Houdini swims past, just inches from my face. He looks me straight in the eye. The piercing, almost dismissive, glance is clear. His teeth practically sparkle. I can almost hear him thinking: “I want to eat you.”

In case you’re confused, I’m not suffering a cannibalistic vision of the famous (and long dead) escapologist… not quite at least.

I’m treading water in the Cage of Death, the welcoming name given to one of Darwin’s most nerve-jangling adrenalin thrills. The Houdini I’m sharing the water with just happens to be a giant saltwater crocodile, who would love nothing more than for me to try and escape the floating plastic box currently separating me from him.

Arriving in the Northern Territory’s capital, I knew immediately I’d have to take the plunge in the Cage of Death. I’ve always been in awe of crocodiles. Watching them in action is like stepping inside Jurassic Park – they’re the nearest thing we’ve got left to genuine modern-day dinosaurs armed with devastating speed and strength.

The NT’s crocs are not just the world’s biggest reptiles. They’re also one of the deadliest killers on the planet.

Which is probably why getting in the water with them seemed like a pretty cool idea… until thecage door swung open and it was time for me to get in, that is.

It was hard not to suddenly feel very, very vulnerable as, dressed only in our swimmers, we looked down the ladder into the Perspex box floating idly on top of the crocodile pool. Being the gentleman of course, I let my girlfriend descend first.

Going down

Once inside we quickly got our bearings. The water was crystal clear but there were no man-eaters in this pool. Our vision through the surrounding plastic was perfect, although the massive scratch and claw marks left little doubt that some very big and very hungry predators had had some determined goes at getting inside.

Our box suddenly kicks into gear and we start rising into the air – we’re to be dropped into three separate salty pools for the best chance to see them up close.
Swaying in the warm tropical wind, we edge our way over the middle pool as a hungry-looking Chopper sneers up at us from below.

We carry on to the furthest pool to take our first plunge. Underneath us lurks Houdini and Bess. Lady croc Bess, measuring in at just under 3m, is not what you’d call a small girl. But she looked tiny compared to her hulk of a man – Houdini.

Weighing over 600kg and stretching almost 5m, there’s no getting around it… he’s a monster. Plus, as I was starting to regret having just learnt, Houdini was by no means just brawn, and had earned his nickname for a reason.

He gained his problem croc reputation thanks to apparently being an expert escape artist. Houdini managed to develop the knack of climbing into traps and eating the bait, while still managing to then get out of the trap. Just what you want to be thinking about while being lowered into his den…

Houdini had also managed to elude capture several times, once even on Darwin’s Mindil Beach. He was finally caught and sent to Darwin Crocodile Farm, but even there he somehow kept getting into neighbouring pens.

And so, as we get dropped into the water, like lumps of bait towards a master magician man-eater, we start feeling a little nervous. The cage hits the water and it starts coming up through the floor, gradually submerging us into the world of the salty.

Our safe haven keeps falling until we’re waist deep in water, Houdini’s water.
Snorkels on, we head down for a closer look. They’re hanging close to the wall, seemingly uninterested but keeping an observant eye on us, dreaming of a tourist sandwich.


Close encounters

There’s no sudden rush, no snap of teeth or crash of hungry power – judging by the scratches, these crocs have clearly tried that before and learnt the lesson. Instead, relaxing just a metre or two away from us, they watch, wait and send a little prayer to the crocodile gods that the cable holding us up will snap.

But suddenly Bess is on the move. Giving her man the cold shoulder she comes in for a closer look. She glides effortlessly through the water, brushing the cage while seemingly grinning at us.

Predictably enough, Houdini knows his place and sets off in pursuit. He slowly and effortlessly cruises up towards us. For such a massive animal, it’s incredible how gracefully he moves.

He hovers, his huge head just inches from mine with only the plastic and a bit of water between us. There’s no doubt that without the plastic he’d be ripping me to shreds in a second. And would absolutely love it. After staring us out for a while, he carries on past and is gone, leaving us buzzing from the experience.

We’re then hoisted up, over and dropped into another two croc pools to repeat the experience before our time is up. None of the others get as close as Houdini but it doesn’t matter.

Even if they’re not trying to eat the cage with one bone-crunching bite, sharing completely clear water with these creatures is a unique experience. Short of cage diving with great white sharks, you’re unlikely to have such awesome killing machines look you right in the eye, from a mere mouthful away.

Awe-inspiring it is, however we still find ourselves breathing a sigh of relief when we finally climb out of the Cage of Death.

The damage & the details:The Cage of Death (Ph: 08 8981 7522,www.crocosauruscove.com), costs from $120 per person.

Cage of Death photos supplied by Outer Edge Photography (www.outeredgephotography.com.au)


Jump to it

You’d probably be able to swim in the Adelaide River, just outside Darwin, for about seven seconds before getting a toothy handshake from the world’s largest reptile – the saltwater croc. So I decided it was probably best to get a boat.

The water is literally teeming with the biggest animals in Oz. I’m in a vessel marginally longer than the six metres that salties can grow to, while our croc feeder dangles a bit of buffalo meat from the end of a stick into the water.

It doesn’t take long for one of the four-legged fiends to swim up and suddenly, whoosh, it’s out of the water.

The croc is so near the boat, leaping up so that even its rear legs are out of the water, that I could probably put my hand in its mouth… had I been “troppin’ out” that is.

Big, scary, man-eating creatures I knew they were, but never before have I seen their incredible speed and power so close up.

It‘s hard to do anything but gape open-mouthed as one of the world’s most ruthless predators demonstrates exactly what it would like to do to me.

The damage & the details: A trip with Spectacular Jumping Croc Cruises (Ph: 08 8978 9077,www.jumpingcrocodile.com.au) costs from $35.