Monday, March 20, 2017

unique Australian animals by Kate Loveday

Australia is a diverse country, with amazing wildlife. Amongst these the platypus is one of the most unique. It is one of the most unusual creatures in the world. It has a paddle-shaped tail like a beaver; a sleek, furry body like an otter; and a flat bill and webbed feet like a duck. In fact, the first time a platypus was brought from Australia to Britain, people couldn't believe that it was a real animal. They thought that a trickster had sewn two animals together, according to the BBC.

I have had the good fortune to see a one of these rare creatures. Not in a sanctuary or a zoo. In the wild. Swimming in the Broken River, in the Eungella National Park, Central Queensland. The National Park is in the Eungella Range, 50 miles west of Mackay. With husband Peter we had been spending a week in the Pioneer Valley below, on our way to Far North Queensland for the winter, staying in the Finch Hatton Caravan Park.

We had come here with the hope of seeing the shy and mainly nocturnal platypus in its natural habitat. So here we were before dusk standing in the viewing area on the bridge over the river at Broken River.

We had taken up our positions an hour earlier, waiting patiently and scanning the river for any signs of activity.
“Watch for bubbles on the surface of the water,” said the Ranger. “The platypus dives to the bottom for food and strains it through his bill. Then he comes to the surface to eat it. He’s only there for a few seconds and then he dives down searching for more, so you have to watch carefully. And it won’t happen until the sunlight is off the water.”

Accordingly we had been scanning the shady areas of water carefully.
We had a few false alarms as we saw tortoises swimming below us, and insects on the surface giving the appearance of bubbles.

Peter trained his binoculars upriver and suddenly there it was, many yards upstream. Creating wide ripples as it dived, it was clearly visible, and we watched its progress as it swam towards us and passed under the bridge. It was larger than we had expected at about twenty three inches long, and we saw its distinctive bill, the tail, and dark brown fur clearly. It was truly an exciting event to see this creature in its natural environment.

Apart from platypus spotting the Eungella National Park has many other attractions. It boasts the largest continuous stretch of rainforest in Australia. The winding road from Eungella to Broken River is lined on both sides with vegetation and walks and lookouts lead off from the road.

At the top of the winding road is the historic Eungella Chalet. With tables, chairs and umbrellas set out on lawns in front of the Chalet it is a pleasant spot to sit awhile and admire the view over the Pioneer Valley 700 metres below. A patchwork of green and brown fields interspersed with trees and the odd building and fringed by mountains makes this a spectacular view.
If you decide to visit Queensland the Pioneer Valley is the perfect place to spend a few days of your holiday. There are plenty of things to see and do.
If you are adventurous you may like to try hang-gliding. A hang-gliding ramp at the edge of the lawn provides a take off point for hang-gliding enthusiasts, both local and otherwise. Australian championships have been held here and competitors have been known to glide as far as the town of Pinnacle, twelve miles down in the valley below.

If you come I hope you enjoy it as much as we have. And I hope you spot a platypus.

Kate Loveday

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