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Wildlife in Australia… The ‘Big Five’

| 18 Feb 2017

Australasia specialist Ellen Cross is a lover of all things Australian. Here she recounts her experience meeting the most elusive of all the Australian ‘big five’… the platypus.

Platypus-illustration-by-John-Lewin
Platypus illustration by John Lewin

The truly unique wildlife is just one of the many reasons I love Australia. The island country boasts numerous animals that are endemic to Australia, and I’ve been lucky enough to have encountered four of the ‘big five’ – kangaroos, wombats, koalas and emus. It was however, number five – the notoriously shy platypus – that continued to elude me.

I started my search in the Southern Highlands, just a 90-minute drive south from Sydney. It is amazing how quickly the landscape changes from bustling cosmopolitan city to dry empty acres of bushland. To help me on my quest I joined a small group tour called ‘Wildlife in the Wild’ which offers the chance to find and view Australian animals without being in the constraints of a zoo.

emus
Emus

Setting off, we drove down the main road and turned into a private area of bushland. We were greeted at the gates by what looked like a walking teddy bear, which turned out to be a very fluffy baby wombat venturing out on his own. We didn’t have to travel much further into the bush before we spotted our second animal, a big old male kangaroo resting under the shade of a tree. For the remainder of the afternoon we spent time walking around to spot koalas, and took a short drive to see emus. There was even afternoon tea, enjoyed by a lake where a couple of water dragons kept us entertained.

wombat
A curious wombat

When twilight came upon us we ventured to a nearby creek to find platypuses. My hopes were low as they are well-known for their timid natures, and can be difficult to spot even in zoos. As they are often underwater, I was concentrating on any ripple on the surface of the water, just in case – and then it began to rain. Just as I was ready to forget it, up popped the head of a very weird and wonderful looking creature – the platypus. Gliding along the surface for a few seconds it quickly ducked back under before repeating this graceful behaviour another few times. Although it was admittedly a fleeting encounter I was thrilled to have had the experience.

Wild_Platypus_by-Klausber
Wild platypus (image by Klausber)

And this wasn’t the end. When night-time fell, we wandered back into the bush to track down nocturnal critters, including possums, sugar gliders and more wombats. It’s yet another reason why I love Australian wildlife – day or night you are bound to discover unique and curious creatures.

Thankfully, I was able to finally spot the most difficult of them all – a shy little platypus not far from Sydney’s city centre.

The excursion can be added to a private tour or as part of a tailor-made package when booked with Cox & Kings.



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