Crocodiles are an iconic part of the Australian landscape, but just how far south can these ancient reptiles be found across the vast continent? If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Saltwater crocodiles are found as far south as Rockhampton in Queensland, while freshwater crocodiles have been recorded as far south as Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the southern range limits of both saltwater and freshwater crocodiles in Australia. We’ll look at distribution maps, survey records, habitat ranges, and reasons why crocodiles are restricted from moving further south.

We’ll also overview major crocodile habitats and highlight key locations marking their southernmost limits.

Distribution of Saltwater Crocodiles

Northern Territory Distribution

The Northern Territory is home to the largest population of saltwater crocodiles in Australia. The reptiles are found throughout the Top End in coastal regions, rivers, freshwater billabongs and even inland swamps.

Some key areas where you’re likely to spot crocodiles in the Northern Territory include:

  • All of the major river systems, including the Daly, Victoria, Adelaide, Mary, Roper and McArthur Rivers
  • Darwin Harbour and its tributaries
  • Kakadu National Park wetlands
  • Arnhem Land coastal regions

Saltwater crocodiles thrive in the NT due to its tropical climate and extensive wetlands that provide ideal habitat. Population numbers are estimated between 100,000 to 200,000 adults. The animals are apex predators and play a vital ecological role in the Top End.

However, they also pose a threat to humans, with crocodile attack hotspots in areas like Cahills Crossing at Kakadu and various boat ramps.

Queensland Distribution

In Queensland, saltwater crocodiles are found primarily in the state’s tropical north. The highest populations are centered around Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Key habitats include:

  • Major river systems like the Mitchell, Coleman, Holroyd, Wenlock and Ducie Rivers
  • Coastal wetlands and swamps around the Cape and Gulf
  • Some offshore islands including Mornington Island

Croc numbers start to dwindle further south of Cooktown, past the Tropic of Capricorn. Isolated populations may be found as far south as Gladstone on the central coast. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service estimates there are approximately 100,000 crocodiles statewide.

As in the NT, saltwater crocodiles are protected in Queensland but can pose a danger to humans in coastal habitats.

New South Wales and Victoria

Saltwater crocodiles were once endemic to the entire northern coastline of Australia, including NSW and possibly as far south as Wilsons Promontory in Victoria. However, unregulated hunting in the 20th century led to their disappearance from southern ranges.

Today, wild populations are no longer found in NSW or Victoria.

Very occasionally, individual crocodiles may turn up in NSW after swimming from northern Australia during the warmer months. In 2009, a 2.5m crocodile was caught in the Nambucca River on the mid-north coast. And a 1.7m crocodile found its way into a beach lagoon at Port Macquarie in 2013.

But these southern wanderers are rare occurrences only.

While they are no longer native to southern states, you can still see saltwater crocodiles at various aquariums and wildlife parks in NSW and Victoria. Some well-known attractions include Reptile Park on the Central Coast, Australian Reptile Park near Sydney, and Melbourne Zoo.

Distribution of Freshwater Crocodiles

Northern Territory and Western Australia

The freshwater crocodile, also known as the Australian freshwater crocodile or Johnston’s crocodile, is found mainly across the northern regions of Australia. Their range stretches across the wetlands and waterways of the Northern Territory, far north regions of Western Australia, and up into Papua New Guinea.

Surveys estimate there are over 100,000 freshwater crocodiles living in the wild in the NT alone. Their high numbers are aided by the extensive wetlands, rivers, and swamps that make perfect freshwater crocodile habitat.

Major populations are found in rivers such as the Victoria, Daly, Mary, South and East Alligator.

In WA, freshie populations congregate in the Kimberley region. The Prince Regent River and other Kimberley waterways have ideal remote habitat with limited human disturbance. Researchers from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions have tagged over 1,200 freshwater crocodiles in the Kimberley to monitor their distributions.

Queensland Distribution

In Queensland, freshwater crocodiles are primarily found on Cape York Peninsula. Major populations live in the brackish estuaries and swamps around Weipa. Surveys by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and other conservation groups estimate there are over 10,000 freshwater crocodiles on Cape York.

There have been a few isolated sightings of freshwater crocodiles as far south as Gladstone and Fraser Island in Queensland. However, their inability to tolerate colder weather means stable breeding populations likely can’t persist south of Rockhampton.

Isolated individuals sometimes wander outside their normal range during warmer months but don’t survive long-term.

New South Wales and Victoria

There are no known stable breeding populations of freshwater crocodiles in New South Wales or Victoria. The cooler climate zones do not suit the tropical species.

There have been rare vagrant sightings over the years in northern NSW. A freshwater crocodile was recorded at Evans Head in 1996, only to later die due to cold stress that far south. Another was reportedly hit and killed by a car near Grafton in 2020.

Scientists confirmed the animal had wandered 1,000km outside its normal range.

It’s plausible climate change may allow small temporary populations to establish in future in some northern NSW rivers. But cooler weather will likely limit persistent colonies from thriving in NSW or Victoria long-term. The lack of suitable habitat and prey is also a barrier to colonisation.

Why Crocodiles Don’t Go Further South

Climate Limitations

Crocodiles are cold-blooded reptiles that rely on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature. As you travel south in Australia, the climate becomes cooler with lower average temperatures. Once you get south of Sydney, the winters are too cold for crocodiles to survive.

Crocodiles thrive in tropical and subtropical environments where the average temperature stays above 20°C all year round. They struggle when temperatures drop below 15°C and go into a dormant state. Prolonged cold snaps can be fatal if the water freezes over.

Lack of Suitable Habitat

Crocodiles require specific habitats to survive and flourish. They live in swamps, marshes, rivers, lakes and mangroves across northern Australia. As you head south, these wetland habitats become less common.

There are fewer large rivers and tropical wetlands that provide ideal crocodile habitats in southern regions of Australia. Crocodiles rely onAccess to water for temperature regulation, nesting, hunting and protection.

Competition with Other Species

In northern Australia, crocodiles sit at the top of the food chain as apex predators. But as you move south, they face increased competition from other dominant species like sharks and humans.

Areas like Sydney Harbour and the south coast are heavily populated with sharks that fill the niche of top predator. Crocodiles would have to compete for limited food resources and habitat if they expanded south.

Additionally, the higher human population in southern regions means more competition for space and greater threats from hunting. Humans often perceive crocodiles as dangerous and are likely to target them if they encroached on populated areas.

Major Crocodile Populations and Habitats

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory is home to some of the largest concentrations of crocodiles in Australia. TheMary, Adelaide, South and East Alligator Rivers located in Kakadu National Park contain approximately 25,000-30,000 crocodiles, making it one of the densest crocodile populations in the country. The Daly River region also supports a sizable population of approximately 15,000 crocs.

Estuarine crocodiles thrive in the Northern Territory due to its tropical climate and abundant wetland habitats.

Queensland Coast and Rivers

Queensland is another crocodile hotspot, with major populations found along the northeast coast and in river systems. Key areas include the Johnstone, Tully, Herbert, and Daintree Rivers. Recent surveys estimate there are up to 100,000 estuarine crocodiles living in Queensland. Their range extends as far south as Rockhampton on the central coast. Mangrove habitats, swamps, and freshwater wetlands provide ideal territory for crocs to thrive and breed.

Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park, located in Australia’s tropical north, protects over 10,000 square miles of ecosystems and is considered one of the best places to see crocodiles in their natural habitat. Numerous rivers, wetlands, and billabongs in Kakadu make perfect crocodile territory.

Estuarine crocodiles are apex predators in the park and play a vital role in the food chain. Their total population is estimated between 25,000-30,000, one of the highest concentrations protected within a national park anywhere in Australia.

Daly River

The Daly River in the Northern Territory contains over 15,000 estuarine crocodiles, earning it the nickname “Croc Country.” The Daly is one of Australia’s most significant crocodile habitats thanks to its tropical monsoon climate and extensive floodplains ideal for croc nesting.

The river is also an important Indigenous community living alongside crocodiles for thousands of years. Crocodile management programs help monitor populations and implement safety measures, allowing humans and crocs to peacefully coexist.


In summary, saltwater crocodiles reach as far south as Rockhampton in Queensland, while freshwater crocodiles have been recorded as far south as Carnarvon Gorge, also in Queensland. The distribution of crocodiles across Australia is limited by climate, habitat availability, and competition from other species.

While crocodiles may sometimes wander further south than their normal range, breeding populations are restricted to the tropical and subtropical north. Major crocodile habitats include the extensive wetlands of Kakadu National Park and the river systems of the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland.

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