Plant yourself right where the wild things are
Getting close to a platypus doesn’t have to be uncomfortable, writes Alison Cotes
YOU probably thought that platypusspotting means getting up at the crack of dawn, trekking through the muddy rainforest wilderness and waiting in hushed silence for hours in the freezing fog. Or, not quite as bad, hanging around in the late afternoon chill wishing that the elusive little beasties would hurry up and appear so that you won’t miss your hot dinner in front of a blazing fire.
You’d be wrong on all counts – except the hot dinner.
We saw six ornithorhynchus anatinus splashing about in the waters of Broken River in the Eungella National Park at 3.30pm, quite oblivious to the seven people who were trying in vain to get them to stay above the surface long enough for a decent photo opportunity.
And any sounds we made couldn’t be heard above the screeching of the hundreds of white cockatoos that were winging their way homeward, so I suspect that nothing short of plunging into the river and trying to cuddle one would have scared them off.
Less than an hour away from the pleasant coastal city of Mackay, the Eungella National Park is known as the platypus capital of the world, and you’re almost guaranteed to see them from the viewing platforms at Broken River.
For those who like their wildlife at close range and within a comfortable walk, the Broken River Mountain Resort is the place to stay, because you can get to the viewing platforms in five minutes but still feel remote from the workaday world.
Platypus spotting is one of the most magical things you’ll ever do in your life. If you’ve never seen them before, the big surprise is how small the Queensland variety is, with a top weight of 1kg, unlike their massive 3kg Tasmanian cousins that measure an average 50cm.
That’s about the size of your average pussy cat, and as they are the same brown colour of the waters they swim in, you have to know what you’re looking for.
This, as any first-time expert will tell you, is a telltale bullseye circle of ripples, but don’t expect the platypus to emerge there, as they can swim for up to 20m before coming up for air.
At Broken River they may stay on the water surface for up to 30 seconds, floating along before plunging down to forage some more, and the water is such a clear brown that you can see them doing it.
And while you’re waiting to be the first in the group to signal success, don’t forget to observe the quaint little freshwater turtles that also hoon around under the viewing platform, waiting for the crumbs that fall from the platypussian table.
But by now it’s probably 5pm, and the air is chilling as rapidly as your toes, so it’s back to the resort for a glass of something from the bar beside the huge fire in the guest lounge, or even a nap before dinner – leaving the endangered gastric brooding frogs to regurgitate their offspring in peace, so that they can be gobbled up by the orange-sided skink. Nature never listens to conservationists, so has provided no camouflage for these little tapioca-like spawn.
No tapioca on the splendid menu at Possums Restaurant, though, much less possum stew, although the German chef does a mean lamb ragout with vegies, and an even better starter of smoked salmon on kitchen-made potato rosti topped with a mustard cream sauce.
Main courses may stretch your wallet a bit, so do what we did and have two starters – the aforesaid salmon for $ 12.50, and three fat lamb