Nature spotting is a favourite, if not successful, travel hobby of ours. We often feel taunted by the animals that seem to go out of their way to evade us. Worse still, we have to listen to fellow travellers talk about their encounters with the things we never manage to see. Despite our mixed fortunes we’re always optimistic – no matter the challenge…
Nat was grinning from ear to ear. She had just heard there were platypuses living in the pond at our Lake Tinaroo caravan park. Before we had reached our site, she was planning a campaign to find them.
On the scale of being observable in the wild, I had the platypus sitting near the end of the list. I rated them one notch above unicorns and the fairies at the bottom of the garden. That said, they are such mysterious little monotremes, I was eager to defy the odds and spot one in the wild.
If I was eager, Nat was on a mission. The next morning, she had us up before sunrise.
Stillness and quiet
The surrounding mountains were a dim silhouette against the early morning sky. Low cloud covered their peaks. Birds were starting their morning chorus and we were off to the platypus pond.
‘It’s still dark! They won’t be up yet.’ I was keen but tired. Nat was alert and ready for action.
‘We have to get there early. We don’t want to miss them. This could be really good.’
After speaking to the park staff we’d learnt platypuses were most active at dawn. What they didn’t make clear was whether activity equated to visibility. I hoped it did. The only other rule for platypus spotting was to be still and quiet.
There were a couple of stumps on the edge of the pond that made ideal platypus viewing lookouts. We’d decided not to get the kids up, so the requirement for still and quiet was easier to achieve than it might have been.
I sat on my stump surveying the duckweed, the steep muddy banks and the black pond water. If I was a small, dark coloured aquatic animal that didn’t want to be seen, this is exactly where I would live.
After forty-five minutes of unsuccessful watching, I asked Nat how long she thought the spotting window was open. She wasn’t sure, but insisted it was too soon to give up.
An excited whisper broke the still and quiet.
‘Over there, I see something.’ I stared hard in the same direction as Nat’s gaze but saw nothing. Apparently though, there was movement amongst the duckweed. I looked hard, but whatever Nat had seen eluded me. ‘Something has made a path through the duckweed’. I looked again and sure enough there was a long narrow path dividing two clumps of the jade coloured weed.
I asked Nat if she had seen what had made the path. She hadn’t, but it bore all the hallmarks of a near platypus sighting. The path looked about the right width for a platypus. Most telling of all, she hadn’t seen a thing. It’s exactly what you would expect to see when looking for something very elusive.
As the gap in the duckweed closed we now noticed other corridors through the greenery. We debated whether they might lead to a hidden platypus den. I also started thinking again about the activity versus visibility issue. An excited whisper interrupted my thoughts.
‘On the rock, on the other bank.’
I stared at the rock, trying to make out any flat, long, duck billed shapes.
‘Where? I can’t see it.’
‘Right there on the rock, look, I see poo.’
‘Poo?’ I was starting to wonder if the hushed tones were still necessary. There was something on the rock. It could have been what Nat described. If it had been recently deposited it was done with great stealth. Maybe it had been there all along and we had not noticed it. Perhaps it was a couple of days old and was left by a duck.
As we studied the pellets from a safe distance, Liam appeared. His arrival ended our platypus spotting session. We had seen paths through the pond weed and poo on a rock. Over the next three mornings they remained our platypus spotting highlights. Considering how difficult a platypus is to see in the wild, we felt we’d been as successful as we were likely to be.
Let’s try a cassowary
The possibility of sighting a platypus was really a bonus. The main game for us was seeing a cassowary. A couple of weeks later we were in Mission Beach visiting Nat’s cousin. Encouragingly, the town is located on the ‘Cassowary Coast’. But the name of the region was just the first positive sign.
There are dozens of street signs around Mission Beach to prepare you for a cassowary encounter. There were signs where cassowaries cross the road. Signs showing the problems that hitting one with a car will cause. There were also signs explaining that these collisions are a major cause of cassowary death. We felt like we’d be seeing cassowaries on every street corner.
As our host Mandy drove us around Mission Beach she showed us where the birds had been recently spotted. She pointed out shops they had been chased out of. We heard stories of them being moved on from backyards. For days we were on the edge of our seat waiting to see one. But it didn’t happen. We started to wonder if the signs were just a tourist hoax.
On our final day in Mission Beach we visited Lacey Creek – a lush rain forest park and supposed home to cassowaries. We walked along paths listening for the sound of cassowary movement. A couple of times Mandy had us stand still and quiet (platypus style…). We’d stop and strain to hear a cassowary making its way through the forest.
We couldn’t believe something six feet tall, weighing fifty kilograms, with a bright blue neck could be heard but not seen. We stayed for as long as we could before it started to rain. Then, as we were running to the car, we had a sighting.
It wasn’t the sighting we had been hoping for, but it was one we were familiar with. We spotted a pile of poo. Mandy told us it was from a cassowary because of the tell-tale marble sized seeds it contained. I decided to accept her expert judgement and took a photo of it.
We knew we weren’t the best nature spotters. Sometimes we put it down to the curse of the wildlife gods, other times to our poor planning. Either way, it was a bit of a low point when we realised Poo was fast becoming a substitute for seeing the thing we were looking for.
We finally saw a cassowary at Australia Zoo but took less satisfaction from seeing it than we should have. On the upside, at least we could say we had seen a cassowary in Queensland.
We loved Lake Tinaroo Holiday Park. After four months travelling in northern Australia, we lapped up the green and cool. The facilities were great, and the kids gave the bouncy pillow the thumbs up. Lake Tinaroo is just a stone’s throw away and it’s the perfect base for exploring the region.
- Patience Needed 100% 100%
- Reward for Effort 100% 100%
- Nature spotting Gods are cruel 10% 10%