By Joshua Clayton
The only thing that I had set in my head was that I wanted to see a platypus. A real, wild platypus. I didn’t have any other specific goals in Australia except this.
This was realized on an overcast, mild September morning crouched on the bank of a creek in the Tasmanian North-West.
I was so stunned that I was seeing a platypus that I ditched my SLR, and used my muted, pixelated phone camera – I couldn’t risk startling the creature and cutting short what could be my only chance to see a wild platypus. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.
Tasmania is proudly proclaimed as the ‘Natural State’, and it is the place to go in Australia to see wildlife.
Owing to the cooler climate, Platypus and Echidnas are less nocturnal than their mainland cousins, and the limited space means Pademelons and Wallabies have taken over from Kangaroos as the most numerous macropods.
There are even penguins.
All of these can be found with ease in the north-west of Tasmania. West of Port Sorell, on a stunning piece of the coast, this region is a great place to spend some time, with great family-friendly activities and amenities.
You’ll need to rent a car if you don’t have one, but roads are sealed and you won’t be off-roading – a sedan is more than adequate.
First of all…
If you are arriving by overnight ferry from Melbourne (and you should, because the day ferry is extremely boring), you’ll be looking for breakfast. Anvers Chocolate Factory is just southeast of Devonport, on Highway 1.
This gem is an artisan chocolate factory, with an on-site cafe set in a simple and charming garden, and a personal favorite of mine. I won’t let you visit the North-west without stopping here at least once.
Set up by the Belgian Expat Igor Van Gerwen, he studied the pastry arts at some of the top institutes in his homeland under the careful supervision of Robert Geerts, the creator of the Hazelnut Praline.
Igor believes the fine flavor of fresh Tasmanian cream and butter to be ideal for creating the best flavor truffles and fudge in the world.
After multiple visits over my 6 months living in Tasmania, my personal choice is the chocolate hazelnut waffles with a long black coffee. If you don’t have time for the full breakfast, try their delicious ‘Aztec Hot Chocolate.’
They are open from 7 AM to 6 PM, closed over public holidays. In fact, even writing this has me craving some artisan chocolate-covered waffles.
The platypus is a strange-looking animal. It lays eggs but has fur, the young drink milk from their mother but it has a pouch, and it has a ducks-bill and the males have poisonous barbs on their feet.
Head further out from the House of Anvers to the Glengarry Bush Maze, in the lush Tamar Valley. Technically just out of the North-West, it is still worth a visit. Kids are sure to love the puzzles and maze, and you have a good chance of seeing the platypus.
Even as a group of adults, the puzzles can take some time to solve. I’m ashamed to say that I had to pass on one of the puzzles as I couldn’t solve it. To see the platypus head down the little forest path to the small creek, which is signposted.
Try to time your visit before mid-day, or in the late afternoon. Keep quiet and still along the bank of the creek and keep your eyes peeled for a stream of bubbles off the platypus’s oily coat and you might just be lucky enough to get a glimpse of this cute, and strangely mismatched creature.
If you weren’t lucky enough to catch sight of the platypus at the Glengarry maze, try again in Burnie. Drive out to the Fern Glade Reserve, just 4km east of the town center.
This lush little bush walk is great for an easy early morning or evening stroll when the platypus is most likely to be active. The path is well maintained with several viewing platforms to stop and look out from.
Head along the Bass Highway to the picturesque town of Stanley. Small and sleepy, you’ll spot the main landmark from a fair way off.
The large, flat-topped volcanic plug known as “The Nut” stands 143 meters above Sea Level, jutting out from the coast. (See photo at top of story)
Park at the bottom and test your legs on the steep hike to the top, or take the alpine chairlift up.
Once at the top, the walk around the 2.3 km circuit is quite gentle and filled with amazing views of the north coast.
I would go clockwise around the loop, as it saves the Pademelons to the end. Start to look out when you smell spring onions, and you’ve reached a favorite spot for these gorgeous little animals.
Like a miniature kangaroo, they tend to be the size of a small dog, and if you keep quiet and still you might be amazed how little notice they take of humans. For a bonus, you might even see them with a little joey in the pouch.
After you come down, a good place to stop for lunch or tea is the Nut Rock Cafe, right at the bottom of the Nut, by the car park. Freshly baked scones with jam and cream are my choice here.
While you’re here, head to the Stanley Seaquarium for some educational time with the children. Housed in an old fishing shed, this is a fun and hands-on attraction tells a good deal about the Marine Life in the waters of Tasmania. Keep an eye out for the blue-ringed octopus. Last time I visited, he was suspected of staging a jailbreak to the ocean but he might have just moved to another tank!
Yes, Southern Australia is home to the ‘Little Penguins’. This one is seasonal, so you’ll need to be in Tasmania between September and March when the penguins breed in colonies.
Now a heads up, despite being called ‘Penguin’ (and having many decorations, names, and statues for the little birds), I never actually saw a Penguin in the town.
If you’re looking for some art-deco architecture, drive along Penguin Road that winds alongside the Freight Railway, and stop at the Neptune Grand Hotel for a typical Aussie pub-meal, otherwise stay in Burnie for the Penguins.
Go to the little Penguin observation center around sunset in Burnie, and the local volunteers will give you a free Penguin Tour. This organization has taken local volunteers to clean up and build penguin shelters to encourage them to keep coming here to nest and is your best stop for seeing penguins.
If all else fails…
With a little bit of patience, you should leave the North-West having seen some of the most iconic animals of the state, as well as astounding scenery and very happy kids. Should you miss seeing any of these little creatures in your time here, or your children aren’t at the patient stage, then head to the Platypus House in Beauty Point, a little further east than Port Sorell.
It is open 09.30 AM to 04.30 PM from November to April, and 10.00 AM to 03.30 PM the rest of the year and the staff here will make sure you leave with a solid understanding of the life of the Echidna and Platypus.
Anvers Chocolate Factory – 9025 Bass Highway, Latrobe, Tasmania – 03 6426 2958
Closed on specific public holidays
Glengarry Bush Maze – 48 Jay Dee Rd, Glengarry TAS 7275, Australia – +61 3 6396 1250
Neptune Grand Hotel – 84 Main Rd, Penguin, Tasmania – +61 1800 858 858
Nut Rock Cafe – Nut Reserve – Base of the Stanley Nut – +61 3 6458 1186 – Open 10-1600
Stanley Seaquarium – Fisherman’s Dock, Stanley Tasmania, Open September-June, then weekends only
Fern Glade Reserve –website
Visit Tasmania tourism website
Originally from England, Joshua Clayton now lives and works in Cambodia.