Glow Worms and Platypus in the Sunken Forest

December 21, 2011

About half an hour from Apollo Bay lies the eccentric rural town of Forrest. Where else but Australia would you be greeted at one end of town by a micro-brewery and matching Morris Minor and at the other end, Santa Claus riding on the back of a lifesize replica dinosaur!

Forrest is the gateway to Lake Elizabeth, which only formed in 1951 after a landslip dammed the river. All that's visible of the sunken forest are the towering, tattered grey trunks of a dozen manna gums, their smooth moonlight-white bark long since weathered away.

This is one of only a few places in Victoria where you can take a trip to see Platypus in the wild. Otway Eco Tours runs daily kayaking trips to look for these intriguing animals. Seeing a Platypus was our primary aim this evening.

Platypus are mammals but not marsupias. Along with echidnas, they belong to a group called the Monotremes, including our Australian Short-beaked Echidna. To say Platypus is a strange animal is an understatement. Amongst other things, they lay eggs. They also sport a poison gland, with which they can dispense painful injections through a spur on their back leg. Their eyesight is moderate but they feed blindly up to a few metres below the water, detecting the subtle electro-magnetic signals from aquatic prey, using sensors on their beak.

It was calm in the valley but the tops of mountain grey gums were stirring as clouds raced overhead on a strong southeasterly breeze. As we pushed off from the shore, Grey Fantails were flycatching over the water's edge. There were the frottoir-like calls of a mob of Gang-Gang Cockatoos heading to roost and a lone Australian Darter watched us from the summit of one of the impossibly-tall dead manna gums.   

It was a matter of minutes before Bruce spotted our first Platypus. It appeared for long enough that we all saw it well ... the pink eyes, duck-like bill and beaver's tail. It wasn't long before it up-ended and was gone. The last time we saw it, it was heading up the lake and disappeared amongst the vegetation, maybe seeking refuge in its den which it accesses through a secret underwater tunnel. 

This was to be our only view of Platypus tonight but no matter. The joy of seeing 'wild' life is being part of a place, not an accessory to it. Seeing a platypus is only some of the thrill of canoeing majestically through one of the Otway Range's deep valleys, accompanied by the sounds of nature as the baton passes from day to night. As we disembarked, Bruce thrust cups of hot tea, coffee and chocolate into our hands and no-one was in a rush to leave.

The sun had set a long time ago and there was one last treat in store. Along the damp gullies live glow-worms. Glow-worms spit out lengths of silk covered in sticky beads to trap passing insects. The whole forest is covered in these tiny blue lights.

As we headed out of Forrest to go home, having happily spent more time than we'd anticipated, we passed Santa riding on the back of his dinosaur, covered in tiny blue lights, like the glow-worms. A very fitting end to a pre-Christmas trip.


Glow worms

Locations visited

Lake Elizabeth

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Australian Nature


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