Spotting the elusive platypus

By Carolyn Barry September 29, 2011
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Lake Elizabeth, near Forrest in Victoria, is home to platypus and one of the few places you can view them in the wild.

JUST DRIVE AN HOUR or so north east from the coast and you’ll hit Forrest, a small town in the Otway Ranges. Nearby is Lake Elizabeth where you can get one of the best views of platypus in the country.

This tranquil lake was formed after a flood in 1952 caused a mudslide to dam the river. The following year the dam broke and the lake has been there ever since. Dead tree stumps from before the flood punctuate the lake like matchsticks, giving an eerie feel.

Platypus on Lake Elizabeth

A 4km walking track takes you around the circumference of the lake, but the best way to see the 6-8 local platypus is from the water. Local tour operator, Bruce Jackson can paddle you around in a canoe, and spot the secretive creatures, which he’s been doing for 10 years here.

“It’s nice to be able to take people out and show them what they really want to see,” he says.

Bruce takes up to seven people (about five days a week) at a time when it’s busy in the summer, but in the low season, you could be the only ones sharing the lake with the platypus.

As creatures of the dusk and dawn the shy platypus is notoriously hard to see in the wild. The most you’ll usually catch is a silver-like ripple on the water, which when the lake is still, is easy to see.

This is the time they hunt for shrimp and other little invertebrates. The platypus will dive for food and resurface to breath and spot the next mouthful. Unless you’re really lucky, you won’t get within about 20m of a platypus as they scare easily, but with a pair of binoculars, you can make out their unique bill and body as they float on the surface.

Though the view of them is reasonably distant, you still get a good insight into the natural behaviour of one of Australia’s most curious creatures.

Other activities in the Otways

The area of the Otway is known for its fantastic mountain biking – you can hire bikes in Forrest.

There are also plenty of waterfalls to visit and the Southern Hemisphere’s longest zipline at Cape Otway Fly. Also check out the Forrest Brewing Company, which occupies what was once the general store in the town. Master brewer Matt and his sister Sharon opened the place just last year and are yet to bottle their beers. But you can still get them on tap. Oh how a good microbrew and mountain biking go together so well.