From the humble beginnings of a wayside tea house offering tea, scones and a lone croc for company to 80 years later, current day Hartley's Crocodile Adventures has developed into a key wildlife park recognised for its ecotourism and conservation efforts.
Situated 40 kms north of Cairns and 15 kms north from Palm Cove, it is an easy destination to get to by car or via organised transfers if you require transport.
By the 1970s, Queensland's estuarine crocodile population had been hunted almost to the brink of extinction. Today, crocodile skin is still highly sought after, however, increased government protection and an industry, such as Hartley's Crocodile Farm, which is well regulated and managed, has resulted in an increase and a much healthier crocodile population in this region.
Wander through Hartley's today and you will meet 'crocodiles with a personality', those who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. With habitat and urban development interacting more closely than ever before, this has resulted in close calls with crocodiles who have come too close for our comfort.
For instance, there's the unlucky (or lucky one depending on whose perspective - human or crocodile!) who found himself by chance, living rent free in a lavish resort golf course. Another, had discovered fishermen provide a feed, when a boatie thought that feeding crocs was a good idea. The next fisherman who came along found a new companion wanting to climb aboard and join the crew. In this way, Hartley's has become a sanctuary for captured crocs, a place they could call home, instead of facing a far worse fate.
A sanctuary for captured crocs
Situated on 10 hectares in a World Heritage location with an amazing array of native wildlife, there is plenty to see and do at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures. There are various options available o really make the most of your day, giving you the chance to explore everything the park has to offer including a boat cruise along Hartley's Lagoon, a Wildlife Discovery Trail, Cassowary Walk and the Gondwana Gateway.
We started our morning with a crocodile farm tour. As well as a wildlife sanctuary, Hartley's operates a crocodile farm. You can learn more about how this works through an informative talk by a staff member.
This was followed by a boat cruise (included in the admission price). It was a great opportunity to spot crocodiles up close and realise just how amazing they are at blending in with their environment. Barely stirring as they lay on the bank or seamlessly moving through the water, they could easily be mistaken for driftwood or a tree root. My kids were utterly fascinated and in awe of these beautiful reptiles.
Chance to spot a croc up close
We also attended several talks and presentations throughout the day at Hartley's, learning about saltwater (estuarine) crocodiles, the smaller and more timid freshwater crocodiles and about various native snakes.
I was most impressed by the staff members who presented on the day. They were informative and really knew their stuff, in fact, they specifically requested the audience to throw all sorts of questions at them, fielding them easily and making it an interactive and engaging presentation. They not only demonstrated their knowledge of these amazing reptiles but also displayed a relationship of respect and care that was evident between croc and man - true 'Crocodile Dundee' staff!
Freshwater Croc caretaker; Cameron
We were captivated by the afternoon Snake presentation. The staff member was outspoken, bold and funny. His love and passion for nature, wildlife and protecting our environment was strong and evidently clear.
A truly educational experience
As well as learning more about crocodiles, we also got to meet lots of other cool reptiles and diverse wildlife.
The children enjoyed the snake and reptile enclosures. Who wouldn't be in awe when staring into the eyes of one of Australia's most venomous snakes - the Taipan! My boys loved spotting the frogs, spiders, snakes, pythons (the largest I had ever seen), and komodo dragons. One of sons favourite reptiles (after crocodiles of course) had inspired my 5-year-old to write a story about 'the pet Komodo dragon he couldn't have'... (blame the parents, of course!)
Meeting more reptilian friends
Up to that point, the endless 'no swimming - beware of crocodiles' signs posted along the Northern beaches was all that my children and I had seen or experienced in relation to these curious creatures. It meant we were cautious, alert and regularly checked for 'safe' swimming places.
Yet our visit to Hartley's meant that we came away from our day outing so much more wiser, so much more in awe and inspired by these million-year-old reptiles and we had all discovered and learnt a lot more about how these animals live and survive.
So what to do?
Take a boat cruise (runs regularly and takes about 25 mins), around Hartley's lagoon and admire the beauty of these creatures from just the right distance.
Boats are medium size and there is plenty of opportunity to spot a crocodile no matter where you are seated.
Take a walk along the Wildlife Discovery Trail; meet freshwater crocs, water birds and enjoy a tropical walk through the bird aviary.
Cassowary Walk; If you can wander in quietly you just may get to spot a Cassowary with its unique brilliant blue colouring. An endangered animal and one only found in this part of the world.
Learn more about Australia in prehistoric times with the Gondwana Gateway trail which describes how our diverse fauna was shaped over time.
The Black necked stork at Hartley's wetlands
The Saltwater and Freshwater Presentations - get ready to have all your questions answered in a fun interactive presentation and learn more about crocodiles than you ever thought you could.
The Snake Show; if you ever wanted to shake off your fear of snakes, come to this presentation. It is informative and well worth it. A passionate staff member whose love and keen interest in snakes will rub off on you!
A memorable day out
Like any wildlife centre, there are a myriad of other activities available such as wallaby, quoll and Cassowary feeding times.
The day wouldn't be complete without a place to refresh and recharge. Lillies restaurant and cafe, at the centre of the wildlife park and overlooking Hartley's lagoon is a perfect place for a lunch, snack, or 'I need more coffee' stop.
There is a large range of available meals on the menu from 'quick eat n go' items to an 'a la carte' yummy selection. We were surprised to find ourselves sitting at Lilies Cafe overlooking the lagoon with a large 4-5 m crocodile lying as still and inconspicuous as possible just below us!
What to bring
The perfect stop
Hat and sunscreen on warmer days, coat and umbrella on a rainy day - there are shady spots throughout the sanctuary but it can get warm during the day
Bring lots of water (there is no drinking water available on site) Plenty of cold drinks and bottled water available to buy through the main cafe
A wheelchair is available for use if required. Arrange prior to arrival
A limited number of strollers available for hire if you need
Limited or no mobile phone coverage on site.
Transfers from Cairns, Palm Cove, Port Douglas and other areas are available. Please contact Hartley's directly for more information or a Tour company to find out more.
Discovery day out