Originally believed to be hoaxes created by clever taxidermists, the puzzling platypus is a jaw-dropper to see in person. Resembling a petite beaver with a huge duck bill and scrabbly webby feet (that sport serious nails), they are slick and dexterous in the river. They dive and leave bubbles before swanning across the water, and can disappear in a heartbeat with only ripples to show where they’ve once been.
“Platypus? I thought it was pronounced platymapus. Has it always been pronounced platypus?”-Jessica Simpson
Mackay, Queensland is a quick hour and 45-minute drive from the gateway to the Whitsunday’s, Airlie Beach. Flights also arrive into the regional airport right smack in town via Virgin, Qantas and Jetstar. Worth your time, there is a lot to see here. Green and lush, the Mackay region is more leaf than reef, and also happens to be one of THE best places in the world to see these egg-laying weirdos in the wild. It’s the largest sub-tropical rain forest in Australia.
Platypi crave seclusion and quiet. They are very difficult to spot in their natural habitat, but you’ll have a remarkable chance of seeing one here. The Broken River is contained within Eungella National Park, and is just an hours drive from the town of Mackay. We hired a car at the cute little Mackay airport and it was a breeze. Once you arrive at the Park, there is a tiny little bit of river fording involved. Don’t freak out. You’ll get some stunning photos of the canopy from the middle of it if you’re so inclined. After pulling into the picnic area and parking, you’ll see a small building with a canteen-style kitchen. Remember it, because you can’t leave without a Yodel Burger made by Oskar, the Ranger.
Signs abound and trails are clear and well marked. It’s been raining and my travel companion is worried about leeches, but if I get to see a real live platypus, I could not care less if I look like a dalmatian when I’m through. Oskar knows we’re coming, so he takes us down to the river next to the bridge, a very short walk from the parking area. He tells us we should have been there earlier, because platypi are most active at sunrise and sunset. We stand silently, scanning the water, “look for bubbles,” he says. We look.
Moments later, wouldn’t you know it, we see one. He’s obviously a contrarian and flouts the rules because it’s not sunset and it’s not sunrise. Gliding along on the water, he dives deep and then comes back up. His bill is larger than I expected, and he’s alone. Although he can stay under the water for up to two minutes, he surfaces much more than that, enjoying the show he’s giving us. There are large fish that travel with him, because as Mr. Platypus bottom feeds (he’s a carnivore), he stirs up smaller tidbits for the scavengers to feast upon. We watch him for 15 minutes or so, it’s something otherworldly, really.
After Mr. Platypus has gone on his way, we go on ours and head up for a fat and cheesy Yodel Burger. It’s just the thing to top up the experience on this wet but momentous day. Bellies full, we look to the bushwalking trails, beckoning us. Easy paths they are, but we take the one that leads back to the car, both of us a little quiet, so appreciative of the experience, so in awe of nature’s cutest misfit. Did that really just happen?
How about you? Have you ever seen something in the wild that really spoke to your soul? Have you got something furry or scaly or finned on your bucket list?
Broken River is located in Eungella National Park. Entry is free. There are accessible facilities, campsites, fishing, bushwalking, picnic sites and toilets. For more information and booking campsites, click here.