The first thing an Australian told me upon arrival in my Darwin hostel was “Everything in the ocean is trying to kill you, you won’t make it longer than five minutes”. Welcome to the Northern Territory, where everything is trying to kill you and each other! This is the land where the animals and some of the people are all kinds of cray cray. Where crocodiles eat bull sharks and snakes eat crocodiles. Where kangaroos have relationships with pigs and where flies would take over the country if they had a bigger brain. Welcome to the Northern Territory!
Find accommodation for Darwin here
I lived in the Northern Territory for over two months and therefore have a strange love affair with the state. I love telling stories about our resident snake in Nitmiluk NT (Katherine Gorge) who lived in the showers on the campsite. Trying to explain why you go swimming with one type of crocodile, but just not with the other type is always fun. Say what? Yes, this is one of the most insane places I’ve ever lived and I absolutely loved it.
What is trying to kill you in the Northern Territory?
Lots and lots of creatures that inhabit the Northern Territory have the ability to eat or at least taste you. While most wildlife in this state will only injure you when threatened, there are a couple of deadly animals in the Northern Territory that will attack without warning. Let’s make a count down from very to only a little bit deadly.
The deadliest, two big salties among their friends and some fishermen to the right. This animals were spotted in Kakadu National park and were everywhere!
Crocodiles: the salties and the freshies
Very deadly: Saltwater Crocodile
First up in our list of deadly animals in the Northern Territory and in my opinion by far the most dangerous one is the saltwater crocodile. Saltwater crocodiles or salties inhabit almost in every big body of water in the high up in the state and are consequently found in both the ocean and the fresh water rivers. Out of all the dangerous animals, this is the only animal that will kill for food and that is exactly what makes them so deadly.
A saltwater crocodile hunts by stalking and observing its prey. If you go on a boat trip in Yellow Waters, Kakadu national park, you will immediately notice this behavior. Salties are much smarter and faster than we give them credit for and that’s why a number of people per year still get caught out.
How do you know where you can swim and where you can’t?
The Australian government has carefully put up signs everywhere crocodiles are sometimes found. Look for saltwater crocodile traps (large iron cages on the side of the water). When still in doubt, do as the locals do, send in your dog before you go in yourself (please don’t!). I made it out alive so it’s not that hard. Be croc-wise, listen to the rangers and look for the signs put up everywhere. Don’t put your tent close to any body of water containing saltwater crocodiles and don’t go swimming where signs are placed.
Less deadly: Freshwater Crocodile
The little cousin of the saltwater crocodile, the freshwater crocodile, is a lot less dangerous and are, therefore, my preferred type of croc. The freshwater crocodile or freshie will not attack unless provoked and usually doesn’t injure in a deadly manner. They can, however, cause physical damage and maybe even get a hand or foot. What to remember? When you see one, stay far away.
Freshwater crocodiles are the lesser of two evils as they rarely attack and are more often a victim themselves by the hands (or should I say mouths) of salties and the infamously deadly cane toad. This is a toad introduced in Australia that has a poisonous back and is unfortunately the cause of many local predator’s deaths. The freshwater crocodiles are fighting hard for their survival and are an important part of the Australian ecosystem. That’s why they are also fiercely protected by the government.
I told you that you could go swimming with one crocodile and not the other. Well the freshies are fine to jump in the water with. At your own risk of course. You might think I’m crazy for saying this, but with the NT temperatures, you’re grateful for every swim you can squeeze in.
The biggest freshie spotted in Katherine Gorge, this lady was about 2,5 meters long
A small freshie, this time spotted at Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu National Park
There is a very simple rule in the Northern Territory than when followed will keep you 100% safe: Don’t swim in the ocean! As I said before, crocodiles are swimming in there. They are however not the only deadly animals in the Northern Territory that are swimming around in the ocean. There are also sharks and jellyfish of which you should be aware.
Very deadly: Bull Sharks, Tiger Sharks and the Great White Shark
Even though deadly shark attacks do happen, they are extremely rare. To illustrate this point, you are more likely to die from a coconut falling on your head, from a champagne cork flying against your head or by being hit by a cow. That is unless you tempt faith and go swimming in the waters around Darwin.
The waters around Darwin are home to bull sharks, tiger sharks and the great white shark (and I might be missing a couple). Basically every shark you would want to avoid. Therefore this section is pretty short, don’t go into the ocean. It’s just not worth the risk.
Less deadly (or harmless): Thresher Shark, Blacktip shark, Grey Nurse Shark, etc.
A lot of people don’t know that most of the sharks swimming around the world are absolutely harmless. The biggest shark on our planet for example is the whale shark and it eats plankton! I’ve seen more sharks while scuba diving than I can count. They are always more scared of me than I am of them. Sharks are beautiful animals and deserve all the protection they can get. Read more about which sharks swim in the Australian waters here.
Jellyfish: Box Jellyfish and Irukandji jellyfish
There are two types of jellyfish or stingers, as the Aussies like to call them, in Australian waters. The box jellyfish and the Irukandji jellyfish. While the Irukandji stinger is about the size of a fingernail, the box jellyfish can grow its tentacles so long it can wrap it around your whole body. Both of them are extremely painful to come in contact with, but only the box jelly fish is so venomous it can kill you.
Box jellyfish and the Irukandji are found between October and May in the northern waters of Australia. However, as the water around the Northern Territory is so warm, here they are found all year round. Both jellyfish are swimming in the shallow waters, mostly less than a meter deep! Yet another reason why swimming in the ocean here is just a big no no.
A Box Jelly fish in Darwin’s Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
There is a lot of driving to be done in Australia, listen to all my favorite roadtrip tunes here
Alright finally we get away from the water! We’ve concluded that when you stay out of the ocean and known crocodile infested waters you will probably survive your trip to the Northern Territory. And that shouldn’t be too hard right? Well, now let’s talk about the deadly animals in the Northern Territory that live on land. None of these animals will come after you unless they feel threatened. Consequently I have faith you will survive this part of the trip too. Nevertheless, snakes are everywhere in this wild country and therefore caution when walking through the bush is very much recommended.
The not so deadly kind, an olive python
Very deadly: Taipan, Brown Snake, Death Adder (what a lovely name), etc.
About every type of venomous snakes in Australia can also be found in the Northern Territory, woohoo! Basic prevention will allow you to avoid most of these dangers when camping or road tripping. Never walk around in flip flops at night with your legs unprotected and don’t walk through thick bush where you can’t see what’s there. If you have to, please wear actual shoes and long trousers. Zip up your tent and turn your shoes upside down before stepping into them in the morning (also a good one for the spiders). Be careful picking anything up that has been laying around for a while. Especially when you are doing your farm work in this area and are tasked with moving stacks of straw or garbage bags (basically anything that becomes nice and warm in the sun). A very informative brochure on the types of snakes in the Northern Territory is found online.
Less deadly: Pythons
As I told you in the intro I lived in Katherine, the third biggest town in the Northern Territory, which is still a tiny town. Here, I worked in the national park about 30 km outside the city called Nitmiluk NT also known as Katherine Gorge. This national park is absolutely magical and should definitely be on your Australia bucket list. If only to spot the resident snake, an olive python named Esmeralda.
The fact that the Northern Territorians are so used to dangerous animals that a wild olive python becomes an office mascot says enough about this state. Anyway, Esmeralda is much loved for a reason, all four to five meters long of her. That is because she and other constriction snakes are quite harmless and will only go after smaller prey. Just don’t bring your puppy to the gorge.
Another good look at Esmeralda, photo by Yannick De Pauw
Now for my least favorite topic, spiders. I’m not scared of snakes, rats, mice or any other rodent, but oh my, spiders. I hate them, I’m scared of them and I don’t want to be near them. Enter the Northern Territory for some major desensitizing. Spider are everywhere and just as with all the other animals in this list, most of them will not hurt you. Now there are a couple to be careful of and as a rule, don’t touch any spider with your bare hands.
The dangerous ones are plentiful and have dreamy names. First up, the red back spider. This is a little guy could kill children and the elderly, but is not usually very aggressive. There is the white back spider. You can spot this spider almost everywhere but I’ve never seen it leave its web. Next to that you have the Sydney funnel spider and so on and so on. I’m not going to make you go through what I just went through by Google-ing them for you, but here is a resource with a list of all the poisonous spiders of the Northern Territory. If you just want to know whether you found a deadly spider, click here. Have fun with it, I’ll pass.
Oh did I mention there are also buffaloes?
Hey, you’ll be fine!
Wow, is it weird that I had a lot of fun putting together this list? I think it’s abundantly clear how many dangerous animals there are in the Northern Territory. Telling someone who lives in the outback that your country’s most dangerous animal is a boar will make them laugh in your face (I’m looking at you Sonya). However it’s completely normal that we freak out at the sight of this long list. This is totally out of our comfort zone! Would it offer you any comfort that most Australians also shiver at the thought of that many crocodiles in their neighborhood?
However, and this is a biiiiig however, the Northern Territory is absolutely magical. So I hope this list will not deter you to visit the NT but will encourage you to look danger straight into the eye and tell everyone you survived it. Chances of you getting hurt by a car crash is still bigger than by any of these animals. (Actually, when doing big distances like in the Northern Territory, chances of you having a crash are quite big. Always have your car checked before you take off. Oh the fun in the NT never end.)
Nevertheless, it is totally worth it! It is a trip where nature and indigenous culture meet. It is the land of Kakadu national park, the waterfalls of Lichfield and the gorge of Katherine with an incredible history. Besides, not all the animals of the Northern Territory will try to kill you and there are many are freaking adorable ones. Coming up next, the adorable, the very loud and the beautiful animals that are absolutely harmless.