Grant Bradley takes a break from a luxury cruise to face the jaws of death
"What do you see just before a crocodile attacks?" asks our tour guide TJ.
That's how these monstrous survivors of the dinosaur age do it. Stealth and patience. We were deep in croc country one hour out of Darwin.
The fearsome hunters were all around, but we only saw two.
TJ explained that saltwater crocs can lie in wait and watch the routine and habits of their prey for up to weeks before they strike with tremendous force. A big male like Stumpy who we did meet can bite down with the force of three tonnes.
Two busloads of guests from Silversea's flagship Silver Muse had opted for the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise as one of the many excursions from the steamy capital of the Northern Territory. We'd been welcomed there early that morning by a very cool didgeridoo and drum duo.
The croc cruise is on the Adelaide River, a 70km ride in a comfortable coach.
Once there we filed on to modern, quick, flat-bottom boats with rows of seats facing outwards so everyone got a good view.
The crocs that are socialised swim towards the boat in search of a snack of buffalo meat dangled from long poles over the side. Stumpy was first to arrive.
TJ said his age is estimated at over 80. He was more of a lunger than a jumper the day we saw him but we got a good look at the old bloke who was in awesome knick for his age. He was, however, missing two-and-a-half legs.
The last limb Stumpy lost was in a fight with another big male, Trevor, over a female named Candy.
In spite of the damage, Stumpy still presides over a harem of around 20 of ''his girls" on his 1.5km stretch of the river.
The river is home to around 10,000 of the animals along its 120km length and numbers are increasing at about 5 per cent a year. Hunting them for handbags was banned in the 1970s when the total population got as low as 3000 throughout the whole of Australia.
The other croc we saw was a much smaller, beautiful albino called Pearl. She was lucky to be alive — mothers usually kill any of their young that are unusual — and she lives precariously among the big males on the river.
At about 20 years old she was a mighty leaper, and we got a good look at her as she chomped down with a thunk on the buffalo bones.
It was spectacular.
Safety is paramount on the tours — there are strict rules to prevent anyone falling into the soupy water. Crocs can swim at up to 35kph where it can stay submerged for over an hour.
They can sense vibrations — such as buffalo meat being tapped on the surface or someone falling overboard — from up to 2km away. With their snouts on the ground, they do the same on land where TJ said a fast one can run at up to 40kph over a few dozen metres.
If ever chased by a hungry croc forget zigzag running as some suggest. TJ's advice is to run as fast and as far as you can — and climb the nearest tree.
After looking down the throats of Stumpy and Pearl I think I'd find my inner Usain Bolt.
TO BE SHORE
Some Silversea excursions are included as part of your cruise package but you will have to pay for those that aren't.
They can appear pricey but are often once-in-a-lifetime opportunities — how else could you get to see the Komodo dragon?
Tenders are used to transport passengers if the ship is anchored offshore. The small boats are comfortable and getting on and off them is easy with plenty of crew to help.
Not all excursions are created equal. A Bali rice fields trip gave us good insight into traffic woes on the island but not a lot of time at our destination.
Do your research and take time to talk to excursion staff on the ship.
This Christmas there's a 14-day cruise aboard the Silver Muse departing from Auckland on December 20. You'll travel around the New Zealand coast and on to Tasmania, Melbourne and Sydney. Prices start from $9397pp based on double occupancy in a Vista Suite and including a 10 per cent early booking bonus when booking by June 28.