pull the heads off the rope. It’s pretty cool but again, a little frightening.
Most of the crocodiles that live in the lagoon are young and agile and can jump like they are in the NBA. But there is one old crocodile named Big Ted, who is almost 100 years old, and has long passed his jumping days. Big Ted is deserving of his name. He is over 16 feet (5 meters) long, which was almost as long as our boat. He is so big that he almost looks like a sand island. Hartley’s feeds Big Ted individually every day because he only has one tooth left. Crocodiles grow and shed teeth throughout their lives, so the workers at Hartley’s are trying to help Big Ted keep his last one. Big Ted ended up at Hartley’s the same way that many of the other crocodiles did. Many of them lived in shallow water and ate rancher’s cattle and this made the ranchers quite mad. Luckily for the crocodiles, the ranchers alerted Hartley’s, who helps conserve the crocodile population.
Hartley’s is all about education and conservation. We learned several interesting crocodile facts while on the lagoon tour. First, we learned that crocodiles make large nests on land to house their eggs. We saw these nests scattered on the small islands built up throughout the lagoon. Also, we learned that female crocodiles are quite promiscuous and can be impregnated by three different males at a time. Quite impressive!
After the crocodile jumping demonstration, our driver put out more fish heads on a branch in the middle of the lagoon, away from the crocodiles. This time, sea eagles swooped down and stole them right off the branches in the blink of an eye. The sea eagles are big white versions of the American eagle and have an equally impressive wing span. They fly so quietly and quickly that it’s hard to get a good look at one.
After seeing a few more crocodiles, we exited the boat and walked through the wildlife sanctuary attached to Hartley’s. The wildlife sanctuary was well-kept and easy to navigate. It was incredibly humid the day we were there, but we still saw more large crocodiles (almost as big as Big Ted), cassowaries (think giant ostrich with a blue neck), turtles, and koalas.
Hartley’s also has animal encounters throughout the day, mainly with reptiles and sometimes with koalas. On our way out, an animal encounter with a baby crocodile was taking place. One of the workers was holding a baby crocodile for anyone to touch. The worker man wanted me to touch the baby crocodile and insisted the crocodile was very soft, but I was not too interested. The baby crocodiles had his mouth wrapped shut with a cotton ball and a piece of tape and kept staring me in the eyes, never once blinking. The wrapping and the incessant staring made him look even more intimidating, but I still felt bad he had to be muzzled. I stood close to the crocodile though, which was enough for me. Overall, Hartley’s lagoon and wildlife sanctuary were very cool and reminded Mike and I of the Crocodile Hunter and all of his crazy adventures.
After the Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure tour, we drove back along the very pretty Captain Cooks Highway, which runs along the ocean. The rainforest meets the reef on the drive and it is stunning, especially at sunset. Crocodiles live in the shallow waters here too, but I’d much rather meet one again at Hartley’s!