Jumping Crocodiles of the Adelaide River

giant crocodile jaw

The sound a crocodile makes when its jaws snap shut is terrifying, a deep CLOP that brings to mind the largest mousetrap you can imagine. Teeth are almost irrelevant; the real danger is in those jaws, which bite down with a force of 3,700 per square inch (psi).

To put that in perspective, people only use 150-200 psi to chew their way through a steak.

When a croc’s jaws are a few feet away from your face it’s hard to feel completely safe, even if you’re on a boat and he’s in the water. That was probably the only time on the jumping crocodile tour when I felt nervous, my instincts shouting too close! and get back to land, what are you doing here?

Crocodile up close
Allll the warning bells going off in my brain.
Spiky crocodile tail
That TAIL.

But there I was, in a small shaded boat separated from the crocs by a metal fence I could stick my arm over. Crocs have learned to identify the sound of the tourist boat’s engine, and it wasn’t long before they were sidling up for their chance at a feed.

Crocodile through a fence
Heard you had some buffalo meat up for grabs.
Croc on river bank
Pondering whether he can be bothered to slide into the water for some food.

The guide holds out a fishing pole, dangling a bit of buffalo meat at the end of the line, and the crocs use their powerful tails to propel themselves into the air, clamping their teeth down on their prey.

I didn’t love the idea of taking a tour that made wild animals into a spectacle, but my curiosity (as usual) got the better of me. The tourism boom hasn’t hurt the crocs’ ability to hunt, and they aren’t dependent on humans for food.

Crocodile jumps for meat
Surprisingly elegant and light on her feet.

The jumping behavior is a natural predatory move, and it is incredible to see. From the first jumping croc, a small female, there was no mistaking who was in charge on the Adelaide River. Our guide Harry knew the territorial big salties by name: Brutus, Fang, and Dominator.

“I saved that one’s life once,” he said, pointing at 5-meter Brutus, recognizable by his one arm and missing teeth. “He was choking on a long root that was all tangled up in his intestines. Pulled it out for ‘im. Smelled awful.”

Brutus the crocodile
Brutus may be missing teeth but I still wouldn’t get in the water with him.

“Don’t fool yourself into thinking we’re friends though. He’d still eat me if he got the chance.”

I got goosebumps seeing these enormous reptiles up close, from their watchful eyes to their prehistoric tails. Crocodiles emerge from the muddy water without warning and vanish leaving barely a ripple; if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes you would never know it was there.

Crocodile back
Is that a floating log NO IT ISN’T ABORT ABORT
Crocodile tail
Couldn’t tear my eyes away from their tails.
tiny crocodile
Baby saltie: river killer in the making.

The adage ‘you may not see the croc, but it sees you,’ is especially convincing after seeing them up close.

Crocodile eyes up close
Sometimes it feeeeels like
Croc head up close
Somebody’s watching yooouuuu


Going on a Jumping Croc Cruise?

  • Three operators with very similar names offer these tours: Spectacular Jumping Crocodiles (A$40), Adelaide River Cruises (A$45), Adelaide River Queen Cruises (A$45-$50) and each patrols their own segment of the river. All are located about 1h15 from Darwin by car.
  • Kids’ fares are cheaper (and make a tasty snack for the crocs)
  • We went with Adelaide River Cruises because they had spots available at the time we wanted. Note that there is a surcharge if paying by credit card.
  • Make a booking if you want a specific time, but tours run regularly throughout the day
  • Tours operate in the dry season from May to October.
  • Whatever you do, keep your arms in the boat!!


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