Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Croc and roll

Day 5 (Mon, 4 June 2012)

Our last day in Darwin. We didn't want to go far so we just walked to Crocosaurus Cove on Mitchell Street. It seems to me rather odd to have a crocodile park right in the CBD but it sure is convenient for tourists.

Just a tip: many of the maps and brochures available at hotels or information centres offer a 10-20% discount coupon off admission prices so look out for one and save yourself some moolah.

The stars of Crocosaurus Cove are the Australian saltwater crocodiles. They're huge, with unnerving, creepy eyes and powerful jaws. That's one reason I won't be visiting an outback swamp any time soon.

We watched the handlers feed some of the larger ones. Methinks they're uncomfortably close to the reptile.

The fun part was when they allowed visitors to feed some of the smaller crocs. These are much more active and awake and would leap up to grab at the meat. Very Crocodile Dundee except safely behind a glass railing.

Of course, Andre decided to have a go. You basically affix a piece of raw meat to the end of a fishing pole and dangle it enticingly at the snapping crocs.

Here's a video of Boy Wonder in action.

We saw a couple of ladies get into the "Cage of Death" where they're lowered in a glass tank into the crocodiles' enclosures. It sounds way scarier than it actually was. The crocs were totally uninterested in the two supposed pieces of bait and ignored them completely, even when the ladies started yelling and splashing water at the predators. According to the handlers, the crocs are very sluggish and sleepy in winter. Either that or the ladies are not their type. Heh.

Crocosaurus Cove also has a 200,000 litre fresh water aquarium where we saw barramundi (the local favourite for fish and chips), sawfish and whiprays. Both the sawfish and the whiprays have a funny design - their eyes are on top but their mouths at the bottom. Imagine trying to eat a moving prey that way. God has a sense of humour!

Crocosaurus Cove also boasts the world's largest collection of Australian reptiles, which I found both fascinating and creepy. It was lizards, snakes and more lizards galore, terrifying for this lizard-phobe. Big, small, with long tails, tail-less - they were all there in their full glory. Many of them were extremely active, scrabbling on the glass like they were trying to escape.

Then the handlers brought out a Northern blue-tongued lizard and allowed visitors to hold it. They assured me it's a slow moving lizard, not one of those zippy ones. "Blue-tongued" is aptly named - the lizard looks like it has been sucking on a blueberry popsicle. Both my kids volunteered to hold the lizard. I stayed far away and forbade them to touch me until they had washed their lizard-contaminated hands. Whaaaat??

One of the highlights of the visit though, was a live demonstration of a snake-feeding. This is actually not as easy to arrange as it would seem, as snakes can be satisfied with a feeding as infrequently as once in six months. The handlers first tried to interest a tree python with a dead rat but to no avail.

They then brought out another python and this one was apparently starving cos in a flash, it snatched the rat off the handler's tongs and wrapped its coils around the unfortunate rodent. It then tried to gulp down the rat the way Adam Richman from Man vs Food scoffs down hamburgers.

According to the handlers, the entire eating process takes about 30 minutes. Contrary to popular belief, snakes don't unhinge their jaws to swallow a large prey, they just have very loose and flexible muscles in their jaws.

The rat is halfway down the snake's throat here, not sure if you can see it properly. We couldn't get too close as the snake, if feeling threatened, can cough up the prey and strike at you instead.

Crocosaurus Cove exceeded our expectations. We thought it would be small since it's in the city centre, and frankly, the trip was planned more as a time-filler. But as it turned out, it's totally worth the admission price - it's educational and you get to see more than just crocs. The fun part is being able to do some hands-on stuff, like feeding the crocs, holding the lizard and watching the snake feeding (ok, that's not hands on, unless you want to volunteer as bait).

In short, it was a very nice way to wrap up our Darwin holiday.

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