Highway One: platypus viewing
Catherine Lawson and David Bristow, along with baby Maya, are doing a lap of Highway One, the road that circles Australia.
ON EVERY STRETCH of our Highway One road trip there has been fantastic opportunites to spot wildlife: Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroos and cassorwaries, sea turtles and sea-lions, wombats and microbats.
In Queensland, it’s platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) that lure us 80km inland from Mackay to Eungella at the head of the Pioneer Valley. Shrouded in mist, this rainforested high-altitude haven looks out over the edge of the Clarke Range escarpment, bordered by Eungella National Park which rates as one of the world’s most reliable places to observe wild playtpus.
We stake out the deep pools along Eungella’s Broken River at dusk, watching for the bubble streams that precede this shy monotreme’s brief 10-to-20s stay on the surface. When a platypus suddenly appears, it surprises us with its size; at around 50cm, it’s far smaller than we expect.
Paddling towards us before disappearing in an instant with a flap of its beaver-like tail, we take in its unique combination of physical features – a rubbery duck-like bill, webbed feet and rat-like brown fur.
Although platypus spend up to 12hr a day in search of food, mostly at dawn and dusk, excellent hearing makes them easily disturbed and notoriously difficult to spot.
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