As you drive along the Captain Cook Highway from Cairns towards Port Douglas you already know you are in for a treat at Hartleys Crocodile Farm. The drive is considered to be one of the best coastal drives in Australia, as you pass by perfect beaches and beautiful greenery it’s easy to see why. This is the perfect place for Hartleys Crocodile farm, nestled among the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
We arrived a little later than expected, as I have a love of sleep, and realised we were there during the school holidays. As we pulled into the over-flow car park I worried we were going to have a hard time seeing the shows due to the crowds. This wasn’t the case, the great team at Hartleys had anticipated the increase in visitors and arranged extra shows throughout the day so no one missed out. We joined the queue and painfully departed with 35AUD each for a ticket.
As we were a little late in arriving the first crocodile feeding of the day had started, attracting almost every visitor in the park. We decided to make the most of the rest of the park being empty and headed off to explore. On our way to the cassowary walk we spotted some birds being taken from carry cages ready for people to meet as they left the croc show. My favorite was Barny, a rescued owl with only one wing.
The first time I sore a cassowary was at Etty Bay, prior to which I hardly knew they existed! We headed to the walkway to get a better look at these Jurassic birds. There aren’t many places you can see these feathered creatures, we got really lucky seeing them in the wild, so seeing them here is amazing. Many of them were rescue animals, survivors of car accidents and some that had been injured in fights. Their size and colour make me think of an ostrich crossed with a parrot!
As we left the cassowary behind I came close to physically bursting with excitement – I was about to see a kangaroo for the first time! I’d been waiting to see one since arriving in Australia four months ago. Yes, you read that right. I somehow managed not to see a kangaroo in four months! When we arrived in the roo and wallaby enclosure we were the second group to have ventured this far, thanks to the croc show that was holding up the rest of the crowds. Because there were so few people and it was early in the day the roos were extra sociable. I fed them from my hand, their little teeth nibbling at the palms of my hands, and stroked their beautiful soft fur. Our luck didn’t last long and soon enough the croc show had finished and some school children came running into the enclosure and stole our kangaroo away from us. The kangaroos get a little antisocial towards the end of the day, Hartleys is a popular destination and the kangaroo enclosure is a big reason for the crowds so the poor guys get tuckered out.
We ate lunch in the park, and treat ourselves to a taster meal, with different Australian food including a bug. It was probably one of the best things I tried in Aus and is like a small lobster. The cafe over looked a large enclosure with an island in the middle. This is home to some of their biggest crocs, it was weird eating crocodile in our taster meal whilst watching them sunbathing on the banks!
This enclosure is used for a crocodile boat trip. All guests are given a ticket with a time when they buy their ticket on the way in. This is the time for you to go on the boat out into the enclosure, travel around the island and watch the crocs getting fed. The boats that Hartels use are completely enclosed, so there’s no chance of losing a finger! The guide used pieces of chicken on the lure the crocodiles to the boat and to jump out of the water at the bate. The pressure the crocs use to close snap their jaws shut is incredible, allowing a loud hollow popping noise.
One of the talks took you through to the farm, where crocodiles are kept separate from the zoo and bread for their skin and meat. This was really interesting, although it was also very sad. The animals are bread to be males, which is determined by the temperature the eggs are incubated at and only allowed to grow to the desired size, after which time their skin is more likely to have blemishes and the animals become more aggressive. They are also kept in large groups, to keep them more placid. When crocodiles are in low numbers they can be territorial, large numbers stops them fighting and reduces the chance of that all important skin being torn. Interestingly large proportions of the crocodile farming industry are owned by fashion giants, such as Louis Vuitton.
The last talk of the day was the koala feeding. This was amazing! We had seen koalas at the Philip Island Conservation Centre, but not up close like this. I love their grumpy little faces that seem to be the opposite of their relaxed nature. At the end of the talk we were able to stroke one! I don’t think I will ever be that happy again!
Overall Hartleys was a little on the pricey side to get in, but the activities available warranted the price tag. This was one of the best days I had in Australia, the animals were healthy and well looked after, the space was clean and maintained and the staff were wonderful.