Never Smile at a Crocodile

We all know the saying, and since we're young children we're taught to always stay away from big crocs - from movies like Peter Pan to Lake Placid and Rouge. Even in the UK, where there is absolutely no way we would ever come close to one we're still warned of the dangers. These animals are thousands of years worth of evolution to make them killing machines and are at the top of the food chain (if you don't count us of course) - so why would someone want to face death and swim with two adult crocodiles?

Well - perhaps I'm insane but I think it's just because I'm curious. From a young age I've been inspired by the likes of Steve Irwin (the crocodile hunter) and Sir David Attenborough to explore, learn and preserve the natural world and everything related to it. For me, swimming with the world’s top predators is a dream come true! Even before I started travelling and grew some balls, I wrote in my end of school yearbook that I wanted to swim with a great white without a cage.

So just imagine my delight when I learned that in Darwin, Australia, I could do just that and hop into a cage for a 20 minute swim with these majestic killing machines? I was not only going to get to smile at one, but actually get into its natural habitat and join it for a dip.

Crocosaurus cove is a specialised centre for replies and houses both the big crocs alongside snakes, lizards and other reptilian delights - my heaven but most people's nightmare. They offer a range of experiences including the usual snake/lizard holding, feeding and, of course, the cage of death (how safe they make it sound...)! You can also hold a baby croc and get a snap which is great for those slightly less adrenalin seeking and more normal than me.

So, in the usual style for experiences like this - I booked in a time slot got a high five from the man at the desk, and told to sign my life away along the dotted line. By this point into our trip through New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific it was a standard weekly practise for me to do this and gave a copy to my friend just in case I needed it for insurance purposes but I doubt any policy really covers this activity under adventure sports anyway.

I think my first point to make for anyone wanting to do this is to be aware that crocodiles are not the same in the UK. Before this, I'd seen them on TV and sure I was told they grow up to 22 feet in length, but the only time I'd seen them in the flesh was in the zoo and they weren't so scary? Well they're not scary because they're not even half the size of the fully grown ones! Immediate thought when seeing the first crocodile in this place - Oh Shit. Oh shit balls. Crap crap crap, and every other profanity you can dream up in your little heads. This was just MASSIVE! It's head was bigger than my body - well almost. But - if Steve Irwin could do it without a cage I could most certainly do it in one.

We had 90 minutes to explore before my big moment, so checked out all the crocs including the celebrity crocodile that starred in Crocodile Dundee! Being a fan of snakes also, we hit the reptile house and were even allowed to pop snakes in our hair for a while whilst wondering around - save to say this concerned my mother more than the swim as she has a realllllll fear of snakes that it's almost comical. There's even an area here where you can feed the baby crocodiles that are only around a metre in length. Here, was where I was told the price of the photo package which was unfortunately out of my tiny budget since most of my last cash was going into the dip, and we concluded that travel buddy Jess would do a superb job on my iPhone. In hindsight, I wish I'd just paid the man and gone into my overdraft, as with many of the experiences on this trip that I missed out on. Jess did a wonderful job, but with the photo package you get a gopro to get some awesome selfies with the crocs and they would have been taken with some swanky camera from angles that actually do the animals justice in showing their true size as their photographers can get to places barred off to the public.

At this point, looking at my watch I realised that it was my turn and headed towards the crocodile pools and I'm not going to lie, it's kind of awkward having to strip down into your bikini then walk out in front of a crowd of curious spectators who are ever so slightly hoping that the croc will break into the cage you're about to climb into. But, I personally think they must have been a little jealous as it was 40+ degrees out there and I was able to jump into nice cool water and chill off. Two very Aussie gents talked me through the safety procedures - don't put limbs out of cage (there were very tiny slits so I have no idea how I would have stuck anything other than a finger out anyway), wave & shout if there's a problem, they will pull me out if they think I'm going to die etc. then out comes the ladder and I climb on in. Unlike shark cage diving, this cage is more like a perspect clear tube with mesh & small holes to allow air & water in, and a hatch above them bolt you into. They explained that if it was a metal cage it would find a way to get hold and shake you about like a maraca. This way, Mr crocodile can't get a grip so while he may still jump up and try to bite the cage, he won't be able to break in (hopefully). With a snokel and mask handed down, I was latched in and left standing rather awkwardly in the cage while the guys run up to the crane. Yes - they lift and lower you into the enclosure using a crane, and your left swinging around above all the crocodiles until you're above the desired pool. This is when you're lowered nice and slowly into the pool and towards the animals  giving them a chance to jump up and try to bite your cage if they wish - oh hooray! Obviously, it causes the cage to swing about even more building up the nerves ever so slightly when it's literally a plastic wall between you and death.

However, I have to say once I was in the water and watching the two crocodiles swimming around me all those nerves were replaced with complete awe. They are SO MASSIVE but so graceful underwater. Their eyes follow your every move and they're constantly aware of your presence. At first, once the cage was lowered and settled, they left me alone but returned for a look every so often swimming right beside me and staring in. Not only was I able to swim with them chilling out, but I was also in their during feeding time so got to watch them hunt and eat from close up too! They really pull back and leap from underwater to grab their food. You can really see just how big this guy was when you compare my size in cage behind!

All I can say is this was one of the most incredible and memorable experiences of my life and I would recommend it to anyone who likes to try something different! A picture says a thousand words so I’ll leave you with a few below but if you want any tips, let me know and I’ll send them your way!