We just got back from an amazing holiday to Port Douglas and Cairns, in Australia’s far north Queensland. It’s a great place to take nature-loving kids.
One of the spots we visited was Peterson Creek, just off Gillies Hwy, Yungaburra, in the hope of spotting two of Australia’s most unusual and elusive animals – a platypus and a tree kangaroo – and simply for the opportunity to enjoy nature and the great outdoors.
Do you know all about platypuses? They are fascinating creatures, partly because they branched off from other animals quite early on in the evolutionary time-line, and so have evolved in a different ways. Here are a few fun facts:
- Platypuses and echidnas (another Australian animal), are the world’s only living monotremes. Monotremes are egg-laying mammals – in other words, they are the only animals that both lay eggs and then suckle their young once the eggs hatch.
- Monotreme literally means “single opening” in Greek, and they are named this because their urinary, defecatory and reproductive systems all open into one single duct.
- Platypuses have a bill like a duck, a tail like a beaver, feet like an otter and fur that has texture similar to that of a mole.
- Platypuses, echidnas and dolphins are the only mammals to have a sense of electroreception. To find food, platypuses dive down to the riverbed and sort through the silt for worms, larvae, freshwater shrimp and freshwater yabbies. They do this blindly – using receptors in their bill instead to detect the electric fields caused by the muscle contractions of their prey.
- The males have a defensive poisonous spur on their hind feet, making them one of the world’s few venomous mammals.
We didn’t have any luck at the platypus viewing platform, so we decided to follow the trail along the river a while, looking down at the river for ripples that might indicate platypuses, and up in the canopy for tree kangaroos.
Under a bridge we spotted a snake (which luckily, was on the opposite bank), coiled up down near the water’s edge. It’s only the second Australian snake we’ve seen in the ‘wild’. I’m not 100% sure, but I think it was an olive python. Awesome.
We found a lovely spot further along in the dappled shade, and we decided to pause for a while and let the kids play while we waited, hoping for a platypus to appear.
The ground was peppered with leaves of various shapes and colours. The girls and I gathered some pretty ones.
The girls studied the leaves, and sorted them in all sorts of ways: sometimes by shape, sometimes by colour, sometimes by pattern.
(Meanwhile, I may have been falling in love with this beautiful outdoor weathered table just a little bit too.)
Bee noticed me taking photos, and asked if she could have a turn using my DSLR. Such the 3-year-old mini-blogger! I snapped this below shot (with my phone camera), just in case she ends up being a professional photographer like her aunts one day, and wants to know where it all began. (Side note: I uploaded this shot to Instagram at the time. Are you following us over there yet?)
Here are three of the photos she took. I think she did a great job!
In the end, despite a few promising ripples in the water, we never did spot an elusive platypus or a tree kangaroo. But we had a lovely afternoon, just chill-axing and mucking around with nature, together in the dappled shade. (And there was a lot of hidden natural learning going on, all wrapped up and called ‘play’.)