Meet the Locals at Windjana Gorge

Windjana Gorge in the Kimberley region of Western Australia is an ideal place to see freshwater crocodiles in the wild. So we stopped off there for a photo opportunity on our tour of WA.

I reassured myself that freshwater crocodiles are not usually aggressive;  the words of the ranger ran through my head. “They rarely attack without warning unless provoked or protecting their young,” he had said.  I wish I knew what a crocodile considered provocation, I thought, as I inched my prone body closer to the prehistoric reptile napping in the sun.

I was lying on the golden silt deposits of Windjana Gorge in Western Australia.  Around me, were over a dozen freshwater crocodiles strewn about like abandoned flotsam and my wide angled camera lens meant that I had to get close enough to my subject to distinguish it from a 7ft log.

I’d entered the gorge through a limestone tunnel into an oasis throbbing with life; a sanctuary with thousands of birds like pardalotes and finches, honeyeaters and woodswallows which filled the gorge with melodious harmonies backed by constant clicking cicadas. I could hear all these beautiful creatures but mostly I just saw the evidence of them; a quivering branch or a twitch of long grass where a finch once perched.   Occasionally a flash of azure blue of a kingfisher streaked above the water like a fighter jet, but it was the crocodiles that gave this gorge its primeval edginess.

The mirror-like pools reflected eucalyptus trees and fallen boulders. Cliffs a hundred feet high, towered protectively above them, battle worn wrinkled rocks bearing the wounds from a million years of acidic weathering, leaving red scars in the ripped dark flesh of the limestone cliffs. 

It was late August; the temperature was as pleasant as it gets this close to the equator in north Western Australia.  A loud fly buzzed around me as though sensing the tension prickling my body as I slithered a little closer towards the crocodile.  He was the closest; the others had gone from my peripheral vision except for a few who were superbly camouflaged in the shallows.  He lay side on to me, his long thin jaw tightly shut but unable to hide his gripping teeth.  His powerful short back legs were ready for action and his front legs lay in a similar position to my arms which were ready to elbow me forward again.  I could see the details on his marbled leathery skin now, adorned with neat parallel lines of armoured scutes running the length of his body and increasing in size along the tail.

Crocodiles amaze me – they’ve been around since the dinosaurs roamed the earth, survived everything nature and human beings have thrown at them and yet lie there, contented and quietly confident, masters of their domain. 

His eye opened.  My attention was suddenly diverted by the screech of a great bowerbird.  That was my warning.  I pulled the camera up to my face, held my breath and squeezed the shutter.  Something silenced the gorge.  A small flock took flight and the cicadas stopped clicking but the crocodile remained motionless, his gaze fixed on me as I slithered backwards to a safe distance.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, amazing encounter Fiona. I would love to see a a freshwater croc in the wild. I've seen a few salties from the safety of a boat, but never a freshwater one.