Thirty years after Crocodile Dundee, David Mercer heads Down Under to see Australia’s Northern Territory.
There are signs across Australia’s Northern Territory warning people not to enter crocodile-infested waters, so I’m understandably nervous as I prepare to take a plunge with one of the killer reptiles at Darwin’s Crocosaurus Cove.Standing in nothing but my swimming shorts and a pair of goggles, I’m slowly lowered into a large outdoor tank containing Chopper – named after the notorious Australian criminal Mark “Chopper” Read.
“Try a handstand for the photographer,” one of the keepers shouts. I decline, but close-up these creatures are pretty awe-inspiring. They were also what made Australia’s Northern Territory famous. The 1986 film Crocodile Dundee, starring Paul Hogan, was shot here and guide Graeme Hockey knows the impact it had in promoting Australia’s Top End.
“That movie put the Northern Territory on the map for tourism,” he says. “Just about every person I meet from overseas has seen Crocodile Dundee.”
We stop at the Adelaide River Inn where one the stars of the film resides. Charlie the buffalo, who is famously lulled to sleep by Mick Dundee in the movie, is now stuffed and standing on the bar. After arriving in Kakadu National Park, I encounter dozens of crocodiles in the East Alligator River, which was named by English explorer Phillip Parker King who mistook the crocodiles for alligators.
Eleven of them are waiting on the river banks as our boat sets sail. As we move slowly towards one for a closer look, there’s a sudden splash as it jumps into the water, prompting a shriek from a French couple at the front of the boat. I spend the night at Wildman Wilderness Lodge in the Mary River wetlands. The remoteness of the site has meant the owners haven’t put locks on the lodge doors. I’m handed a torch to help find my way at night – and to avoid any snakes that could be lurking in the grass.
After a few days in the wilderness, I take a floatplane to Sweets Lagoon for an action-packed day with Outback Floatplane Adventures. The man behind the company, Matt Wright, is the star of the television series Outback Wrangler.
He drives an airboat at speed over the swampy waters, spraying those at the front of the boat with mud, before we climb into a helicopter for an aerial view of the lagoon.
“Don’t worry mate, you won’t fall out,” the pilot says as he spots that I’m gripping on to my seat. The helicopter, which has no doors and turns and dives at speed, is not for the faint-hearted.Back on the ground, Matt leads a more leisurely cruise on the airboat across the lagoon for a chance to see the crocodile ‘Bonecruncher’.
We wait silently as Matt shakes his hand in the water and calls out before the massive reptile suddenly emerges next to the boat. Meanwhile, a small white heron called Rose flies on board. She stands at the front of the boat as though she is posing for photographs before clambering towards Matt to be fed.
During my stay in the Northern Territory, I spend a night at the five-star Cicada Lodge in Nitmiluk National Park. It’s an ideal location for an evening dinner cruise along the Katherine Gorge, which is just a short walk away.
The tour is led by the indigenous Jawoyn people and offers an opportunity to see Aboriginal rock paintings. Canoeing and swimming are allowed on the day I visit because the guides are confident there are no saltwater crocodiles around.
Another spectacular sight in Nitmiluk National Park is Edith Falls, where visitors can swim below a waterfall. It’s somewhat off the beaten track and requires a decent level of fitness to reach, but the view is well worth the effort.
After encountering dozens of crocodiles, avoiding snakes and trying not to fall out of a helicopter, I can finally appreciate how Crocodile Dundee himself must have felt in New York as a fish out of water.