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Wildlife in Australia... the 'Big Five'

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.