Australia’s unique and wonderful wildlife has always been a major attraction to visitors to our shores. Our continent’s long geographic isolation, unique geology, and climate have given rise to perhaps the weirdest and most lovable collection of evolutionary oddities on Earth. Aussie nominees to the cuteness hall of fame would surely be dominated by any one of 140 pouch-bearing marsupials – from the handsome upright and hopping variants to the fluffy-eared sleepy tree-dwellers.

But of all the unique creatures that inhabit our wide land, one in particular stands out as the most unusual – the platypus. Indeed, when European explorers first described this furry, egg-laying, web-footed, duck-billed, beaver-tailed mammal, scientists back home thought the creature was an elaborate hoax. Even upon examination of the first preserved platypus body, the British zoologist Dr. George Shaw  took a pair of scissors to the pelt with the expectation that it was constructed from several animals stitched together.

The platypus, along with its Australian cousin, the echidna, are the only living examples of egg-laying mammals, or monotremes. A female lays typically 1-3 eggs which hatch after a 10-day period of underground incubation. For the next three months the juvenile platypus, commonly known as puggles, develop in a nesting burrow nourished only by mother’s milk before entering the water.

Ever elusive, it is rare to see a platypus close-up. Just over one-hour drive from Melbourne, in the heart of the spectacular Yarra Valley, the award-winning Healesville Sanctuary now offers the world’s only hands-on platypus encounter. In this unique experience guests have the opportunity to step into the shallow water of the platypus pool to hold, feed, and play with these fascinating furry creatures.  From all accounts they like having their bellies tickled.

For an encounter with platypus in the wild, Acacia can take you to Lake Elizabeth hidden deep in the Great Otway National Park, a place of inspiring beauty with heavily timbered flanks and calm reflective waters. To catch a glimpse of these shy natives, guests can join an ecologist-guided canoe tour at dusk or dawn.

Healesville Sanctuary features in Acacia’s Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges tours while Lake Elizabeth is a 30-minute detour from the famed Great Ocean Road.  Allow Acacia to tailor an itinerary incorporating a platypus encounter for you.

 

Photo credit: NSW DPI Schools Program