Heading further north, I decided to direct my attention to the mountains surrounding Mackay. Windsurfing would have been a good idea around the ocean, all other options got blown away.
The Pioneer Valley is sugarcane country. Fields of tall, flowering sugarcane as far as the eye can see as I followed the Pioneer River west.
Small, calm creeks offer perfect reflections and are hard to resist to photograph. Eungalla National Park rises up to a high plateau at the end of the pioneer valley, a good 80 km west from Mackay. According to experts, it is the largest stretch of sub-tropical forest in Australia. I drove the curvy and steep access road uphill and reached the small township of Eungalla on top the eastern slopes. It appeared a mythical world already.
Platypus daycare, platypus school, and platypus playground were only a few communal areas I passed. And indeed, the Broken River on the plateau boosts a healthy population of platypus. This platypus playground is a major drawcard for the National Park, as well as for communities within. I have seen these cute mammals in several locations before. Back then, I didn’t have my fancy OM-D.
I parked at the day visitors area and went downstream to a platypus viewing area. It was a perfect setting in all means. The creek cascades into a large pond, which was surrounded by tall trees, ferns and grass.
Reflections on these calm waters were simply stunning. The waters had a green shine, but visibility was surprisingly good.
A cormorant persevered the pond for movement, so did I.
Uhh, there is some movement halfway over the pond.
A green tree snake took the plunge and cruised along the surface. She sidewinded gently forward, she was in no hurry. Most snakes try to get out of the water as quickly as possible, not this one. Really cool to observe. Oh, there is some underwater movement close to the edge, I saw out of the corner of my eye.
Nope, that’s not a platypus either. A freshwater turtle passed by, almost in slow motion. Her shell was covered in mud and barnacles. Nothing seems to be in a hurry around here, as it has been for millions of years.
The cormorant meanwhile dived into the water, just as a kingfisher appeared. He was keeping a good eye on escaping prey from the cormorant, which he then actually picked up as well. Clever bird.
It was all happening here, apart from what I came here to see. I followed the stream further down, hoping I would find some platypus action there.
The creek was extremely calm, almost spooky. I instantly felt as time stood still up here, or ticks very slowly.
The dark appearance of this mountain creek gave a perfect mirror image. Wow. The vegetation edged the creek banks and it was hard to determine, what was forest and what was reflected.
The black and white image made it a little clearer, only just. Seeing a platypus here in the water, or even better on a log, would just be spectacular.
It was only wishful thinking, this wasn’t a platypus playground today. I walked back and passed the info/gift shop. I asked the friendly shop assistant if she knew what kind of snake I captured on film. She didn’t know but spoke with a thick German accent. She and her husband were from Hamburg too. Nothing like a Hamburger ‘klönschnack’, dialect for a chat. She gave me a few platypus hotspot tips, as I was wondering where they are. ‘You have a really good chance under the bridge right in front’.
Right she was. One platypus just came up and surfaced in a feeding frenzy. They forage underwater, store their prey in their cheeks and munch on them on the surface.
The platypus has a sense of electroreception: they locate their prey in part by detecting electric fields generated by muscular contractions. Moving her head left to right and back again, signals are sent out like a radar. A similar technique used by dolphins and hammerhead sharks. It wasn’t long before she dived again.
The waters were clear enough to see her swimming through the upper water region.
I should get a better view from the bridge. I did, only to find the sun’s reflections on the water too.
But that gave the photo and view a different spectrum. How cute are they to watch? The beak movement was clearly seen, she was a very successful hunter.
Eyeing out her next victim, she propelled forward, using her beaver-like tail to thrust forward, just like whales do. Her front duck feet like kept the momentum as she sped through the water.
Her front feet flippers are bigger and the only propeller used under water. Her back feet are only used for stirring purposes underwater, as is her tail. She is quite agile and looked like a miniature seal in the mountains. Over and over she repeated this procedure, as I laid my camera aside. The photos didn’t look any different as the previous ones and it was just as good to watch her through my own eyes. A truly unique, bizarre, yet fascinating creation, that had humankind puzzled ever since it’s discovery.
Wikipedia described the following ! ‘The unusual appearance of this egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, and the first scientists to examine a preserved platypus body (in 1799) judged it a fake, made of several animals sewn together.’ Watching platypus at their playground here at Eungalla National Park adds to the mythical sphere around these mountains. Just marvellous.
All that eating made me hungry as well, as I walked back to Troopy. Early mornings and late afternoons are the best viewing times for most animals, as it is for platypuses. I walked along the Broken River once again and hoped for some more activities. I spotted another green tree snake in the water, which I found quite unusual. This one seems to prefer the water to the terrain.
A pink pigeon nestled in the tree on the river’s edge. These are localized at Eungalla National Park.
Another turtle surfaced in a bubble like she was wearing a helmet.
A few more platypus were spotted, but fading light made photography difficult. I watched them frolic in the clear waters and hoped for a better shot tomorrow. There are plenty of hiking trails here, that was my idea for the following day.