We saw an Australian animal that less than 10% of all Australians have ever seen near Cairns, the fantastic, and surprisingly tiny, platypus. That’s wild platypus, not in a zoo. If you’d like to share in this incredible experience, check out the Atherton Platypus Park near Cairns at Tarzali Lakes. You can visit for the day or stay overnight on the camp site and you should certainly include these wild Platypus in your visit to the Atherton Tablelands and Cairns area.
We spent a weekend camping at the platypus park near Cairns, at Atherton to see platypus in the wild and enjoy time in nature enjoying a barramundi fishery and the smoked goods made on-site at the Tarzali Lakes Platypus Park. As well as visiting other attractions in the tablelands area, What a fantastic experience!
Dawn at Tarzali lakes. Time to spot the platypus.
Wild Platypus, Atherton Tablelands
Down on the coast in Port Douglas, our old home, it’s hot all year round and from December to May it’s seriously wet and humid. If you drive just a little way up the road you can climb up to the top of the mountain and be in a completely different climate. It can get cold!
OK, so it was mid-winter when we went, but I wouldn’t expect night-time temperatures to dip to freezing in the tropics, would you?
On the coast we’re shocked if it gets below 20 degrees, but zero, in a tent, crazy!
For most of the year, the climate up on the tablelands is significantly more comfortable than on the coast, it makes a great place to take a break from the heat.
It is very easy to get up onto the tablelands from Cairns or Port Douglas by car and the views on the way are spectacular.
Camping With Platypus at Tarzali Lakes Platypus Park
We’ve done so much on the Tablelands that I can’t squeeze it all into one post, camping at Tarzali Lakes, deserves a blog of its own. We picked the site because it was fairly cheap at $25/ night , we didn’t realize we’d actually be “Glamping”.
The Tarzali Lakes Aquaculture Centre is a series of lakes, some natural, some man-made, a yabbi breeding farm, a barramundi farm and fishery, a smokery and restaurant and one of the rare places where you can see platypuses in the wild.
We were the only people camping there in late July, so after 4pm when the day tourists had gone and the owner had gone off to the pub, we were left to free range all over the site and use the outdoor restaurant facilities for eating and cooking.
There were even some fairy lights left on for us. This was the glamping part, lots of tables and chairs, a gas barbecue and our own private bathroom.
It makes such a big difference when you are living in a tent. We still had our campfire too, the kids feel cheated if they don’t get to build a fire and toast marshmallows.
So there we were, in a beautiful spot, all alone, with excellent facilities and nature all around us. Perfect!
The main attraction is obviously the platypuses so we crept down to the pond at the bottom of the hill, shushing and tiptoeing, wondering if we’d be lucky enough to see one.
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We did, straight away, and then another, and another. There were plenty, all very active and busy feeding.
They popped up for air now and again and stayed on the surface for a little while before duck diving back down. Both kids pronounced them cute and loved the whole experience.
D in particular was happy to just sit a watch them, the animals exerting a magical calming effect on him. We had some special times together hanging by that pond and singing Yellow Submarine to our weird little friends.
I’m having an ongoing battle with Nikon over a faulty camera, so unfortunately, all photos are on my husband’s phone, no zoom to get a decent platy-pic, which was a shame, but I did my best.
UPDATE: I’ve just heard from a comment that this place has closed down, which is a shame. I’ll double check this in person soon as we live near Atherton now.
Other Things to Do Near the Atherton Platypus Park
The Atherton Tablelands is an outstanding area to visit and only a short drive from Cairns, you can pack loads of amazing and diverse experiences into just a few days. I think my top pick is this opportunity to see platypus in the wild but you can also visit wineries, chocolate and coffee attractions, virgin rainforests and vast Lake Tinaroo. While you’re up there, check out Herberton Historic Village too.
Getting to Atherton Tablelands Without Your Own Car, Tours
You could try this 11 hour Waterproof, Wildlife and Rainforest tour from Cairns.
This tour gives you a chance to spot platypus at Yungaburra and will show you the main highlights of Atherton Tablelands, including the curtain fig and Milaa Milaa falls.
Where to Stay When Visiting Atherton Platypus Park
A lot of visitors to this area will be staying in the big tourist towns of Cairns and Port Douglas. The beaches between these two centers also have their fair share of hotels. Others will be road-tripping far north Queensland, some will be camping. We have a hotel search feature below.
Learning About Platypus and Platypus Zoology
Obviously, as homeschoolers, this was a great opportunity for Mum to slip a bit more learnin’ by the boys. They ask questions constantly, it’s part of being a child, they already knew that platypuses and echidnas are monotremes, egg laying mammals. We had a little chat about milk production, this being the defining feature of mammals, they were a bit confused initially by the egg/ milk combination. It is weird after all. We talked about their sensitive beaks and how they use touch and an extra sense, electrolocation, to find their prey, small invertebrates and vertebrates. We talked about how they stayed warm and why they were so rarely seen, it’s believed less than 10% of Australians have ever seen a platypus, although they are not classed as endangered. I mentioned that they are the only venomous mammals. They quickly shut me up.
” We know Mum, we saw it on Deadly 60.”
I love Steve Backshall on so many levels!
I couldn’t find platypus on Deadly 60, so instead, here’s National Geographic on our favourite monotremes.
They asked if any predators fed on platypuses, they do, eagles, snakes, crocodiles and goannas aren’t their friends. They are considered a nocturnal animal although the individuals we saw were extremely active by day. So this is how learning happens in our family, the world is our classroom and it’s rather nice.
Today, back home, and enjoying the delicious smoked goods the owner kindly gave us at Tarzali (another perk of being a Chef’s Widow) I will try to get D to use the internet to find out more about these amazing little creatures. Making it fun and building on the interest that has been planted in him by our encounter is a sure-fire way to get that learning cemented.
The next morning, after a cold night snuggled under my best feather duvet, we were up with the roosters to see the most amazing sunrise over a misty lake. This was a golden opportunity for me to talk, yet again about evaporation, condensation, the water cycle and so on.
As I boiled the water for coffee at the lakeside Boo said ” Look Mum, platypus!” He was right, they were here in the main barramundi breeding lake too. Only a child that had spent the previous evening platypus watching would have recognised the distinctive profile of a one of these brilliant little creatures at the surface.
Other Fascinating Wildlife in Far North Queensland.
Check out our posts on visiting the Great Barrier Reef, our local salt water crocodiles, the excruciating stinging tree and the jellyfish that enter our waters during stinger season. Not everything is out to get you up here, cuddly looking tree kangaroos don’t pose much of a threat and neither do our sugar gliders. Just never trust cassowaries, they’re plotting your death. Want more information on travel to and around Australia? You need our Australia Travel Blog page.
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Friday 14th of January 2022
Closed for good
Alyson for World Travel Family
Friday 14th of January 2022
Really! Oh that's a shame. There are plenty of other places up there to see platypus though.
Friday 5th of September 2014
What an informative summary of these wonderful creatures and their habitat. The boys must have loved this experience, they are very fortunate. Recently I went with my son and his children to Tidbinbilla, just outside Canberra and we saw platypus there. It was very exciting and most unexpected. Sad to realize that in captivity these dear creatures become so stressed they die. Zoos don't tell us that! Warawong Sanctuary in the Mt Lofty Ranges near Adelaide has managed to breed platypus by copying their habitat within a fox free property.
Friday 5th of September 2014
I didn't know that Suzanne. The only place I've ever seen them in a zoo is at Taronga zoo in Sydney. They also have them at Sydney aquarium.