13 January 2012

The Plural of Platypus

Apologies, I ran out of credit for the WiFi thingymagic a few days ago in Emerald, hence no internet connectivity for literally thousands of kilometres.
I guess I've got some catching up to do now that we've arrived in Alice Springs in the meantime...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Three unforgettable days in a rainforest retreat of our liking just went way too fast...

On Saturday, 7 January 2012 we left Cape Hillsborough.
After completing the usual chores such as grocery shopping and fuelling up, we headed for Eungella National Park.
I wanted to see Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) – and we'd been told that this national park in the Mackay Highlands was the place to see them.

It was quite an enjoyable drive through Pioneer Valley with its cane fields and small villages followed by a steep climb up the Clarke Range to the little township of Eungella.

The information provided once we were in the national park was somewhat patchy, to put it mildly. We had expected a proper visitor information centre at Broken River, something similar to Bowali in Kakadu National Park.

To start with, there was no room in the Broken River car park (which appears to be the key visitor site) to park our 4WD and trailer.
There's a Platypus viewing platform on one side of the road. In the middle of the day it's unlikely to spot platypus here, dusk and dawn are the best times. A handful of turtles were paddling in the river, poking their heads up in anticipation, obviously used to scoring a feed as a great many people still ignore all signs that prohibit feeding the wildlife.
I would have appreciated at least a little plaque with information on what species of turtle we could see from the platform – nothing!

A kiosk and an eco lodge can be found on the other side of the road – but the visitor information we came across consisted of three information boards in an unstaffed and otherwise bare room next to kiosk, nothing more. A laminated note on the outside door of the adjacent cafe indicated clearly that staff weren't interested in answering questions regarding camping bookings, etc.

After a drive through Crediton State Forest we found Crediton Hall, an old timber building with corrugated iron roof that serves the local tight-knit farming community as a meeting place. Here we could have camped for the night on the grassy area next to the building, toilets and fire place looked inviting enough – but it didn't quite have the feel we were after.

After lunch and some (heated) deliberation we decided to head back down to Finch Hatton, a small township at the base of this magnificent range. After all, a phone call at Platypus Bush Camp several days earlier had revealed that pre-booking a site wasn't necessary, we could just turn up – and it had 'Platypus' in the name. Nomen est omen, we thought – and I was not going to leave the Mackay Highlands without spotting a platypus in the wild!

A few shallow water crossings on the gravel road to Finch Hatton Gorge were no real challenge. Along the way we noticed a couple of local families swimming in the rock pools by the side of Gorge Road, in crystal clear water. Just 2 km short of Finch Hatton Gorge we found the Platypus Bush Camp. Some fellow campers had already set up camp but Wazza asked a very friendly Canadian couple to move their Jucy van so we could nudge our camper trailer into a level niche between a small shed and the creek.

Once the tent was up and the boxes unpacked, we went to explore Wazza's unique rainforest retreat. What a place! The sparkling clear creek safe to swim in (no crocs, stingers or other nasties), bush toilets with monstrous resident Green Tree Frogs, showers with a view, hot water from a wood-fired oven – all nestled into dense rainforest vegetation complete with over 50 species of birds. And the huts...next time I'm going to stay in one of the huts!

The Platypus viewing pool was only a short stroll upstream from where we were camped. No swimming or fishing here, no disturbing the wildlife!

I'm happy to announce that on Saturday, 7 January 2012, the sun had set already and the full moon was on its way up, I spotted my first Platypus in the wild!
Funny little creatures they are: the bill almost as broad and long as the tail, brown fur, big claws on the front feet – and lightning fast in the water.
This little critter, only about 30-40cm long from bill to tail, would pop up after a dive in the deeps of the pool, float on the surface for a few seconds and then, bum up and bill down, disappear again for a few minutes. Truly special!

We shared our platypus-viewing experience with a small number of like-minded travellers. Everybody at Platypus Bush Camp respects its “Land for Wildlife” status and tries to leave as little impact as possible while enjoying the beauty and diversity of the place during their stay.

I would like to make a point of this as only a couple of kilometres further upstream, in Finch Hatton Gorge (also part of Eungella National Park) we would make a totally different experience just a couple of days later.

The proximity to Mackay makes the gorge with its swimming holes and rock pools a popular destination for day trippers – not much different to Buley Rockhole and Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park. These places get totally overrun on long weekends with visitors from Darwin.
So we decided to wait and hike the trail up Finch Hatton Gorge on Monday instead and spend Sunday (8 January 2012) relaxing and swimming in the rockhole at the bush camp instead, followed by more platypus spotting at dusk. By the way, the plural of platypus is 'platypuses' or simply 'platypus'.

There were surprisingly few mosquitoes around, bliss! Wazza reckons the frogs are taking care of mozzie larvae in the very few stagnant pools of water, the creek otherwise flowing too fast for pesky mosquitoes to breed in.

On Monday, 9 January 2012 we raised early to head up Finch Hatton Gorge.
We were the first ones on the well defined trail that leads about 2km up the gorge to the 'Wheel of Fire'. Well, if the information boards were a little more informative I wouldn't have been left guessing as to why you would name a waterfall with something “fire” in it – apparently there's a plant of this name growing around the place.

We also stopped at the 'Araluen Cascades' where testosterone-driven teenagers and young adults jumping and diving off cliffs and trees into the deep pool below, ignoring the warning signs on the rocks not to dive as deaths have occurred here, were totally oblivious to the wildlife we spotted: goannas, spiders, chubby skinks and tree snakes. Yep, that's Flip in snorkelling there, still struggling with his head above the water he's a pro with the snorkel!

The walk would have been nice enough – but the rubbish left behind by the weekends revellers really turned us off! Somebody even left a 25l esky on the walking track, half-filled with empty stubbies. By the time we reached the car park the esky was full with rubbish we'd collected along the walking track. Disgusting!

Back at Platypus Bush Camp Steve separated recyclable empties from general rubbish, cleaned the esky thoroughly and put it to good use immediately. We treated ourselves to more swimming in the rock pool (even Dog, Wazza's canine pet, jumped on one of the tubes to join the fun in the water), listening to the birds and the frogs. Unwinding is so easy at this place.

The explorers vowed to return as the lot of us could have stayed longer – a lot longer!

Boh boh!

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