Kangaroo fur is softer to the touch than I somehow imagined it would be. This thought crosses my mind as I gently stroke the jill before me after a hike along the timber boardwalks and pathways at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. The property is wedged against the MacAlister Range and Coral Sea in the coastal country between Cairns and Port Douglas. After the 3 1/2 hour flight from Melbourne to Cairns, the on-site Lilies Restaurant is a great spot to recharge and refill while croc spotting over the lagoon that borders. If you’re into getting your Zen on with nature as I am, the winding trails that seem to spontaneously unravel into fields hosting kangaroos, wallabys and koalas are sure to get your “om” engine revving.
At Hartley’s, you’ll learn about the evolution of Australia’s wildlife and experience immersion exhibits such as the kangaroo and wallaby playground that removes the boundaries between you and the treasured animals. Hartley’s Lagoon offers intimate insights into the biology and behavior of crocodiles. Half-hour long lagoon cruises carry on throughout the day. A Big Croc Experience lasting about an hour can place a long feeding pole and juvenile Estuarine Crocodile directly into your hands. Regardless of which experience you wander into, your perceptions about crocodiles will likely never be the same.
In Port Douglas, day excursions to the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef are easy to arrange with Quicksilver Cruises. Here, ‘ribbon’ reefs run parallel to the Continental Shelf. The string of coral reefs is the only biological community on Earth that is visible from space. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to get a sense of this magnitude during your adventure. The first will likely occur after Quicksilver drops anchor to a spacious platform along the reef after about an hour-long ride from shore—standing on the top deck of the pontoon boat, it’s hard to tell sky from sea.
The second is really up to you. You can snorkel, scuba dive or strap on a space-like suit for underwater observing. A Quicksilver semi-sub, located just a flight of stairs underwater, offers spectacular views of the reef and its parade of colors without getting wet. I snorkeled the reef and had the opportunity to hop unto a helicopter for a short ride above. Yes, this was my third moment of magnitude.
And, of course, there’s opportunity for learning—whether through a guided reef tour or one of many presentations given onboard. I learned that the Clownfish made popular in the hit movie “Little Nemo” might have actually become “Nema” in reality at some point in his life. Good times.