Thrillseek­ers ea­ger for close en­coun­ters of the saltie kind

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

IT’S a swel­ter­ing af­ter­noon and a hot-headed croc named Sheila is charg­ing my way.

She was fed just a few hours ear­lier, I had been told by staff at the Port Dou­glas Wildlife Habi­tat, so what is­sue could this large, po­ten­tially-lethal rep­tile pos­si­bly have with a cam­era-wield­ing reporter?

In the blink of an eye the scaly salt­wa­ter mis­sile crashes into a metal bar­rier, its jaws just inches from my cam­era’s lens.

Watch­ing on from about five me­tres away is an­other saltie: a 4.2-me­tre male known as Babinda.

“It’s their ter­ri­tory,” says Claire An­der­son, the Habi­tat’s man­ager, be­fore we move on to check out the far less hair­rais­ing wal­la­bies.

Af­ter five months in the Far North it was my first, and hope­fully clos­est, en­counter with a live crocodile.

But, if any­thing, it was also a sneak pre­view of what dar­ing vis­i­tors will ex­pe­ri­ence when the Wildlife Habi­tat opens its new at­trac­tions later this year.

The Wood­ward Fam­ily CaPTA Group – the Wildlife Habi­tat’s par­ent com­pany – last week re­vealed plans for two ma­jor de­vel­op­ments: Cro­carena and Zi­pline Zoo Ad­ven­tures.

In a Queens­land first, the Cro­carena will fea­ture a “sub- mer­sion ex­pe­ri­ence” in which thrillseek­ers are locked in a cage be­fore be­ing sent into the wa­ter along­side two hun­gry crocs.

The lat­ter is ex­pected to in­clude a zip line course, sim­i­lar to that at the Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome, which will al­low pay­ing cus­tomers an­other unique view of the an­i­mals. Both in­vest­ments, worth more than $1 mil­lion in to­tal, are fine ex­am­ples of in­no­va­tion.

The need for for­ward­think­ing as a way of en­gag­ing with would-be Far North tourists has be­come a fo­cal point among the re­gion’s busi­ness com­mu­nity.

So­cial com­men­ta­tor Bernard Salt and sci­ence guru Dr Karl Kruszel­nicki spoke about the is­sue at length dur­ing last Novem­ber’s Tourism In­no­va­tion Con­fer­ence in Cairns.

The topic was also one of the key themes of Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull’s re­cent speech at St Au­gus­tine’s Col­lege, Cairns.

“We are see­ing enor­mous change in progress, and we are so well po­si­tioned to take ad­van­tage of that,” he told the au­di­ence, re­fer­ring to the rapidly grow­ing Asian mar­ket.

“We have to be in­no­va­tive, we have to be cre­ative, we have to be imag­i­na­tive and pre­pared to do things dif­fer­ently.”

Sound ad­vice from the PM but, as most busi­ness own­ers would say, it’s eas­ier said than done.

Change takes courage, per­sis­tence and of­ten comes at a hefty cost. But CaPTA Group chair­man Charles Wood­ward has more than proved how think­ing out­side the square can lead to long-term re­ward.

For decades he and his fam­ily have helped build the Far North’s tourism in­dus­try, the back­bone of the lo­cal econ- omy. They now own and op­er­ate sev­eral of the re­gion’s most well-known at­trac­tions.

And then there’s Ge­orge Chapman, who over­came many large and well-pub­li­cised political hur­dles dur­ing the early 1990s in cre­at­ing the Skyrail Rain­for­est Ca­ble­way.

Now, more than 20 years later, the award-win­ning at­trac­tion is still widely lauded as a yard­stick for tourism in­no­va­tion.

Al­though most tourism oper­a­tors are al­ready pre­dict­ing a pros­per­ous 2016, driven again by a low Aus­tralian dol­lar, the two new Wildlife Habi­tat at­trac­tions could fur­ther in­vig­o­rate the in­dus­try.

Both are tipped to open midyear, the middle of the peak tourist sea­son, which could bring a flow-on ef­fect through­out Port Dou­glas and Cairns.

In an in­ter­view this week, Mr Wood­ward said he was al­ways look­ing for new and unique ways of do­ing things to keep peo­ple in­ter­ested.

He also said he would be among the first peo­ple to test out the new “sub­mer­sion ex­pe­ri­ence” af­ter con­struc­tion was com­plete.

“It will be a great adrenaline rush,” Mr Wood­ward said.

Good luck to him ... but I think I’ve al­ready seen enough of Sheila.

Pic­ture: TOURISM NT

Swim­ming with a saltie is one of the most pop­u­lar at­trac­tions for the ad­ven­tur­ous in Dar­win.

Pic­ture: TIM CORIN

Babinda the saltie at Wildlife Habi­tat.

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