Once when I was drunk in a shopping centre I went to buy a pair of Crocs. They were pink and came with free studs in the shape of hearts. My friend Paul, although just as pissed as me recoiled in horror when I asked for his opinion (they’re cute, right?) and quickly marched me off in the opposite direction. There was actually more fear on his face at that moment, than there was when we were both underwater in a cage facing real crocs at Darwin’s Crocosaurus Cove.

The thought of me purchasing a total fashion tragedy while shit-faced should probably not have been more frightening than an encounter with Chopper, the five and a half metre saltwater crocodile who lives to terrify smug tourists in Darwin’s ultimate urban wildlife experience – the Cage of Death – but it didn’t seem to be very deadly on our visit. As we slapped our fists on the Perspex walls to the point of bruising just to get his attention we turned to each other and shrugged. Perhaps Chopper was having an off-day.

Crocosaurus Cove is one of Darwin’s leading tourist attractions and if you’re wandering round the city in search of something to do that doesn’t involve throwing back beer in a pub just to escape the insufferable heat, you won’t miss it. Slap bang in the heart of Mitchell Street it definitely looks interesting on the outside. Photos of crocs with clashing jaws reign supreme over the blood-coloured entrance and they instilled enough fear into Paul to warrant him grabbing my arm as we handed over our cash.

“It looks like a fun house, where no one comes out alive,” Paul said, ominously. I think he’s read too many Stephen King novels because it doesn’t really.

Call me cynical but it just looks like a museum for tourists. A very clever one mind you, because there aren’t many people who’d pass up the opportunity to spend some time getting up close and personal with the beasts who’ve helped to carve Australia’s reputation as home to the most dangerous creatures on the planet.

Posters boast things like “World’s largest display of Australian Reptiles” and “Australia’s first and only crocodile dive experience, the Cage of Death” making you feel that if you don’t at least attempt to lower yourself into a turquoise vat of croc infested waters, you’re missing out and should be ashamed of yourself. Personally I agreed to enter the cage not because I’m particularly interested in crocodiles, but because I wanted to see Paul piss his swim-shorts if one launched at him from the other side of a window. After all, what are friends for?

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Snap out of it

Once inside, we were led towards the viewing platform to see the crocs we’d soon be facing from the Cage of Death. “Just this morning, we had an attack,” the guy winked as he pointed the way to the changing room. Emerging in my bikini and waiting for Paul I stood gazing down over the crocodiles. The Crocosaurus Cove is a gargantuan three-storey building offering views of these snapping monsters from three different levels over a humongous 200,000 litre aquarium. Impressively it’s set on 5,000 square metres and takes up almost an entire block, so naturally, as I looked over the attraction I couldn’t help but picture a shard from a meteorite crashing down and penetrating the tanks, releasing the crocs onto the street, whereby they’d stand in toxic, mutating alien slime and go about devouring the entire city of Darwin.

Before I could get too deeply into my B-grade horror film fantasy Paul emerged looking worried and some two minutes later, after a set of brief instructions that went something like, “keep the mask on if you want to see what’s going on,” we were lowered into the first of three enclosures by the mechanical monorail. Nervously I clutched the railing as my feet, then my calves, then my thighs, then my waist was submerged. Hmm. Maybe I was more concerned that I was letting on. I eyed Chopper, the enormous scaly bulk of him just three metres away, lying like a prehistoric sculpture on the bottom of the tank. Would he lunge at us? Would he break the Perspex? There’s always room for a tragedy with something like this, right? No matter how safe they say it is, there’s always room for that front-page making brush with death whereby the Perspex shatters and we’re pulled from our watery would-be graves with seconds to spare.

As my head hit the water and I was fully submerged, I glanced at Paul and braced myself. Five minutes in each should give us plenty of time to get scared out of our wits, dodge death and score some enviable photos for Facebook, right? It seems Chopper had other ideas.

In spite of our fears we wanted snapping jaws, swiping claws, vicious clashing. We wanted to look Chopper in the beady eye and say “Ha ha, there’s nothing but a wall between you and your lunch, sucker, come and get it!” But even as we started waving cockily in his direction, Chopper didn’t even blink. To be frank, he ignored us completely. How rude.

“Is he dead?” Paul asked as we rose to the surface for a chat. The Cage of Death is the only cage in the world that brings you face to face with some of the largest saltwater crocodiles in captivity, so naturally, if we didn’t make headlines for the cage breaking, we were at least expecting some sort of memorable encounter, or the chance to see a scaly croc hand swiping at us menacingly up close.

With crossed fingers we allowed the monorail to lower us into the second enclosure and unfortunately history repeated itself, as it did in the third and final watery croc pit. What a croc of shit.

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Croc blocked

Denzel, Houdini and Bess, who actually sound like citizens of a retirement village simply stared at us with bored expressions as we tried to look at juicy as possible. Perhaps they were fired up after the morning “attack” that by our turn they were simply over it. Talk about a croc block. We should have got there earlier, when they were still hungry.

Slightly disillusioned with the crocs and the Cage of Death, we dried off and went to gawp at Olive Pythons, Western Bearded Dragons and Northern Blue Tongue Lizards instead. At one point, an employee came out with a baby crocodile so we were able to hold it, although with an elastic band around its stapler-sized mouth it wasn’t exactly scary either. You can hold a baby crocodile any time between 9.30am and 6pm every day here and the crocs range in age from three months to eighty years old, so you can also see hatchlings fresh from their slimy little eggs.

A photographer captured our not-so-snap-happy Cage of Death experience on camera so before we left, Paul and I chose a few photos to remind ourselves of how we didn’t almost die.

“I still think Crocs shoes are scarier,” Paul said as we carried our sopping wet swimmers out into the Darwin sunshine and headed for the pub.

I’ve got to admit, he’s probably right.

Damage and details: Crocosaurus Cove is open daily from 9:00am – 6:00pm. 58 Mitchell Street, Darwin. A one person/single cage will set you back $150 (includes full day entry). A two person/double cage costs $110 (includes full day entry). See:  crocosauruscove.com