Eungella National Park, 80 kilometers west from Mackay toward Mirani and Finch Hatton Gorge, is pronounced “youngella” and lies an hour’s drive inland from Mackay. Australia’s largest national park is famous for its platypus, the unique egg-laying mammal with its distinctive duck’s bill, which is notoriously shy and rarely spotted in the wild.
Eungella virtually guarantees that you spot one year-round, although you will need to either get there early or later in the day, as the best platypus spotting times are 4am-8am and 3pm-7pm. Broken River, which runs through Eungella, is said to be the best place in Australia for platypus spotting, with a viewing platform built for your convenience. But even if you don’t get to see an elusive platypus, the river is teeming with turtles that don’t seem to be quite as shy.
Broken River, which runs through Eungella, is said to be the best place in Australia for platypus spotting, with a viewing platform built for your convenience.To make the most out of this stunning part of the world, you should really stay overnight and allow an evening—or maybe early morning—for platypus spotting, and an entire day to hike along the myriad walks that cross the part tropical, part semitropical mountain forest, with some 22 kilometers of bushwalking tracks. Broken River Mountain Resort (Eungella Dam Rd., tel. 07/4958-4564, cabins from $130) offers basic cabins (with private bathrooms) right next to the river, perfect for falling out of bed early for the platypus, and for the walks through the forest. A café/restaurant is on-site, as are all amenities. Just around the corner is the Eungella Visitors Information Centre (Eungella Dam Rd., open—in their own words—Wed.-Sun. 9:30am-ish to 3:30pm-ish), which can give you maps of all the tracks, but even if it happens to be closed, there are maps at each parking and picnic stop, and the walks are easily signposted.
On the way back from Eungella to Mackay, you will come across Finch Hatton Gorge, a short but worthwhile detour (30 minutes) from the main road. Beautiful countryside changes into forests with countless streams that are only passable with four-wheel drive in the rainy season, but as long as it has been dry, you should be fine in a normal car. You cross these fords and get deeper into the forest, before basically coming to the end of the track and having to walk on to the gorge. The stream tumbles across rounded boulders, the dense vegetation is alive with birds, and again, if you are lucky, you might well see yet another platypus, if it’s the right time of day.
Splash in the rock pools, seek out the waterfalls, and even stay the night at the Platypus Bushcamp (Gorge Rd., Finch Hatton, tel. 07/4958-3204), where you can either camp or stay in a rustic timber hut, adapted to fit either twin beds or dorms, by the stream (camping from $7.50, huts from $75, dorm beds from $25). While you are there, try ziplining with Forest Flying (Finch Hatton, tel. 07/4958-3359, daily, weather permitting, $60 pp, weight restrictions apply), which sees you flying on a zipline up to 25 meters high across the canopy of the forest in a one- to two-hour tour.
If you are not driving, try the “A Day with a Platypus” trip with Reeforest Adventure Tours (Mackay and Airlie Beach, tel. 1800/500-353, adult $120, child $99, family $410), which includes traveling to Finch Hatton Gorge for a cooked barbecue lunch, a visit to the Araluen Falls, a swim in Eungella National Park, and taking in the Pioneer Valley, Broken River, and hopefully a platypus or two. Tours run Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, with hotel pickup at 11am from Mackay.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.