The word Safari is typically associated with groups of people out looking for the kinds of wild animals usually only seen at the zoo. The word Safari originated from an Arabic word that literally means “to travel”. For some, a safari represents a kind of once in a lifetime experience that typically lasts for one to several days.
The Yellow Water Cruise is not a safari. It is an Indigenous-owned operation that takes tourists on a two-hour boat cruise in the central part of Kakadu National Park.
It is one of the best places in the world to see crocodiles in their natural habitat, and the reason most visitors to the national park take this cruise. I came onto this cruise with the mentality that its sole purpose was to look for crocodiles. Before departing, there was a series of safety instructions given by our tour operator where we were specifically told not to take selfies with the crocodiles.
What I ended up getting honestly felt like a very small scale, and river-based version of what we commonly think of as a safari. We see a bunch of animals in their natural habitat on a journey through wilderness.
For the first 10-15 minutes of the journey, we primarily saw birds.
It was maybe 20 or 30 minutes into the journey that the crocodiles began to appear. The first one we saw from a distance. However, one of the other boats was already looking at the crocodile. Our tour guide told us we would just “catch the next one”. He then informed us that there were tens of thousands of crocodiles in these seas, and that he would “bet his job” that we will see another one. He also informed us that the crocodile diet mainly consisted of fish, something good to know.
They did begin to appear.
While some were in the water, plenty of crocodiles could be found just sitting on the ground in the wetlands directly adjacent to the river.
One was even stationed – protecting a bunch of eggs.
Then, we actually got up close and personal to a couple!
At this point, I was glad to have heard that these creatures primarily eat fish. I would not attract their attention. Nor would the candy I happened to have in my shorts pocket (still a dumb idea).
Then we began to see some other animals in their natural habitat.
As we paddled around the river, seeing the crocodiles swim around, then packs of wallabies and finally buffalo, I began to feel a strange resemblance to the zoo.
The wide-open areas with packs of animals, and trees in front felt like the habitats set up at zoo exhibits. The background landscape, with its rolling hills, and blue skies that fade into the horizon, looked like those backdrop drawings placed behind the animals, as if to try to fool both the animals and the visitors into feeling more like the animals are in their natural settings.
Only this is the real thing.
It probably helped that the water buffalo we saw is a species that is originated in India and Southeast Asia, not Australia. They were brought to the Northern Territory as it was being settled in the 19th Century and were able to live in the relatively similar habitats in far northern Australia. If one is to consider the past 150 years a mere blip in evolutionary history, on the Yellow Water Cruise visitors can see animals from multiple continents all from the same boat.
It is an amazing feeling to be right in front of something that had always felt so distant. However, this was real. The wide-open plain in which the animals were grazing and hoping around was truly wide open with the animals having room to roam. The crocodiles were swimming along in the river, sometimes at fast speeds.
And, the backdrop in which the blue sky fades into the horizon really was a reflection of the time of day about half an hour before sunset.