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“It can get cold around here,” Nicole was telling me stories of frost on windows and the odd snowflake drops up in the mountains.
“Really?” I just couldn’t believe it. We’re in the tropics, I’m sitting under the shade of a tree to pause the sweat from trickling down my face.
“Oh yeah. There are many nights I put the heater on. It’s starting to move into those cold months.”
I regretted my decision to pack just my light cardigan. “I’m going to Mackay,” I said to myself when contemplating a winter jacket. “It’s not going to be jacket cold up there!”
We were headed up to the mountain top. Now when I say mountain in Australia, I don’t mean mountain like most of you probably know mountains. I’m talking 700 metres high. Laughable right – if all the mountains in the world got together for a class photo, Australian mountains would be sitting on the chairs in the front row.
But, 700 metres is still high enough to get colder in the sub-tropical heat of North Queensland. Just in case you’re still not sure of the tropical vibe of this area, we’re only one hours drive from the Whitsundays.
So Queensland continues to surprise me.
I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect of Mackay. Pushed for time to get across the Top End on our Australian road trip, we decided to skip it, thinking it didn’t have much to offer. Boy, was I wrong!
It’s quiet and unassuming, but slowly starting to speak up as a tourist destination that offers many treasures.
When we arrived and grabbed a quick lunch at the Our Kitchen by NE Food Cafe in town. The coffee was good, the polenta chips with a hint of rosemary through it were the best I’ve ever had and my veggie burger oozed chutney and juicy deliciousness down my arms.
Tick one – innovative and delicious food.
The other tick came when we left the city behind us for the 65km drive up to Broken River in Eungella National Park – that is, up the chilly mountain tops.
We drove through endless fields of sugar cane, not something I’d have thought I’d ever find beautiful but it was. Tall canes rose above us on either side of the car, the mountains rising behind it and the landscape so lush and green.
Halfway, we pulled into Cafe Devine at Pinnacle in the middle of the Pioneer Valley, where Nicole was now telling me about the night time chill.
We’re looking out over the cane fields in a restored historical church. It’s only been opened for about six weeks and out the back is a veggie garden to use for food in the cafe.
Kalyra and I sit and chat, enjoying a drink while Savannah sleeps in the car – with windows down and in a shady spot and breeze blowing. We dared not wake her –she was in a wacky crazy mood never seen before and completely lost the plot during lunch. We were letting her sleep it off.
It was just me and the girls on this trip. Craig was unwell so we set off for a girls getaway deep in the sugar fields and the rainforests of Mackay.
Eungella National Park – The best place to see wild platypus in Australia
This trip up to Eungella National Park was special. We were on the hunt for wild platypus. Every person I’d spoken to so far said it was pretty much a given we’d see one. But, I’ve heard that at many different places in Australia before and had never come up lucky.
We were on the hunt for wild platypus. Every person I’d spoken to so far said it was pretty much a given we’d see one. But, I’ve heard that at many different places in Australia before and had never come up lucky.
It’s been a childhood dream of mine to see a platypus. Every time my parents took me to our local Australian Reptile Park, I’d press my nose against the glass silently begging one to swim out just so I could have one glimpse at this unusual looming Australian animal.
I had to be content with photographs instead.
After coffee, we drove up the windy road with spectacular views over the valley, Kalyra in charge of the music and taking photographs.
We pulled over the side of the road to Sky Window, a short loop walk through the rainforest to a natural window through the trees, opening up to look out over the valley. Savannah was awake now and in a better mood taking control of the photography direction and chasing her sister.
We then drove through lush farmlands and rolling hills into Broken River. It was stunning and reminded me in parts of the Daintree Valley. Broken River Resort is on the edge of Broken River in the rainforest.
It’s the perfect cool mountain retreat to escape from the North Queensland tropical heat. We checked in and headed straight down to the river for platypus viewing.
There’s a short boardwalk through the forest with several viewing platforms. It was quiet and serene until a group of school children arrived. They swore they saw a platypus, but I was pretty sure it was a turtle, of which there were many.
There’s no way a platypus would have appeared with all that noise. After some time spent looking, and Kalyra’s complaints of a sore belly, we decided to head back to the cabin to rest before dinner.
I felt my face pressed up against the glass of disappointment again.
My mood was lifted a little by the gorgeous farmyard and valley sunset photos I got while the girls rested.
We had a lovely dinner together at Possums Table Restaurant in the lodge and then Kalyra schooled me in chess in the games section of the lodge after it.
Every Tuesday and Thursday evenings, The Broken River Resort has guided spotlight tours with the resident environmentalist at 8pm.
I bundled the girls up in the warmest clothes I could find – they sure weren’t lying about the cold and we stepped out into the rainforest.
Wisps of cloud circled overhead and our guide told us Eungella has cloud cover for most of the year and is really not a rainforest but a cloud forest.
Eungella actually means “Land where the cloud lies over the mountain” We were lucky to have clear skies and good weather. But, it meant the full moon was out and harder to see the animals.
We still saw plenty: geckos, pademelons, wallabies, and bats and we learned a lot about the different flora making up the park.
Our guide was quite well trained at spotting platypus and assured me, if we were patient and waited on the bridge, we’d see the resident platypus hunting for food down below.
After a few minutes of moving his torch around, he picked up a darting shadow in the water – sure enough, it was a platypus. I think I squealed. We watched it foraging and popping up out of the water to take a breath.
We wandered down to the other viewing platform and saw another one popping up and diving underneath the water for more food – no face pressing against the glass needed.
This was the real deal in the dark of night out in the wild, just us and the platypus.
Broken River Serenity = platypus haven
In the morning, I stole away back down to the river at sunrise to take some more pictures and see what I could find.
I went to the furthest platform, which I did not explore the evening before and was blown away by how pretty and serene it was.
A deep green lagoon sat at the end of the river, surrounded by ferns and intense greenery. A couple were leaving and pointed out to me the spot where they’d seen a platypus.
Then in the morning light, on my own, I sat by the lagoon and watched a platypus swimming and playing oblivious to me standing there!
It was better than I’d ever dreamed as a child it could be.
The elusive platypus is elusive no more. You’d be unlucky if you came to Eungella National Park and did not see a platypus.
As I walked back from the lagoon, I passed a Japanese man I’d spoke to earlier coming from the other viewing platforms with a spring in my step
“Did you see any?”
“Oh yes,” he grinned and sprang right on by “many many platypus.”