On the twentieth and final day of my free (thanks DoubleTree by Hilton) trip around Australia, I found myself underwater and face-to-face with a deadly, 1,700-pound beast. Submerged in the ominously named Cage of Death, I was staring at the eyeball of Chopper, a 5.5-meter long, 80-something-year-old saltwater crocodile who lives in Darwin, Australia. Thankfully there was thick plexiglass between us, because he was hungry.
I was sent to the Crocosaurus Cove by DoubleTree by Hilton with an all-expenses paid visit. Even though it’s located in the heart of a city, upon walking through its doors, all of the nearby restaurants and bars suddenly seemed worlds away. There were massive crocs everywhere, including a movie star named Bert from the Crocodile Dundee movie.
To help set the mood, someone promptly thrust a baby croc into my hands. She was smooth and lightweight, probably about the length of my arm. With a rubber band around her little snout, I felt her surprising strength between my hands as she writhed for freedom. And this was just a baby. I could only imagine how powerful an adult must be.
From my clear, underwater cage, I watched the full-grown male inch over, calmly eyeing me with suspicion. When a bite of meat lured him above, he sprang up and chomped down hard with his massive teeth. Soon after, as I got hoisted out of the aquarium, he snapped his formidable jaws at my feet. He obviously had an appetite, and I doubted the taste of human flesh was a stranger to his palate.
After toweling off and changing back into my clothes, my expert guide led to me to a different saltie’s tank. Perched safely up above his habitat, a piece of beef heart dangling from my fishing pole, I waved meat in front of the giant beast’s head. When he felt like exerting an effort, up he sprang, chomping down hard with his massive teeth. Turns out, these deadly beasts have the strongest bite ever recorded in the animal kingdom. They lie and wait in rivers and near beaches, and when an animal ventures too close, their jaws take over. For especially strong opponents, they’ll clamp down tight and roll over and over until their prey is immobilized.
While Crocosaurus Cove specializes in a controlled danger, they also have a huge fish tank and feeding show, and an Australian reptile exhibit. Inside the darkened exhibit filled with lit-up terrariums, we got to hold (another) bearded dragon and blue-tongued skink, and for the first time ever we watched a python eat a rat whole, a process which took about 20 minutes start-to-finish. And no, it wasn’t behind glass - it was right on the floor in front of us.
We were getting hungry too, so with crocodiles still on our minds, we ventured a few blocks away to a unique hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Magic Wok, which offers a wide assortment of animal protein, salties included. We each tonged veggies and meats (like croc, kangaroo and emu) onto our trays, selected sauce and noodle cards, and handed them into the kitchen window. The cooks immediately went to work, using their hands and body weight to engage the ingredients in a kind of circular dance in and above the big, steaming woks. I’m almost certain you can’t go wrong at this place. Both of our random concoctions were absolutely delicious.
Full and happy, we started back to our hotel down the brightly-lit street. I couldn’t believe this was the final day of our whirlwind DTour around Australia. What a wild ride it was. It seemed appropriate to be ending it with a full immersion of all things crocodile. We had seen this country’s most venomous snakes, a deadly box jellyfish, and a huge cassowary capable of tearing open your chest. But the saltwater crocodile is the largest predator of the bunch. And aren’t you supposed to go big and then go home?