With a lot to hunt in Tasmania, platypi are only the start. Picture / 123rf
Trying to find an elusive quarry leads Briar Jensen again to Tasmania’s Central Highlands
I am on a quest to see Australia’s weirdest, however arguably cutest, creature within the wild. Lined in fur the platypus has a duck-like beak, beaver-like tail and webbed entrance ft for swimming. They’re such an oddity that the primary specimen despatched to the British Museum in 1799 was considered a taxidermy hoax. They’re monotremes – egg-laying mammals – and suckle their younger by secreting milk by way of their pores and skin. There are solely two monotremes on this planet, echidnas being the opposite – Aussie scooped the pool on this class.
Platypuses are notoriously exhausting to identify. Inhabiting freshwater rivers and lakes in Australia’s east and southeast, they conceal in burrows and primarily feed within the water at evening. Daybreak and nightfall are purportedly the very best instances to see them, however they’re generally noticed throughout the day. The water must be calm although. Very calm.
I’ve solely seen one, fleetingly, within the wild, at Lake Dobson in Tasmania’s Mt Area Nationwide Park. It is probably the greatest locations to see them, so I am returning to Tassie’s Central Highlands, staying at Rathmore Farm, an hour north of Hobart. Not solely is it near Mt Area Nationwide Park, however proprietor Cally Lyons assures me there are platypuses in Dew Rivulet, which runs by way of the property.
It is late afternoon as I flip off the quiet nation street at Hole Tree into Rathmore’s driveway, previous what appears like a dam. Dew Rivulet! There’s a wide range of lodging right here from shearer’s quarters to farm cottage, however I am staying in a room within the Georgian sandstone homestead.
“Properly, good day!” beams Cally. Sporting beetroot-coloured Merry gumboots and matching jumper she bustles me into the farmhouse kitchen with its aromas of roasting garlic and contemporary rosemary. Husband Richard sits on the monumental timber desk peeling potatoes and prepping creme brulee for dinner.
Cally is a font of native information and by the point she’s advised me all of the must-visit locations close by it is cocktail hour. I be a part of one other visitor for hors d’oeuvres on the deck outdoors the stables. As we tuck into carrot and lovage tarts, watching sunset-soaked clouds mirrored within the calm waters of Dew Rivulet 50m away, we spot exercise within the water. Radiating concentric ripples are a platy’s calling-card and we see a number of. I am determined to leap the fence and sprint all the way down to the water’s edge, however dinner is prepared and Cally assures me they will be there tomorrow.
Rathmore’s eating room is intimate and moody in a Downton Abbey means. An unlimited gilt-scrolled mirror hangs above the hearth and I like Richard’s great-great-grandfather’s grandfather clock, which got here out by ship from England. The mahogany desk is ready with Waterford crystal and candelabra, and herb sprigs sprout from linen napkins. Richard and Cally be a part of us for roast lamb and dialog flows as simply because the wine.
Within the morning Dew Rivulet is whipped into wavelets by a wickedly chilly wind. With no probability of seeing platy within the disturbed water, I head to Mt Area Nationwide Park, a part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Space. It is early autumn and I am eager to see the “turning of the fagus”. Not a secretive Scottish ritual prefer it sounds, however the altering color of Tassie’s solely deciduous native tree, nothofagus gunnii, a beech with roots again to Gondwanan instances. Come April its tiny pleated inexperienced leaves, like crinkle-cut chips or miniature followers, flare golden yellow, deepen to burnt orange then blaze rusty purple. Taswegians are so captivated by the “turning” they’ve a competition to have fun. It is a tad early, however I am longing for a tinge of color.
A 16km gravel street snakes up from Mt Area customer centre to Lake Dobson at over 1000 metres. I take the Pandani Grove stroll beside the lake the place 1000-year-old pencil pines lean precariously over the water. I am not anticipating to see platypus presently of day however maintain a watch out anyway. Pandani, an alpine model of coastal pandanus, look incongruously engaging on this alpine setting. Some are so tall they hug different bushes for assist, their spent brown leaves hanging like grass skirts beneath their strappy inexperienced tops.
Veils of lichen drape from overhead branches and delicate fungi sprout from rotting wooden, however most beguiling are the snow gums, whose shrivelling strips of chestnut and charcoal bark reveal striated trunks in on-trend shades of mustard-yellow, pistachio and smoke.
I climb as much as Tarn Shelf, a wind-battered ridge of lichen-licked boulders, stunted shrubs, and tortured bushes. With a view for miles, it is the very best place for recognizing fagus on the flip, however the steep-sided slopes dropping all the way down to the glacial tarn Lake Seal are nonetheless darkish alpine inexperienced.
On the drive out I cease at Wombat Moor and take the boardwalk throughout a knobbly carpet of cushion vegetation, boronias, heath myrtle and pineapple grass. The interpretation is great, however I have to get a wiggle on for my date with the Derwent River.
Fiona and Liam Weaver have been working Tassie Sure Journey Excursions for about 10 years, however solely began Paddle with Platypus excursions on this part of the Derwent about six years in the past, after Fiona and a buddy floated downriver on a lilo with a bottle of wine and noticed a great deal of platys. As we gear up they inform tales of platypuses coming proper as much as the kayaks for a better look. I am past excited and barely take heed to the directions ought to we fall off (“toes up, nostril up and hold on to the paddle!”).
Liam explains that the wind is often behind us and we go together with the river’s move so hardly have to paddle. Simply not right now. The river is low, the move is gradual and we’re battling a headwind. It is fairly although, with blue gums and poplars edging the water. We paddle previous hop farms and pharmaceutical poppies, spot a sea eagle’s nest and a white-faced heron.
Taking a break for chai tea and Fi’s chocolate brownies Liam tells us the best tally of platypus sightings on the three-hour tour is 26, the worst three. With a lot wind on the water, I am anticipating to interrupt that lowest report. However we do spot three, simply at such a distance it is exhausting to differentiate them from a bobbing log.
It is a totally different story on the drive house at midnight, the place I dial down the pace to dodge the wildlife, from wallabies and wombats to pademelons, possums and owls. It is a reduction to succeed in Rathmore with out hitting something.
With the wind nonetheless up subsequent morning I leap within the automobile with Cally’s checklist of suggestions and drive backward and forward, leaving a monitor like a moth larva on a scribbly gum. The sandstone buildings within the hamlet of Hamilton, together with espresso at Jackson’s Emporium, then Lawrenny Distillery on the banks of the higher Derwent, one in every of solely three paddock-to-bottle whiskey distillers on this planet, who additionally make a variety of gins and a chilly brew espresso liqueur.
At cute Possum Shed Cafe in Westaway are images of their resident platypus, Flossie, however sitting of their willow-shaded backyard it is the antics of untamed geese cavorting within the river that deliver a smile. I purchase berries for Cally at Westerway Raspberry Farm and decide up apple and ginger jam at Bushy Park Market, the place a mini museum devoted to the hop trade explains the paddocks of timber poles I’ve pushed previous.
Behind the hawthorn hedge on the Salmon Ponds Heritage Hatchery is a nineteenth century English backyard with manicured lawns and unique bushes of golden ash and elm mirrored within the gravity-fed ponds. The oldest trout hatchery within the southern hemisphere, they nonetheless provide trout for Tassie’s lakes and dams. The hatchery’s historical past is intriguing and there are rooms stuffed with angling memorabilia. Platypuses supposedly proliferate within the Lots River behind the hatchery however dawdling on the viewing platforms fails to deliver them forth.
On my final morning, when Dew Rivulet nonetheless resembles a rippling ocean, I discover the farm as an alternative, assembly Hercules the humongous steer and testing stables and barns used for artwork retreats, lengthy lunches and mini nation music live shows. Nevertheless it’s the dilapidated woolshed that tugs at my heartstrings. The odor of lanolin-soaked timber and outdated equipment oil brings again recollections of my childhood on a South Auckland farm. Wind whistles by way of holes within the partitions and rattles free roof iron as I attempt to seize daylight angling by way of cobweb-laced home windows with my digicam. Gusty climate could have thwarted platypus close-ups, however I am grateful the search has introduced me to this idyllic rural retreat in Tassie’s Central Highlands.
Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Tasmania twice per week. Airnz.co.nz
Rathmore’s lodging consists of 4 guestrooms within the Georgian Homestead, 4 ensuite rooms within the Shearers’ Quarters and a country cottage that sleeps 4. All choices embrace breakfast provisions. You possibly can self-cater, order pre-cook meals and picnics or request dinner within the homestead kitchen or Georgian eating room. rathmore.com.au
Tassie Sure Journey Excursions runs 3-hour Paddle with Platypus excursions each night from October to April. tassiebound.com.au
For extra, see discovertasmania.com.au