September 01, 2022

Finniss River Lodge: Animal Magnetism

The remote floodplains of the Northern Territory’s Top End are full of surprises

Six litres of Chevrolet V8 muscle roars into life, propelling us along the narrow waterway, between protruding limbs of paperbark and Melaleuca trees. We skim across patches of reeds and shallow puddles as if riding a 600-horsepower magic carpet. My fellow passengers could be yelping in delight and excitement for all I know, but the industrial earmuffs muffle everything to a monotone crescendo. 

I’ve ridden in and driven some pretty wild machines in my time, but this is my first experience in a high-powered airboat. Rowan ‘Rowdy’ Sutton, our skipper, is the picture of concentration, laser-focused attention on our white-knuckle passage along the Finniss River. But the excitement has only just begun.

Rowdy dips the throttles to idle as we creep, albeit noisily, along a wide and wooded creek just off the river's main stream. Rowdy is now peering earnestly into the dense undergrowth that lines the muddy banks. Then, the quarry spotted, he jumps down from his perch and stands at the edge of the hull gently waving his craggy, weather-beaten Akubra.  


“How are ya buddy?” he calls out, and as if on cue, the menacing form of a giant saltwater crocodile breaks cover and swims stealthily toward us. Instinctively, I move away from the approaching threat while Rowdy crouches at the edge of the hull, alarmingly close to the waterline.

“Oh, you’re not …,” I mutter under my breath and with that, the beast thrusts his ample snout over the gunnel, opening his cavernous jaw to reveal sharp, well-worn teeth and an old war wound that has a large chunk of his mandible missing. 

“Have ya missed me, pal?” Rowdy says soothingly while playfully rubbing the carnivore’s snout. The reptile - aptly named ‘Bonecruncher’ - appears to enjoy the attention, while our jaws droop in a mix of wonder and alarm.

Don't try this at home children! Bonecruncher just loves a pat and cuddle. (Matt Wright)

“We’ve got to know each other over the years and he’s quite comfortable with us,” says Rowdy reassuringly, “Salties are a lot smarter and more cunning than we give them credit for. They recognise both individuals and behaviour - which is also why they can be dangerous.”

Actually, Bonecruncher has become something of an Internet sensation, garnering massive ‘likes’, clicks and more than a little controversy thanks to wide media coverage back in 2020. 

Rowdy reinforces the point with a stern “do not try this at home children” reminding us that this is a unique relationship and not one to be attempted with just any old croc.

Our return journey to the plush Finniss River Lodge is almost mundane by comparison. We spot numerous waterbirds and raptors, reinforcing the fact that these significant wetlands are great for wildlife and animal spotters.

Rowdy’s airboat adventure is just one of several optional activities available to fortunate guests staying at the remote upmarket lodge. Add fishing, helicopter flightseeing, indigenous interpretation and Litchfield National Park excursions and you have the full gamut of leisure and enrichment options.

Aerial view of Finniss River Lodge (supplied)

Chef, Travis Crane (RE)
A stone’s throw from Darwin and steeped in the Top End’s vast coastal floodplain, the recently opened Finniss River Lodge is an exclusive escape offering just six suites and an inviting infinity pool - perfect for cooling off after a day’s energetic exploring.

Wetlands, coastline, dry savannah, paperbarks and remnant rainforest make up this family-owned, 200-square-kilometre working cattle station. Diverse surroundings support flocks of magpie geese and brolgas in their thousands, native and introduced species and of course the iconic saltwater crocodile. You can even join the livestock for a beer and canape. Sure, that might sound a little unusual, but the cattle are super friendly and love nothing more than a scratch and a cuddle. Seriously. Okay, not sure if I was supposed to, but they don’t mind a beer either. 

Now back at the lodge, chef Travis Crane is cooking up a storm using locally-sourced produce, foraged wild plants, meat butchered in-house and everything prepared on an open fire.

“Instead of conceiving dishes first and sourcing ingredients second, I approach the creative and cooking process very differently, starting with what our farms and nature have at any given time.  The constraints, if any, result in creativity and an honest and spirited style of cooking,” said Travis, reflecting on his time in high-end kitchens here and overseas, “Through my food I am able to tell the story of the region to create an exceptional customer experience.”

Finniss River Station was bought in 1987 by Italian-born Leo Venturin and has been running Brahman cattle for more than 30 years, exporting to Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. 

For more information and to book, visit Finniss River Lodge at or email

Jack Tanner of Cyaround Australia Tours is one of several operators working with Finniss River Lodge to provide tours and transfers.  (RE)

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The writer was a guest of Finniss River Lodge with assistance from Tourism Australia

The story was originally published in Let's Travel Magazine Issue 73. Reproduced here with permission. (see PDF version)

All material (c) Copyright unless noted otherwise.

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