Paula Froelich has always had a fascination with Australia’s massive crocodiles. It was a combination of fear and awe. She discovered what is was like to get up close with the massive predators… and we mean MASSIVE.
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BYPASS THE CENSORS
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But before I hit something called the Cage of Death, I’m going to ease into it. Outside of Darwin, on the banks of the Adelaide River, are the Jumping Croc Cruises, where for $30 dollars you can hop on a flat-bottomed boat with roughly 20 other tourists (no dogs allowed, for obvious reasons) and cruise down the muddy river looking for crocodiles, preferably at feeding times (late morning or evening).
Boat staff on the boat lure crocs from the riverbanks by attaching red meat to fishing lines and tapping the water with it.
“They feel the vibration in the water and come,” said our baiter, Kyla. “We like to make them jump so they work for their food and burn some calories. The exertion it takes for them to jump cancels out the calories from the meat, so they do still have to hunt in the wild.”
And when they come for food — they come close. The crocs on my cruise jumped about two feet away from the boat, and sometimes their jaws snapped at head level. But these weren’t even the biggest crocs in the river. One, named Michael Jackson, was shot recently because he’d attacked and eaten a local fisherman. He was said to be almost 10 feet long. And then there was “the Monster” — a 27-foot croc killed in 1957 by a 30-year-old woman.
As crazy as this cruise was, it was nothing compared to swimming with the crocs. In clear water, and in a clear tube that was scratched.
“How’d the tube get all those scratches?” I asked James Robinson, marketing coordinator of Crocosaurus Cove (which helps run the Cage of Death cruises).
“From when the crocodiles attack and try to bite their way into the cage,” James said.
“Oh God,” I thought.
“So — have they ever broken in?” I asked, remembering that scene in “Jaws 3-D” when the shark breaks into the Lucite walkway).
“No, not yet, but one tube was broken. We got the guy out safely, though,” James said.
And so — into the Cage of Death I went with Chopper, the second-largest croc in the park, which, at over a ton, was too large. I’d love to describe it, but frankly, I was a little paralyzed with fear. I do remember thinking, “OH MY GOD, I’M GOING TO DIE!” and “Maybe it’s not so bad … OH LORD, HE’S COMING RIGHT AT ME!” and then getting out safely as Chopper looked on, mildly angry he hadn’t gotten a midday snack.
It was scary — mind-blowingly terrifying, in fact — but I’m so glad I did it. Maybe my fear is still there, but I did face down that long, scaly demon. At least once.
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