As part of our road trip up Australia’s east coast we stopped in Airlie Beach for three nights in order to spend some time seeing the sights of the Whitsunday islands.
Once we checked in we headed across the street in a torrential downpour to the closest tourist information office to see the various options available. All boat trips to the islands had been cancelled for the next two full days we had in Airlie because of bad weather but we were able to book a snorkeling and sightseeing boat trip for the day we were leaving. This left us a bit unsure of what to do the next day as the main attraction in Airlie is to go out to the islands, we were looking around the booking office for other ideas when we saw a flyer for Eungella National Park..
Eungella National Park is located an hour west of Mackay beside the small township of Eungella and offers the rare chance of seeing wild platypus at Broken River. We had discussed visiting the park previously as it was one of the few places recommended to see platypus however we had dismissed it as being too far from our route.
Being a zoologist, I thought it would be really cool to see a Monotreme- an Order consisting of Platypus and four species of Echidna. Monotremes are different from other mammals (Placental and Marsupial) because they lay eggs rather than give birth to live young. We saw an Echidna on the Great Ocean Road- sadly it was literally on the road, the poor thing was rushing to safety as we drove past!
Although it was a five hour round trip to Eungella and back from Airlie beach we thought it would be more than worth it for a glimpse of such a crazy little creature. Arriving at Eungella in a cloud of mist and rain late in the afternoon we weren’t expecting much but we followed the signage to Broken River. We were quite surprised when we arrived to find a specially built platypus viewing walkway along a part of the river where they reside as well as a cafe and gift shop for visitors. We headed in to ask advice on viewing the platypus, the woman in the gift shop told us to look for bubbles as that’s where they will surface.
The walkway at Broken River has three viewing platforms, we tried the furthest downstream first and were convinced there was a platypus underwater due to big bubbles regularly appearing in the same areas but we never actually saw one surface so we thought we would try a different platform further upstream.
As we arrived at the platform upstream we noticed something bobbing about in the water..
It wasn’t a platypus but rather a freshwater turtle. The turtles appeared to be quite curious and were happily swimming about and looking up at their visitors.
We stood watching these turtles for a while but with no signs of platypus we headed to the last viewing platform under the bridge. There was already a small crowd of people silently standing watching the water as we arrived, we waited 5 minutes and then saw a quick flash of movement in the water! A platypus surfaced in the river in front of us!
It was incredible to see a real, wild platypus.
You would see a small trickle of bubbles, the platypus would then surface for a few seconds before diving back under to feed and then the bubbles would re-appear in a totally different location. Once we had seen this routine a few times it was unmistakeable and the larger bubbles we had been watching earlier clearly didn’t fit the pattern of a platypus.
It was very hard to capture on camera in the quickly fading light!
Looking back at the platypus videos shows how quickly these little animals surface and dive under again.
We did eventually get some better snaps.
It continued diving and surfacing around the platform under the bridge for a good half an hour before disappearing out of sight which we thought was a good time to head back to Airlie as it was getting dark.
As we were driving over the bridge across the river we heard the distinct sound of a Laughing Kookaburra and pulled in to try and see this funny-sounding bird.
He eventually flew off to join other Kookaburras and laugh the night away and we began our two and a half hour drive home in the dark but it was so, so worth the trip. We did manage to get out on the water and see the Whitsundays in the end and had a great time but are thankful the bad weather gave us time to see a wild Platypus!
Our tips for seeing platypus;
1.) Make the time to visit! Everyone we met, like us had only planned to stick to the coastal route whilst travelling Austalia but we were fortunate the poor weather gave us time to visit. I would recommend anyone to visit Eungella especially if you want to see a platypus in the wild (apparently the surrounding area is quite beautiful on a clear day!). We came across this pretty funky place to camp in the Eungella area and another option near Broken River.
2.) The best time to see the animals are either dusk or dawn. We saw the platypus later in the evening but I imagine seeing them at dawn would be better with a lot more natural light, it would also make for better photographs. Watch for bubbles in the water but if nothing surfaces after 30-60 seconds then it is unlikely to be a feeding platypus!
3.) The park is made up of natural rain forest and therefore is a lot wetter than at the coast so I would definitely suggest taking some waterproofs and boots if you have them.
Please contact us if you have any questions about this trip.
Until next time,
Kirsten & Elliot