As the mist shrouds the Eungella rainforest, we set our tent up on the edge of the river. Nestled among lush ferns and towering palms our tent faces out to a platypus pool. Before long the tell-tale bubbles appear. A platypus surfaces for a short time before making a splash and diving underwater again in his pursuit of shrimps and worms. In this article, we will explain why it is so hard to spot a platypus and share some tips that will help you experience this fascinating Australian icon.
Spotting platypus can be one of the most difficult tasks. However, when you do the sight is amazing! This is what makes Eungella National Park special; the ability to spot a platypus with less struggle. As you will learn from our experience, you need to know the right time and location to spot a platypus.
About Our Campsite
We camp at Fern Flat campsite, a bush camp about 1 km from the main viewing platform and bridge. Tucked away in a natural bush setting, it feels secluded and close to nature. We pitch our tent away from the main campsite and camp right on the river’s edge.
Why it’s Hard to Spot the Platypus
Cautious, easily frightened and creatures of dawn and dusk, the platypus is notorious for being nearly impossible to spot in the wild. They shelter in burrows and the only opportunity to see them is during a small window of time when they are hunting for shrimp, yabbies, worms, and other little invertebrates. We are pleased to say that sightings are almost guaranteed here. However, photographing them is not so easy as they are so quick!
Once you spot a platypus, you have a very short window to photograph it. They surface to breathe, chew their food, and keep watch for their next meal. This is usually the only opportunity to photograph them. Nonetheless, their presence leaves a lasting impression. They have a silvery sheen caused by two layers of fur which trap air to keep them warm and dry. The shiny sheen and their size are a disadvantage for photos. Many people are surprised by their small size. The females grow to about 40 cm long and the males 50 cm.
Spotting the Platypus
During our two days at the Eungella rainforest, we see them every morning and afternoon and spot their secret den. We watch their bubbles as they leave and return to their den below overhanging bushes on the river’s edge. For the most part, the ripple on the water at dawn and dusk often signified they are about to come out. We are quiet and don’t move on the riverbank yet when they surface, they make eye contact with us. There is no fooling these vigilant and fascinating critters. We watch the platypus from our camp and also walk to the viewing platforms and bridge. One afternoon a platypus comes out of the water and suns himself on a log. We have never seen them out of the water before. They generally only leave the water when digging their burrows.
At night as we sit around our campfire, and the rainforest comes alive. Fireflies twinkle like stars, possums visit our tent, frogs croak, a wallaby thumps past, a flying fox colony noisily leaves their roost in their search for food and platypus gently splash in the river beside us.
Platypus Spotting Tips
- Best Time: The best times to see the platypus are between 6 am and 8 am and in the afternoon, especially later in the day between 4 pm and 6 pm.
- Best Spots: They prefer the shaded areas of the creek outside of these times. They love swimming and hunting on overcast days.
- Worst Times: The direct sunlight makes platypus more visible and vulnerable to attacks from birds of prey.
- Have patience. If platypus are not visible right away don’t give up! Platypus can hold their breath for 10 minutes. If they are having trouble finding food, it can take this long for them to surface.
- Be prepared! When they surface it is only for a short time. When they go to the bottom of the river hunting for food they release bubbles and sometimes a trail of mud from the bottom of the river. Concentric circles also can appear on the surface just before the platypus does.
- Blend into the environment. Wear neutral and dark colours as opposed to bright and fluorescent clothing.
- Avoid making too much noise and quick movements. Platypus are very alert and perceptive. No matter how quiet and still, they will spot you! Even the click of a shutter can make them dive very quickly back underwater.
- The larger the lens the better for platypus. Our platypus images are taken with a 300mm and 400mm lens. A flash is not necessary.
- Best Season: Platypus can be spotted all year at Eungella. Our visit was during Winter. However, December, January, and February can be quiet as the platypus spend a lot of time in their nest with the new babies.
Interesting Platypus Facts
- The platypus is in the monotreme group with the echidna. They are endemic to Australia and the only egg-laying mammals.
- He is a semi-aquatic mammal and has a beaver-live tail, otter-like fur, webbed feet, and a duck-like beak.
- The platypus is found in eastern Australia only. They live in small rivers and streams in Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania.
- Platypus eat shellfish, worms, larvae, insects, crayfish, and freshwater yabbies.
- Though most of the time they are in the water, they will waddle to the riverbank to dig their burrows. The burrows have rooms and chambers.
- When the female is ready to lay her babies she will seal herself in one of the rooms in the chamber and lay one or two eggs. She incubates them for about 10 days. When born they are the size of a tiny bean. Mum will nurse the babies for 4 months.
- Platypus are peaceful but have a trick up their sleeve if threatened. Males have a venomous spur on the back of their hind feet. The venom is not life-threatening to humans but can cause excruciating pain and severe swelling.
- They rely on electrolocation to find their food. This is a method of using an electric field to locate objects and see.
- In the early 1900s platypus were hunted for their beautiful fur because it is thick and waterproof, it was prized by fur traders.
Set Up a Tent by the Fern Flat Camp
A picturesque bush setting with plenty of shade. The dirt road to the camp goes into the rainforest for about 700 metres from the Information Centre and kiosk. The road is suitable for most vehicles. Caravans and motorhomes can access this site too but may have trouble in the wet season. Though described that they are reachable by foot only, the campsites are only about 20 metres from the camp car park.
Stairs lead the way down to the camping sites from the parking area. Toilet facilities and running tap water (needs boiling before drinking) are available here. This is secluded and a more natural bush setting than the nearby Platypus Bush Camp. Platypus live in the river here, but the viewing is more assessable and better for photography at the official platforms (about 1 km away near Platypus Bush Camp).
Spend Time at the Platypus Bush Camp
Across the road from the Broken River Resort. It’s more in the open, with fewer trees and is less private than Fern Flats. It is busier due to easy access to caravans and motorhomes. Campers can camp right beside their car. There are no toilets or water facilities here. Campers can use the toilets, picnic tables, and water at the day-use area about 200 metres away. The best thing about this campsite is the platypus viewing platforms are right here. These camps are a great base to set up for a few days. There is a lot to do and many attractions in the Eungella National Park. Over 20 km of walking tracks meander through the rainforest. The 56 km Great Highlands Walk also starts from here. Our favourite is the Credition Creek Track which is 8 km one way. The track follows Broken River and passes rocky ridges, waterfalls, green platypus pools, river gums and vivid-red bottle brush.
In the township of Eungella there are no supermarkets, only a small corner store. It is a good idea to shop in the towns of Mackay or Marian.
For a break from camp cooking, the Broken River Resort restaurant is now open to the public. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
During the winter months of June, July and August the temperature can drop down to freezing. The temperature can still be cold all through the year at night except for summer.
Fires are allowed in both campgrounds.