The first morning I woke up at Wolgan Valley, I left my friends Maile and Rachel behind for a very early private tour of the valley. I had suddenly discovered that even though I'd brought my Hasselblad with me on the trip, I had yet to actually take it out of my camera bag. Since we were scheduled to leave Australia the following morning, I leapt at the chance to explore the valley with film.
At about 7:15 a.m., I walked up the path to the main homestead of the resort, where I was to meet my field guide. A tall, lanky young man with a huge grin approached me, his hand outstretched. "I'm Leigh," he said. "I'm going to be leading your tour this morning."
I took his hand and returned his smile. "Karen," I introduced myself.
Suddenly, his smile flickered a little. "I hear you want to see a platypus."
I laughed right out loud. You see, for my entire 10-day stay in Australia, I had been terrorizing the locals about the mysterious platypus. "You Australians seem to be very proud of this animal," I would say everywhere we went, "and yet, despite having been all over your country, I have yet to see one."
"A platypus? Um, very few Australians have ever seen them," came the invariable response. "They're sort of hard to come by. I mean, you could go to the zoo ..."
"Please -- the ZOO?!" I would scoff. "I think not. I can find a zoo in America that has one, for heaven's sake. No, I want to see one in the wild. In fact, I'm here to let you know right now that I will not get on that plane until I see a platypus. In fact, until I see a HERD of platypi. A PACK O'PLATYPI,* as it were."
Judging from the look on poor Leigh's face, it appeared my shenanigans had preceded me.
"Don't worry," I assured him with a grin. "I mean, of course I'd love to see a platypus, but I'm well aware that they're not exactly easy to find. I'm more interested in just taking photographs of the scenery with my film camera. If we stumble across one, I'd be thrilled, but I'm surely not expecting to do so."
Leigh relaxed a bit.
"Okay," he said, "that I can do. But we'll still head over to Platypus Deck. If there are any to see -- and I'm not guaranteeing anything -- they'll be there."
Well. "Platypus Deck" did sound promising. But I tried not to get my hopes up.
Leigh and I climbed into his 4-wheel drive vehicle, and started off -- past the homestead where Charles Darwin stayed to do his work ...
... and eventually into the valley proper.
My heavens, what a beautiful place.
Eventually, Leigh turned the vehicle toward a copse of gum trees (an aside: did you know that "gum trees" is actually a catch-all phrase for different types of eucalyptus? I didn't, and I feel so smart now that I know this). He turned off the engine.
"Platypus Deck is just up there," he indicated. "We should get out and walk to it, quietly."
"Okay," I whispered. I grabbed my cameras, got out of the car and quietly followed Leigh to the small wooden deck.
The deck was on the bank of a small creek. You could hear birds in the trees, and there was even a wallaroo or two nearby. I walked to the edge, and peered over the handrail of the deck ... looking carefully in the water ...
... and nothing.
"Not today, then," I said, speaking a bit louder.
"Nope, doesn't look like it."
"But you have seen them here?"
"Yeah, a few months ago, actually. I was over there with my wife" -- here, he pointed to the creek bank to the right of the deck -- "and we were just sitting and talking, when suddenly, up popped a little platypus head over there." He pointed to the water to the left of the deck.
"Good Lord. How did you keep from screaming?"
His eyes lit up. "It was really hard. I was like this..." He pantomimed shock, and frantic pointing. "And she was like this!" He pantomimed a different expression of surprise, his arms waving. "And then I grabbed my camera."
"You had your camera with you? Did you get a good shot?"
His expression fell a bit. "Well, not really. I mean, I got the shot, but you can't really tell it's a platypus."
"Ah, well." We stood in silence for a moment.
I brightened. "I guess this means I'm going to have to come back, right?"
He grinned. "I should say so."
We stayed for a few minutes more, listening to the birds, and talking about the valley, and soon it was time to return, so I could meet Maile and Rachel for breakfast. We got back in the car, and made just one more stop, at the top of a small hill, to survey the entire valley:
Incidentally, later that same afternoon, after my Aboriginal Interpretive Tour with Kristie, I asked her if she could recommend any resources to learn more about Aboriginal culture. I don't remember mentioning my not-entirely-serious quest for a platypus to her (although I probably did, I was truly on a tear; or maybe she spoke to Leigh), but when we checked out of the resort the following day, I discovered that she had left me a note at reception with the link to the following video.
I love this story.
I'm also truly so grateful to the staff of Wolgan Valley for their kindness and generosity in helping me learn about Australian wildlife and aboriginal culture (and for putting up with my nonsense). Thanks to everyone there, and thanks to all of you for following along on my Australian adventure. I'll never forget my time in this magical place.
Song: So beautiful by Urban Myth Club. This song was actually on a compilation album I bought at the resort called "Wolgan Valley Sounds." This album doesn't seem to be available anywhere outside of the resort, which is unfortunate, because it's beautiful and peaceful (just like Wolgan Valley); however, you can get this particular song off of Urban Myth Clubs album here.