Swimming with giant crocodiles in Queensland a 'weirdly beautiful' experience

Travel News from Stuff - 25-12-2023 stuff.co.nz
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It’s not that surprising us New Zealanders often put ourselves at the centre of the adventure tourism world.

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Sure, we invented the bungy jump, Zorbing and jet boating – and have a reputation for finding new ways to raise people’s adrenaline levels well above the normal – but Aotearoa is not the only destination where you can push yourself outside your comfort zone.

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In fact, just across the Tasman, a trip to Cairns and surrounding towns might bring some surprises – lots of the adrenaline activities we would find at home but with a tropical twist – and an interesting wildlife option you definitely won’t have seen before.

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On a recent trip to this part of the world, I road-tested several adventure activities – a big deal for a girl whose default is more chardonnay and charcuterie than canyoning and crocodiles. My conclusion? This is a not-to-be-missed destination if you’re looking for action and adventure wrapped up in sunshine.

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After an early start from Auckland, a 35-minute whirl in a jet boat on the Trinity Inlet woke me up much more than a fifth coffee ever could.

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Starting from the heart of the Cairns waterfront, believe them when they say you will get very wet. You’ll spin and slide and turn 360 degrees in this (actually pretty comfortable) boat as the tunes pump and adrenaline surges through your veins.

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You’ll also learn some pretty interesting facts about this part of the world, where the tropical rainforest gives way to that glorious blue ocean. See:

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Even the gorgeous birds, koalas, kangaroos and other wildlife couldn’t stop my heart racing a little as we approached the crocodile enclosure at Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas.

You don your togs and a snorkel and step into a small pool (it was over my head so you are definitely ‘swimming’, but there’s a pole to hold on to) and face off with two giant crocs – through some reassuringly thick, but scarily transparent perspex.

While it’s a vaguely terrifying rush being so up close and personal with these apex predators (only intensified when they feed them and you really see those jaws snap), it’s also weirdly beautiful to see them underwater just centimetres from your face.

Big Al, Ton and Digger – they rotate them round – are big boys ranging from 3.5 to 4.5 metres and weighing up to 350kg. They move surprisingly quickly when there is fish being offered. See:

This is a truly perfect way to spend a day. Sail to Low Isles, a coral cay island at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef and snorkel with turtles and a veritable aquarium of stunning coral and schools of brightly coloured fish of all shapes and sizes; you’ll even be accompanied by a marine biologist to tell you all the interesting facts.

When people talk about life being about the journey, not just the destination, this trip has both – sailing on a luxury Lagoon 560 sailing catamaran out to Low Isles is truly magical and life-affirming (wind-in-your-hair, salt-on-your-skin, sparkling-sea-for-days type stuff) but the destination is equally incredible.

It’s the white sand, turquoise water beach of your dreams and the crew will take you for a guided walk to see nesting birds and the lighthouse before heading back to the boat for lunch and some more snorkelling – or relaxation in the sun on the deck.

Even better, Sailaway has Advanced Eco Tourism Accreditation and is a Climate Action Leader, winning awards for their eco-tourism efforts. See:

This was the one I was most nervous about, so I’m glad we did the easier option at Behana (there are several trips to different locations).

Surrounded by lush green rainforest, Behana Canyon is all towering granite formations, waterfalls and stunning river views which helps a lot when the thought of abseiling, cliff jumping, sliding, and swimming down the gorges has your anxiety levels at a peak.

I needn’t have worried as it was so much fun and you wear a life jacket, so it’s easy to stay afloat no matter where a rapid shunts you. The guides were super reassuring, and made the day easy to enjoy.

Despite my earlier apprehensions, I would do this again in a heartbeat. It’s a wonderful way to experience a stunning location, getting views from above and in the water. See:

The team at Biked in Palm Cove can organise any kind of cycling adventure for you. Be it scenic cycling or heading out to Smithfield MTB Park, well-known for its top-level downhill racing scene.

What this park has that New Zealand doesn’t, is the tropical rainforest setting – twisty vines, gorgeous streams, ancient foliage, which makes it really fascinating to cycle through. There is more than 60km of green, blue and black-rated trails and some pretty spectacular views from the top.

Biked will take care of all your hire needs and can tailor cycling to everyone from families with not much experience to hardcore mountain bikers. If you have the energy, cycle back to their base in Palm Cove via the beach – it’s truly beautiful. See: ;

Air New Zealand operates seasonal non-stop flights from Auckland to Cairns between April and October, with connections available from domestic airports. See:

Tropical North Queensland has been affected by recent flooding. See: for up to date travel alerts and advice.

Flying generates carbon emissions. To reduce your impact, consider other ways of travelling, amalgamate your trips, and when you need to fly, consider offsetting emissions.

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