Swimming with Crocodiles: Darwin, Australia

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Defying Danger Down Under

The majority of the world’s saltwater crocodiles, locally known as “salties,” live in Australia’s Northern Territory. These predators are some of the oldest and largest living reptiles on Earth. A male crocodile can grow to almost 6m (20 ft.), with his weight reaching up to 998kg (2,200 lb.). A powerful muscular tail takes up about half of his length to propel him through the water at almost 15km (9 miles) per hour, twice the speed of an Olympic swimmer. Crocs also have the strongest bite force ever measured. Clearly, getting close to one of these creatures would be an awfully dangerous endeavor. Except in Darwin’s new Crocosaurus Cove, where adrenaline seekers can safely come face-to-face with Choppa, a 5.5m (18-ft.), 771kg (1,700-lb.) saltwater crocodile.

A sturdy acrylic box—called the “cage of death”—separates you from Choppa’s jaws (and the rest of his body), but that doesn’t make this experience any less menacing. Wearing your swimsuit and goggles, you enter the “cage,” an enclosed see-through structure without bars. You’re then lowered into the water, where you can spend a heart-thumping 15 minutes marveling at the massive croc. Choppa might try to hug your cage, bare his giant teeth, or swim around you.

When your pulse slows down after this fear-factor stunt, spend some time exploring the city of Darwin. Set on the Timor Sea, this mining and tourism center is the largest and most populated city in the Northern Territory, but the least populous of Australia’s capital cities. Inhabited by the Larrakia Aboriginal people for thousands of years, Darwin wasn’t settled by Europeans until the 19th century. Since then, what began as a pioneer outpost and small port has developed into a modern and multicultural city, as well as an important gateway to nearby Asia. For visitors, it makes a great base for trips into other parts of the Northern Territory, including Kakadu National Park, Litchfield National Park, and Katherine Gorge.

Darwin Visitor Centre, 6 Bennett St., Darwin ( 61/8-8980-6000; www.tourismtopend.com.au).
Tour: Crocosaurus Cove, Corner of Mitchell & Peel sts., Darwin ( 61/88-981-7522; www.croccove.com).
When to Go: Apr–Sept.
Darwin International Airport.
$$$ Crown Plaza Hotel Darwin, 32 Mitchell St. ( 61/88-982-0000; www.ichotelsgroup.com). $$ Medina Grand Darwin Waterfront, 7 Kitchener Dr. ( 61/88-982-9999; www.medina.com.au).

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