One morning in August 2016 I was sitting at my desk at work, and I thought to myself ‘f**k this s**t, I need a holiday!’ (okay, I think this most days but I only occasionally act on it). I’d recently broke up with someone, and wanted to escape for a few days/forever/into a giant hole filled with wine and cheese pizza. The problem was I only had a few annual leave days left and the budget was pretty slim… so slim in fact that if I had to fill a ransom suitcase with all my cash it would jingle all the way to the drop off point. After much soul searching, and intense googling, I decided the best course of action was to head north. I know the Pet Shop Boys say “Go West” but the West doesn’t have crocodiles, and I was keen for another croc spotting adventure after going to the Daintree a few years earlier. I enlisted my brother Claude on the mission, and come September, off we went to the Top End in search of the aquatic beasts.
After checking into our hotel we made our way to the waterfront, in need of some fish and chips, and a beer stat! We found a restaurant called Il Lido, which ticked all the boxes. A few beers later and we had nearly re-hydrated after sweating out buckets of liquid on the walk there. No wonder there seems to be more pubs than shops on the main drag in Darwin.
Later that afternoon we made our way to the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets armed with a six pack (of beer, just to clarify). Held every Thursday and Sunday evening in the dry season, the markets offer a really chilled vibe. Visitors take their seat on the beach, with their BYO beverages in hand, to watch the sunset, whilst listening to live Aboriginal rock music. Then you can take a mosey through the myriad of food stalls selling a mix of Asian and modern Australian fare. Claude and I took a gamble on a croc spring roll. Can’t say I’m a convert but with enough sweet chili sauce it was actually not too bad. Croc: 0, Odette: 1.
The next day we picked up our tour to Kakadu National Park and the Mary River. It was a long tiresome drive to Kakadu, and I probably wouldn’t have worried about it if I had known it was so far away, but the Mary River was definitely worth it. Cruising down the Mary River with the affable Scott (our captain), downing little cups of sparkling wine, and keeping an eye out for crocs was the highlight of the day. There were a few lounging by the side of the river, giving us the eye, but the best spotting was the one that kept jumping out of the water whilst we all looked on with glazed expressions, due to the mix of heat and wine. I could have hung out in that boat all afternoon but after a few more wines I might have fallen in so best to deposit me back on the shore safely, and sort of sober.
Still not fully satisfied with our crocodile contact, the following day we took ourselves to Crocosaurus Cove to jump in a tank with a few of the leather-backed beasts. I had envisioned that we would be with a couple of 2-5 metre crocs, so when I saw the 15 metre monsters we were going to be hanging out with my palms started sprinkling with sweat. Before we could make our way to the glass cage we had to sign the ‘your parents can’t sue us if you die a horrible death and we have to retrieve your head from a croc’s belly’ waiver. Life signed away we headed to the cage. For me this was like a death row walk. Claude looked like he had no cares in the world. Lucky bastard.
Once in the cage they lowered us in, and I kind of relaxed a little and thought ‘this isn’t too bad, old mate croc is over there, at least a good 2 metres away, he has no interest in us’. Then they started waving the pork bones in his face to lure him over to us, and all sense of ease drifted out the grill on the top of the cage. Eventually the porky goodness lead him to be face to face with us, and we could see his jaw clamping open and shut, pointed incisors scrapping on the plastic cage wall. We could view all the way down his throat. I half expected to see that little singing frog from the Warner Brothers cartoon trapped down there… ‘Hello my baby, hello my honey’ bellowing out each time the croc’s jaw opened. Obviously the stress of possibly being crocodile fodder had got to me.
To celebrate our survival from the not-very-near death experience, that evening we joined a sunset cruise on Streeter Pearl Lugger. A few glasses of Prosecco later and any previous heart pounding anxiety experienced earlier in the day was soon forgotten. There’s really no better way to end a day than watching the sunset from the deck of a boat with a glass of wine in hand.
Our last day in the Top End saw us on a tour out to Litchfield National Park. Not as far away as Kakadu so it was a much more appealing bus ride. Swimming in the pool at the bottom of Florence Falls was especially refreshing on another steamy as hell day up north. It was also quite entertaining, and nail biting, watching the children jump off the surrounding cliffs into the pool, some with pretty amazing backflip skills. I don’t think I’ve heard a bigger collective sigh of relief as when each kid’s head popped back up above the water.
As my Darwin mini break came to an end I tried not to be too sad that I had to go home and back to work. I had satisfied my need to escape for the time being, I had viewed a few crocs up close and personal, and got an awesome tan thrown into the mix… Well played Darwin!