A Lake Elizabeth platypus tour takes you deep into Victoria’s Otway Ranges. Not only will you likely spot one of Australia’s strangest and most elusive animals, you’ll do it in beautiful location.
There is a little town on the edge of the Otway National Park called Forrest. It’s the sort of name that makes you imagine a place dotted with log cabins and streets that wind their way into heavily wooded hills. As we pulled up outside the general store at 5.30 in the morning it was still dark. We’d have to wait to see if the town lived up to its name.
It was cold too. Even though it was late April there was still a noticeable chill in the air. When another car pulled up on the other side of the road, neither of us wanted to get out to see if it was our guide. There was only one way to decide.
‘Paper beats rock, out you get’. Nat smiled and nestled a little more deeply into the relative warmth of the car seat. I pulled down my beanie and opened the door. By the time I had let out a long steamy breath the interior light of the other car had come on and someone was walking towards me.
‘Steve?’ I said hello and Ruby introduced herself. She was our guide for this dawn tour. She would hopefully be taking us to see our first platypus in its natural habitat. We were soon following behind her for the short drive to Lake Elizabeth.
Lake Elizabeth is a platypus paradise
It is about a one kilometre walk from the carpark to the lake. The path was steep enough to warm us up as we made our way there. On the dusk tour there are points along the way where you can see glow worms.
We spoke about how we had tried and failed to spot platypuses several times over the years. We mentioned that we had seen on the Platypus Tours website that there was a 95% chance of seeing them here.
It’s not the sort claim you make lightly, and Ruby made no effort to qualify the impressive statistic. As the first hint of morning light revealed the dark shapes along the path to be towering tree ferns, she simply said that the platypuses had been quite active lately and continued walking. Our excitement grew.
We rounded the final bend in the path and the lake appeared in front of us. We fell silent. Lake Elizabeth is stunning. We stared at the perfect reflection of the surrounding hills and trees on the still water. There was now just enough light to see the green of the eucalypt forest and tree ferns that lined the banks.
The lake formed in 1952 when torrential rain caused a landslide that dammed the East Barwon River. Remarkably, a year later more heavy rain washed away the top 25 metres of the earthen wall reducing the size of the lake by 80%. Looking at the lake now, you can only imagine how much water it held for that year.
Now, grey tree trunks rise out of the water as a ghostly reminder of the areas changeable character. The sky had turned a pale shade of pink. It was a scene of perfect quiet and stillness – surely ideal conditions for spotting a platypus.
platypus spotting etiquette
Ruby was taking us onto the lake in a canoe. We’d come prepared with a change of clothes and were ready to paddle but that wasn’t necessary. Ruby told us she would be doing the paddling. We sat high and dry on our padded seats while she did all the work. We soon got over the guilt of not having to do anything. Instead, we readied our cameras and started scanning the lake for movement.
It wasn’t long before for our first sighting.
’11 o’clock, thirty metres in front us’ Ruby whispered. I spotted the shape in the water, raised my arm and pointed.
‘It’s right there!’ I said in a loud stage whisper. The platypus immediately disappeared under the water.
‘We try not to make any sudden movements or loud noises, that can spook them’ came the advice from the back of the canoe. I lowered my arm and sat on my hands. Nat thanked me for spoiling the photo op’.
Even though our first sighting didn’t go to plan, we went on to spot them regularly for the next hour and a half. Their smooth, flat bodies and the tell-tale v-shaped ripples appeared without warning across the lake.
We soon learnt that seeing a platypus is not like spotting other wildlife like kangaroos or emus. They aren’t big. They don’t stop and ‘pose’ for pictures. In fact, they behave in exactly the way you expect animal with a reputation for being elusive to behave.
They stay on the surface for five to twenty seconds. When they are ‘on’ the surface they are still very low in the water. They duck under water in the blink of an eye, stay down for a minute or more and reappear many metres from where you last saw them. We got close enough on occasions to see their eyes, the colour of their fur, and their duck bills.
Seeing so many of them is one thing. Seeing them in such a spectacular location took it to another level. The tranquillity of the lake made it impossible not to feel relaxed and calm. It put you in a perfect state of mind to appreciate these mysterious little creatures.
As the sun rose and the sightings dwindled, we returned to shore. We sipped on hot chocolate and watched the sky brighten. If you find yourself near the town of Forrest in the Otway Ranges, we can’t recommend this tour enough. It’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.
After the sun has come up make sure you stay in the Ranges to explore the local Otway Waterfalls and Walks.
Leaving from Forrest, the canoe tour is a rare chance to see Platypus in the wild. There is a 1 km walk to the Lake.
Paddle if you want or sit back and enjoy.
Dawn Tour – Platypus tour, morning tea, birdlife
Dusk Tour – Platypus tour, afternoon tea, glow worms.
Adults $85 / Child $50
Barwon Heads Caravan Park is located where the river meets the sea. Every site is a short walk to the water’s edge. The beach is very calm and perfect for young families with plenty of ocean surf around the other side of the bluff.
At low tide you can enjoy the rockpools, or at high tide fish from the jetty or walk up the steps to the lookout. There is a great walking path right along the foreshore.
Barwon Heads is a great base for exploring the Great Ocean Road and the seaside towns like Apollo Bay and Lorne. The Bellarine Visitor Centre just out of Barwon Heads is a great resource for all the region has to offer.