Wed 30/05: Wilderness Cruise & Crocodile Farm Tour

Here's a glimpse of the sights we experienced this day, the slideshow is automatic, but you can pause, go forward or backward... or, as we highly recommend, you can also see the pics in larger resolution at our Picasa website by clicking on any slide... enjoy!!!

WE BOOKED ONLINE for the Wilderness Cruise & Crocodile Farm half-day tour with Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises and, as the Ferry Terminal was just across from the front of the Shangri-La, we strolled across to check-in at 08:30 right after breakfast in the Club. Our catamaran, the MV Crocodile Explorer, was ready for us to board at 09:00 when all the passengers were greeted by the captain and crew; we relaxed while watching an interesting slide-show on the flat-screens with some interesting images of Trinity Inlet and the commercial crocodile farm that we were to explore during the morning.

The cat 'weighed anchor' at 09:30 and we set off up the inlet with an informative commentary by the captain that commenced with the landmark buildings that we could see on the wharf and leading up to the Australian Navy's Fleet Logistic Support Base, HMAS Cairns, on the northern shore of Trinity Inlet and close to the central business district of Cairns. The base has responsibility extending from Rockhampton to Thursday Island and has 900 Navy and civilian personnel and is the homeport for 14 Naval Vessels - two Armidale Class Patrol Boats (ACPB) were stationed there at the time of our cruise and are very familiar with television viewers of Sea Patrol as, one in particular, portrays HMAS Hammersley in the series.

Next, we were informed of the dry-dock area and the wharves in general including the Queensland Sugar Limited managed Cairns Terminal which has a storage capacity of around 250,000 tonnes of raw sugar and is so important to the economy of the Cairns District. We continued on and came across the huge Admiralty Island that dominates the Inlet, sitting in the middle and covered, as all else was, with varieties of Mangroves.

At this stage, morning tea is on offer and a member of the crew took over the commentary as she had studied the intricate littoral ecology that cements the balance of the environment of the Inlet which is the home of barramundi, mangrove jack, fingermark, estuary cod, grunter, bream, trevally, queenfish, threadfin, barracuda and sickle fish to name a few of the many fishes that graze on the seagrasses and are recreationally caught by fishermen and the over 38 species from 24 families of crab and prawns that the greater Trinity Inlet region Commercial fishers are allowed to net. 

The wetlands support large populations of birds and provides habitat for migratory wading birds, including species of national significance. In addition, The mangrove forests, freshwater wetlands and mudflats, function as nurseries for juvenile fish and prawns and provide important habitat for saltwater crocodiles.

And so we continued up the Inlet with the occasional foray into the many creeks in search of the 'Salties', in vain as none were out on this overcast day with threatening rain; we did, however, chance upon and identify the three species of heron: the Striated Heron; Great Billed Heron and, the Eastern Reef Egret. We also were able to identify the Brahminy Kite, the Little Pied Cormorant, Whimbrel and the Forest Kingfisher, as well as a couple of Osprey that circled above... in fact, studies have found there to be over one hundred species of bird that are native or migratory inhabitants of the approximate 4500 hectares which is known as Trinity Inlet.

Leaving the creeks behind, we venture further up the Inlet to our major destination where we disembark at a jetty and enter the world of commercial crocodile husbandry... The Cairns Crocodile Farm is one of two (the other is to be found in the Northern Territory) that are members of the Australian Crocodile Traders Group of Companies which is the world’s largest producer of first grade saltwater crocodile skins and meat and is the clear industry leader in innovation and technology. The company is a member of CITES (Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) where strict rules apply when trading in products that come from such species - no 'feeding times' and 'jumping through hoops' such as you'll find at more 'touristy' establishments here, this is serious business - and what an eye-opener! 

The farm has fenced-off part of the natural habitat and the creeks and billabongs that are enclosed house the breeding stock of the larger crocodiles that have been moved here when they've become unmanageable by taking up residence in towns and bathing beaches and the like... these large crocs are not killed but simply bask, breed and fight each other living out the rest of their lives until they die a natural death.

The Crocodile Explorer Tour has exclusive access to the Farm, which is not otherwise open to the public, and works closely with the management. 

We board a mini-bus with our guide and drive off into the Farm and quicky come across 'Gummy', an old and ill-tempered male, who wallows in the furthest reaches of the creek and has a harem of twelve to eighteen 'wives'. Male crocodiles are extremely territorial and jealously guard their 'patch' and their female herd closely. Meandering along the track that follows the creeks and billabongs, stopping occasionally and alighting when our guide has something of interest to point out to us, we come across many of these breeding groups which are not separated from each other, but, nevertheless distanced by their natural fighting instinct.

We sight a number of their nests as they are pointed out to us and are informed how they are collected when it is time for the eggs to hatch: it takes three men, one to collect and the other two to ward off the mother. They are carefully marked as they are collected so that they remain in the same position as they were found as simply positioning them in the incubator will kill the unborn crocs if they are not the 'right way up'... they also have the ability to determine the outcome of the sex of the un-hatched crocs and, naturally, they opt for males as they have broader chests and give-up(?) the best skins.

Later, we see the crocodiles that have hatched and now become one-year-olds... they are unusually large (a whopping one-and-a-half metres long) because their special diet and the heated water moats that surround their warm concrete islands in their pens. There are over eighty of these enclosures of various sizes (I've counted them after locating them on Google Maps) containing baby crocodiles of various stages of development, separating them by size as it is important that the skins are not marked or it would destroy their rather high value. The crocodiles are humanely killed at two years of age and nothing is not used of the carcass except, perhaps, the eyes!

Following the tour of this nursery, we came across several dams in which a larger males (perhaps four years of age and looking very mature, but not mature enough to mate and therefore fight with others) are kept with the view to growing them to supply the luxury market... we were told of one Saudi who had a complete ten piece lounge suite upholstered with the underbellies of such crocodiles (AUD800,000.00+) and of Russians having a penchant for crocodile overcoats that cost around AUD120,000.00 each.

Soon, we were at the gate of the Farm and we returned to Cairns by road with our guide still happily supplying local information on the surroundings as we passed through... but my mind was still back there at the Farm - what an absolutely interesting and educational experience!

Lunch

We arrived back at the Shang at around 13:00 and after we freshened-up headed to the first floor to the Poolside Bar to have a snack for lunch... OK, it was a lousy day weatherwise, but where were the staff? - the bar was wide open and no one home! After waiting around and feebly calling for assistance - I even thought of ringing the hotel to get some attention, but couldn't be bothered - we returned to the lobby and asked the concierge to direct us to a good cafe/restaurant of the many that lined the Pier and we trotted(?) off and had a great lunch at the Boardwalk Cafe overlooking the Marlin Marina, which is a delightful spot to peruse the yachts, feel the cool breeze as it drifts across Trinity Bay, and enjoy fantastic coffee and sweets. It has a relaxing atmosphere, and arguably the best scenery of any coffee shop in Cairns - boats!
Jackie sitting by the pool waiting (in vain) for some attention from the Poolside Bar staff

Dinner

We'd heard great reports of the Hilton's Mondo Bar & Grill that is situated right on the Waterfront past Dundee's, and strolled up the Promenade after a restful time back in our room on the balcony... Well, the joint is like a cafeteria and the service very brusque, we were summarily handed the laminated pages that were the menu by a waitress that was still shouting to someone behind the bar across the room and left to it: We waited and waited (I wanted to walk out) and finally found that we had to place our orders and pay for them first before we could eat AND bring one of those tall table numbers back to the table so they new where to deliver it (we were the only customers) - NEVER AGAIN... there are a million other places in Cairns that are very much more appealing: 01/10.

Casino

The night wasn't lost, however, we put up our 'brolly and wandered around the corner to Reef Casino where I gave Jackie $200 to play the Pokies, which she lost, while I made a killing with Roulette (including the lost $200) which put the smile back on my face 

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