Platypus watching at Broken River

I left Cape Hillsborough (previous post) after only two days to squeeze in a visit to Eungella National Park, an hour and a half inland, in the hope of seeing platypus in the wild.

The established platypus viewing area is a few kilometres past the township of Eungella, at a spot where the road crosses the Broken River. On the near side of the river there’s an eco-resort (a couple of decades old) on the right and a so-new-it’s-raw National Parks camping ground on the left. Across the bridge are picnic grounds and walking trails to both right (downstream) and left, with several viewing platforms.

The most likely time to see platypuses is early morning so I was on the move just after 5.30. Others were already on the viewing platforms under the bridge and a hundred metres upstream from it but weren’t seeing any activity, so I thought I would go further upstream along the walking track to a likely-looking pool I had seen the day before.

Once there, I sat on a boulder and waited …

trees, dark against dawn sky
Early sun touches the topmost branches of the rainforest
rocky pool in river
The quiet pool
My first glimpse of a platypus, just a swirl in the water
My first glimpse of a platypus, just a swirl in the water

After watching “my” platypus here for some time (and enjoying a visit from a wandering scrub turkey) I walked back to the bridge. There I found an audience of perhaps a dozen, rapt in the activity of one or two platypuses. From the bridge itself I was able to see the entrance to a burrow, half-hidden under nondescript plants, on the resort side of the river.

platypus under river bank foliage
Platypus (mid-left) near the entrance to its burrow
platypus from above
Looking straight down on the platypus as it swam under the bridge

Later in the morning I spoke to someone who had seen a platypus from the river bank just below the camping ground; I might say that my walk had been superfluous, except that solitude in the rainforest at dawn was a reward in itself.

My experience suggests that it is not hard to see a platypus in the wild at Broken River. What about elsewhere? I’ve seen them at Carnarvon Gorge, but that (as far as I remember) is all. However, they do occur right down the east coast from about Cooktown to the SA border (see the Platypus Care page) and they are so unobtrusive that there could be more around than we think; in fact, Wildlife Qld has a citizen-science project, PlatypusWatch, aimed at improving our knowledge.

I’m told that platypuses on Hervey’s Range were well known to local people 80 years ago, but I don’t know if they are still there. Similarly, they were common enough in Victorian country districts in the 1930s that David Fleay had no trouble finding animals for his Healesville Sanctuary but they are adversely affected by human activity and are probably uncommon in farming areas these days.

Incidentally, Fleay’s 1980 book, The Paradoxical Platypus, was republished in 2009 as I discovered by visiting the eco-resort’s dining room and browsing its small library, and is well worth reading.

Cape Hillsborough National Park

wallabies on beach
Campers watching wallabies in the early morning

Cape Hillsborough National Park and Eungella are both just north of Mackay, which means they are a little too far from Townsville for an easy weekend trip, but both are beautiful and I decided to take advantage of four clear days to visit them last week. I came back (as my regular readers will no doubt have expected) with lots of photos and will spread them across several posts, beginning with these Cape Hillsborough landscapes.

There is a happily low-key camping ground and resort nestled in the coastal scrub behind the beach within the national park – the sort of place that Aussie parents have been taking their kids camping for the last fifty years. Bird life is abundant and Agile Wallabies (Macropus agilis) move freely around the camp-ground and picnic areas; they regularly feed on the beach at dawn, too, although I have no idea what they might be finding there.

wallabies on flat beach
Agile wallabies – what are they eating?
beach and headland
Looking along the beach on a drizzly morning to the northern headland
beach and headland
The northern headland in full daylight
forested hills
Looking inland from the beach in the golden light of late afternoon
rock wall around sand floor
Remains of aboriginal fish trap, Cape Hillsborough National Park. A stone wall links natural outcrops to enclose a large shallow pool which drains at low tide.

A short drive from the camping ground takes the visitor to the remains of an aboriginal fish trap and an indigenous food trail. A boardwalk and walking trail through the mangroves are a similar distance from the resort, on the road to Seaforth.

Also, a walking track to the north of the resort leads over the ridge to Beachcombers Cove and loops back (except at high tide!) to its starting point via the beach. And at low tide it is possible to walk out along the natural causeway, on the horizon in my first two photos, to the island at its end.

Future posts will look at some of these excursions.