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Where to See Crocodiles in Cairns & Port Douglas

Where to See Crocodiles in Cairns & Port Douglas

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

Here’s where you can see crocodiles from Cairns and Port Douglas.

If you’re visiting FNQ in hopes of spotting a crocodile up close, you’ll be excited to know that this wild tropical region offers opportunities to encounter both the iconic Australian saltwater crocodile and the lesser-known freshwater variety.

After spending months exploring the Tropical North, I’ve learned of the best spots to see them both in their natural environment and within the safety of specialized wildlife parks. Below are my favorite and most reliable spots with location pins and photos from my visits.

The Daintree River: Best Spot for FNQ Croc Spotting

Perhaps the most famous crocodile spotting location in Australia, the Daintree River is home to over 70 adult crocodiles. The Daintree is located approximately 1 hour north of Port Douglas along the scenic Great Barrier Reef Drive to Cape Tribulation.

This is by far the most reliable spot to see the estuarian saltwater crocodile in its natural mangrove environment. However, spotting them from the banks is difficult.

Therefore, I highly recommend going on the affordable and silent Solar Whisper boat tour for the best chance of seeing a croc in the wild. Crocodile guide Marc is great at spotting these elusive creatures and shares a wealth of valuable information.

Australian saltwater crocodile basking on the banks of the daintree river near cairns and port douglas

Mowbray Foot Bridge: Port Douglas

If you're looking for a free place to spot wild Saltwater Crocodiles between Cairns and Port Douglas, make sure to visit the small footbridge on Captain Cook Highway, just 10 km south of Port Douglas.

The Mowbray River is a hotspot for wild saltwater crocodiles and if you visit at low tide (important), you may be lucky enough to spot one basking on the exposed southern banks. There is a new car park here on the right side of the highway where you can leave your car.

I always make the effort to stop at this bridge when driving to Port Douglas or Cape Tribulation and always spot the same 4-metre+ croc sitting at the same spot. However, if you visit during high tide, you will likely not spot any.

Crocodile at mowbray river footbridge
Crocodile basking on the banks from the mowbray river footbridge near port douglas

Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation, located in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest, is a fantastic spot for crocodile encounters and possibly the most crocodile-dense area in Queensland.

While you certainly don't want to swim at Cape Trib, here are a few specific locations where you might be lucky enough to spot one:

  • Cooper Creek: Join a guided tour with Cooper Creek Wilderness to explore this area rich in crocodile habitats. These tours offer the chance to see crocodiles basking on the banks or lurking just beneath the water's surface.
  • Cape Tribulation Beach: While primarily known for wild scenery, the mangroves near this beach are full of saltwater crocodiles.
  • Dubuji Boardwalk: This elevated walk through the mangroves and rainforest provides a safe vantage point for spotting crocodiles in the waterways below. While I've walked this path plenty of times and never seen one, recent reviews say that there have been crocs around.
  • Cape Tribulation Horse Ride: This horse riding tour was one of my favourite experiences in the area and we spotted a HUGE crocodile on the path. The guide says that this guy usually doesn't move so you've got a good chance of spotting him on this tour from horseback.
Saltwater crocodile in cape tribulation queensland

Hartley's Crocodile Adventures: Great Spot for Kids

Hartley's Creek Crocodile Adventures is the most reliable place to spot crocodiles just 42 kilometres north of Cairns CBD. While these saltwater crocodiles are not in the wild, the park offers an immersive and educational experience and more importantly, a huge and natural sanctuary habitat for the reptiles.

Here's what you can expect:

  • Crocodile Cruises: Go on a boat tour through Hartley's Lagoon, where you can safely spot large saltwater crocodiles in a setting very similar to their natural habitat. Experienced guides provide great commentary on crocodile behavior and biology.
  • Crocodile Farm Tour: Learn about the sustainable farming practices and conservation efforts at Hartley's. This behind-the-scenes tour offers insights into how crocodiles are raised and managed.
  • Wildlife Presentations: Attend educational shows that feature crocodile feeding demonstrations and interactions with other Australian wildlife.
  • Snake Show and Reptile Display: Beyond crocodiles, Hartley's offers a chance to see a variety of other reptiles, including snakes and lizards.
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Cattana Wetlands

Located near the beaches of Cairns is the Cattana Wetlands, a small free and easily accessible wildlife area famous with birdwatchers. While you likely won't spot any large saltwater crocs in these wetlands, this area is known to be home to many freshwater crocodiles.

This peaceful reserve features a network of winding walking tracks and sturdy boardwalks that weave through lush vegetation and open waterways. These paths offer numerous vantage points to observe the wetland's resident wildlife, including the elusive freshwater crocodiles that occasionally bask along the shores.

Cattana wetlands, cairns, queensland australia

Where Else to Spot Freshwater Crocodiles

The freshwater crocodiles around Cairns, Port Douglas, and the Atherton Tablelands are known as the Johnston's crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni) or Australian freshwater crocodile. These crocs are much smaller and far less aggressive– they will likely never bite unless you accidentally step on one!

In my experience, finding freshwater crocodiles in Far North Queensland is more difficult than spotting salties since they are smaller and more elusive. However, here are a few places I've spotted them in the past:

  • Lake Eacham (Crater Lakes): The crater lakes at the top of the Gillies Range Road towards the Tablelands is a prime swimming spot and home to a large resident freshwater croc. You can often spot him basking on the shores.
  • Peterson Creek: Near the rainforest of Yungaburra, Peterson Creek offers opportunities to spot freshwater crocodiles along its banks, particularly during the cooler hours of the day.
  • Barron River: One of the largest rivers near Cairns and home to plenty of saltwater crocodiles and freshwater crocodiles. You'll find salties on the downstream end of Barron Falls and heaps of freshies upstream near Kuranda.

Important: Remember that saltwater crocodiles are known to swim upstream into freshwater creeks. Just because the water is fresh, doesn't mean that a salty can't be lurking beneath the surface!

Freshwater swimming in far north queensland
Lake Eacham swimming spot

Where to Stay In Cairns

Visiting Cairns? The best places to stay are near the Cairns Esplanade or on the sunny Northern Beaches. Below are the top 4 options for varying budgets.

Alternatively, check out my Port Douglas accommodation guide for more ideas on where to stay in Far North Queensland.

Girl sunbathing at crystalbrook riley resort in cairns

1. Crystalbrook Riley Luxury

If luxury and location are what you're after, you can't beat this 5-star resort right in the heart of Cairns Esplanade.

Fitzroy island wharf

2. Fitzroy Island Resort Mid-Range

Sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands! Staying at Fitzroy often works out cheaper than staying in town & means you get more time to explore the reef, beaches, and rainforest walking trails.

Gilligans backpacker resort

3. Gilligan's Backpackers Budget

The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns. Great place to meet like-minded travelers & features a pool, air-con rooms, a huge shared kitchen, & a great common area.

Peppers beach club four mile beach port douglas

4. Pepper's Beach Club Palm Cove

Stay at the best beach resort in the heart of Palm Cove on Cairns's Northern Beaches!

I hope this quick guide has helped your croc-spotting adventures in Far North Queensland. Find any new spots? Let me know in the comments below. Otherwise, take a pick from my other guides for more Cairns & Port Douglas travel inspiration.

Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.