The notoriously shy and beautifully unique platypus has a soft, pliable duck bill and webbed feet, streamlined body and broad tail. They have two layers of fur – a dense waterproof outercoat and a grey, woolly underfur to provide very necessary insulation. Along with two species of echidna, they are the only egg-laying mammals on earth.
Chances of spotting platypus are rare, but Otway Natural Wonders run dawn and dusk canoe tours on a beautiful mountain lake in Victoria’s Otway ranges, and the platypus is the star of the show. Bruce Jackson, Natural Wonders guide with a B.Sc in ecology and animal behaviour, says it is rare to not see any of the enigmatic creatures. Sometimes five, but up to thirty or forty might be seen.
They mainly live in the banks of the lake and spend around 18 hours a day in their burrows, the rest in the water seeking food. They eat shrimp, worms and little mud-dwelling invertebrates for which they duck-dive. They have an in-built electric sensor which allows them to pick up the voltage or the current of an animal, making looking for food comparatively easy.
Tours start at Forrest Country Guest House and then a drive to Lake Elizabeth. Then you walk for ½ an hour which gives you a good feel for local history, flora, fauna and the lake formation. Everyone is given a lifejacket and there is a safety briefing before a couple of hours of paddling and platypus spotting. Morning tea is taken on a beach.
Natural Wonders use Canadian canoes and take between two and six people out at one time. With six people they tie the canoes together making a stable raft.
To really enjoy the experience it is recommended you wear good walking shoes and dress warmly – even in summer it can be quite cool on the lake.