HERE'S a question you won't want to answer.
Would you rather be disembowelled by an irritated cassowary or eaten by a monster crocodile?
It's a silly question but when you are very close to enormous saltwater crocs and within a handshake of a growling cassowary you'd be surprised how easily it jumps to mind.
Fortunately you can get very close to these potentially deadly but fascinating creatures at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures without risking a grisly death.
Hartley's - about 40 minutes north of Cairns and 25 minutes south of Port Douglas - will prove the late Steve Irwin did not exaggerate when he said "crocs rule".
These gigantic brutes with their prehistoric hides have no predators and could snatch you, drag you under water and crunch you in half before you could say "hey look, there's a crocodile over there".
Fortunately the big saltwater crocs at Hartley's are well fed, safely behind a fenced lagoon and you view them from the protection of a steel-meshed boat.
You may think you've seen it all in your travels but until you've seen Ted - the whole 5.4 metres of him - lunge from the water to snatch a dangling chicken carcass in his powerful jaws - you haven't really lived. (Ted is 100 years old, has one tooth and one eye, but hey - you wouldn't want to mess with him.)
Hartley's man-made lagoon has fused with nature over the decades to become a natural wetland and the crocs that live contented lives there send shivers down the spine.
Hartley's staff know all the crocs by name (how, is anybody's guess they all look terrifyingly the same) and have an obvious affection for them.
The boat ride in the lagoon leaves you trembling with awe as does feeding time where the crocs surge out of the water for dangled treats to expose fleshy white underbellies as malevolent as their watchful eyes.
Professional wildlife keepers ensure your safety, and throughout the day, present conservation-themed educational activities.
As for the cassowary, it is not at all irritated at Hartley's, on the contrary, it's very happy showing off its gorgeous red, blue and purple plumage, making a low booming noise that we take to mean happiness.
Hartley's has been going about its croc and wildlife business for 80 years.
It began as a teahouse in 1933 to "delight travellers between Cairns and Mossman".
Visitors endured a two-hour buggy drive to get there and the owners decided to buy a crocodile to live in the creek and entertain them while they waited for their scones to come out of the oven.
Now with its native bush viewed from 2100 metres of timber boardwalks and pathways, Hartley's is also home to koalas, reptiles and wallabies and has glorious bird life in its walk-in aviary.
The cassowary garden is where you'll spot these normally elusive birds and it's hard to believe by their proud and pretty stature that they could take you out with one lightning-fast swoop of their deadly dagger-like claws.
A day flashes by quickly at Hartley's, especially if you take part in the crocodile farm tour, the snake show, the cassowary and koala feeding, and pose for a photo with a python around your neck.
Visitors come from all over the world, fearfully fascinated by Australia's deadly creatures. Some even chose to exchange their wedding vows in the amphitheatre.
It's a slick operation at Hartley's, a far cry from being entertained by the one crocodile while you waited for your afternoon tea.
>>Try the crocodile meat, farmed at Hartley's, in its on-site restaurant, Lillie's
>>Learn about sustainable use and conservation on a crocodile farm tour
>>Hartley's has operated a commercial crocodile farm since 1989. Estuarine crocodiles bred on the premises are raised for their skins and meat.
You can visit parts of the farm, learn how it all works, and appreciate how the sustainable commercial use of wildlife contributes to wildlife and habitat conservation.
>> Special interest groups from pre-school through to senior and tertiary level students have education programs.
>>Hartley's provides A-grade skins, commission by Louis Vuitton.
Hartley's Crocodile Adventures is 40km north of Cairns and 25km south of Port Douglas on the Captain Cook Hwy.
Visit www.crocodile adventures.com for more details.
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