The Kununurra Sunset Cruise on the BBQ boat is full of surprises. The last thing we expected was to be sharing our boat with a crocodile.
‘Canoes! Can we go can canoeing?’
We’d finished setting up camp in Kununurra and were exploring our new home – the Kimberleyland Holiday Park. It was one of our favourites. Enormous boab trees line the sites and there are beautiful views across Lily Creek Lagoon.
The canoes were lined up on an embankment. The kids took turns sitting in them as they went about choosing their favourite. While they decided, I walked up to the water’s edge.
‘Hey, you guys, check this out.’
Having decided a yellow two-person canoe looked the fastest and came over. I nodded towards the water directly below our feet. They lowered their eyes and let out a shriek.
‘No way! They can’t be real!’
‘I’m pretty sure they are.’ The kids looked in disbelief at three fresh water crocodiles lying motionless in the water, their toothy snouts resting on the muddy water’s edge. They were, at best, a couple of metres from the adjacent boat ramp.
‘You’ll be fine. They’re freshies. They won’t bother you.’ I tried to make light of it but in truth I was also shocked how close they were.
Not surprisingly, Caitlin wasn’t convinced. ‘Seriously? Nothing to worry about? They wait there because it’s where people get into their canoes.’
‘Yer. Then they attack you.’ Obviously, Liam wasn’t buying my ‘you’ll be fine’ theory either. From that point on, canoeing was off their activity list.
kununurra sunset cruise
The following evening, we went on a cruise along the Ord River to Diversion Dam. It showcased the Kimberley’s fauna and flora against the backdrop of a stunning sunset. Pandanus palms lined the banks. They were full of flying foxes that were waking and taking flight in search of food.
Our BBQ dinner at Diversion dam was epic in size and quality. As we ate, the sun slipped below the horizon turning the dusk sky bright pink. It was a beautiful evening that ended with an invitation to jump in the Ord for a swim.
Swim if you dare
Nat and I looked at each other figuring the guide must be joking. But no, apparently this was a croc-free area. Most of the passengers looked sceptical. If they were staying in the same park as us, you’d understand why. Everyone declined the offer. Everyone, that is, except our two kids.
Before the guide could finish his promise that no one would be eaten, in front of shocked onlookers, Caitlin and Liam stripped down to their bathers and jumped off the back of the boat. Nat and I were less surprised. Our kids love the water. If a crocodile expert tells them there are no crocodiles around, well, that’s good enough for them.
While the kids swam, I double-checked the safety of the water with the skipper. Slightly disturbingly, he was now qualifying his promise.
‘Yep, they’re rarely seen in this part of the river and, if there were any, they’ll only be small freshies.’
The kids seemed happy enough, so I decided not to update them on the change from ‘croc free’ to ‘rarely seen’. And I was sure they would take comfort from knowing that if a croc did appear, it would only be a small one.
In the spotlight
With the kids cooled off and safely back onboard, we started the return leg of the cruise. Not long after setting off our guide produced a spotlight and started shining it over the lilies. We asked what he was doing; he said he was looking for crocodiles.
Straight away, one of the kids turned to me and, with a horrified expression, asked why we’d let them go for a swim. I tried to reassure them that small fresh water crocodiles are harmless, but the look of horror remained.
‘Besides’, I said, trying to sound relaxed, ‘it’s not like the guy’s having any luck finding them.’
No sooner had the words left my mouth, there was a yell from the front of the boat. We were all directed to look starboard. There in the beam of the spotlight were half a dozen pairs of glowing red dots.
‘You see those, they’re the eyes of little fresh water crocs.’
I was so amazed by the number of glowing red eyes it took a moment to notice the kids glaring at me. Their eyes didn’t glow red, but they still looked mighty unimpressed.
‘Swimming with crocs, it’s another great story for when you get back to school.’ Not surprisingly though, Show and Tell wasn’t on their minds.
The guide directed the driver to a patch of lilies from where several sets of eyes glowed back at us.
‘What we’re going to try and do here is grab one of these guys and bring him on board for you to have a look at.’
Now this sounded exciting. The glowing eyes belonged to baby crocs’ that were sitting up on the lilies. Each of them was apparently less than a metre long. I elbowed one of the kids to repeat the not very menacing length.
‘There you go, they’re tiny, what’s your problem?’ There was no reply but there must have been a problem. I got a back-hander to my sausage filled stomach.
With the kids now seeking comfort from their mother, I chatted to another passenger – a visitor from Germany.
‘How funny would it be if he accidently grabbed one that was over a metre long and had to wrestle it on the floor of the boat?’ I laughed at the thought, but my German friend suddenly looked rather panicked.
Lost in translation
It was the same look we’d see on the face of passengers during our cruise of Chamberlin Gorge in El Questro. Our tour guide gave one of the funniest pre-departure safety talks I’ve heard – funny that is unless you are genuinely terrified of crocodiles.
His first instruction concerned the life jackets. We didn’t have to wear them, but he showed us where they were kept and told us about the attached whistle.
‘It’s used to get the attention of rescuers. The only problem is we discovered that when the whistle gets wet, it makes just the right sound to attract crocodiles. But if you end up in this water, you’ll be screaming louder than any whistle so don’t worry, we’ll find you!’ Australians in the boat laugh, overseas visitors turn pale.
‘But in all seriousness’, his tone more reassuring now, ‘it’s been a while since a croc’s had a run in with a tourist. Around twelve months ago one attacked a group of kayakers. Interestingly though,’ his smile starting to broaden, ‘the only thing the croc’ ate was an orange backpack. That’s the good news.’ He reached for a life jacket which until now had remained in the storage area. ‘The bad news is we only have orange life jackets.’
By the time he’d finished his routine, had we still been at the jetty, several passengers would have made a run for it. I sensed a similar vibe now as our guide hung over the side of the boat shouting and grabbing at baby crocs.
A moment later, dripping wet and grinning, he sprung to his feet grasping a sixty-centimetre-long crocodile. One hand was firmly grasped around its neck and the other its tail. With no one standing within couple of metres of him, he had to coax people to come over and pat his catch on the tummy.
As overseas tourists took photos from a safe distance, the kids ran forward to be first in the petting line.
‘Hang on! I thought the two of you were terrified of them. Now you want to pat one?’
‘Look how cute it is!’
‘Cute?’ I couldn’t believe it.
A great pet?
As fun as it is to pat a crocodile, it’s the noise they make that’s most interesting. Its yap is something between a high-pitched bark and a meow. The fact it made any noise at all surprised me. The only sound I imagined a crocodile making was its jaws crunching down on whatever it was about to devour.
With the last tentative pats given, the little croc earnt its release back to the river. It left an endearing impression on the kids who now, of course, wanted one as a pet. The infatuation lasted until we saw their monstrous salt water cousins in the Northern Territory At that point, the idea of a pet crocodile lost much of its appeal.
We loved Kimberleyland Holiday Park. The giant Boabs throughout the park are spectacular. The sites are big, grassy and shady. Lily creek lagoon at sunset is beautiful. To top it off, The staff couldn’t have been friendlier. Sure there were crocodiles guarding the boat ramp but hey, it’s The Kimberley – that’s the way it goes!
- Scenery 95% 95%
- Excitement 100% 100%
- Actual Risk 25% 25%