An early start is imperative because we have a 2pm tour at Platypus House in the town of Beauty Point on the north coast of the island. We take the main highway which tracks through grazing land and wooded hills. The landscape is unlike anything we encountered on the mainland. More water. Midway, in a town called Campbelltown, we stop for a lunch of excellence. For once, we’re not eating on the fly. We pass through Launceston, where we’ll sleep eventually, and make it to Beauty Point with fifteen minutes to spare. Platypus House and its companion, Seahorse World, are former fish processing plants occupying a pier on the wide Tamar River, which drains into the Bass Strait. We are doubly ‘in’ because we have printouts and our names are on the list.
Platypuses and Echidnas are monotremes. Simply put, they have a single orifice through which all their waste is conducted and, in females, this opening also serves a reproductive function. Males have a simple penis that doesn’t fulfill any excretory purpose. But, most intriguingly, they are the world’s only egg-laying mammals. These creatures are incredibly unusual and rarely, if ever, found in zoos. Platypuses are nearly invisible in the wild due to their watery environment and the nocturnal hours they favor, while echidnas are more common, visible, and adaptable. Neither species is threatened.
We have a guide, Ben, a large young man with an enthusiastic, open demeanor. Our initiation to the platypuses is in the room of the tanks of the females. One tank belongs to Dawn, the girlfriend of the male in the tank in the next room, while the neighboring tank belongs to four rejected females. Jupiter, the alpha (only) male merits his own room, where his tank has a bridge/tunnel connecting with Dawn’s tank for that occasional conjugal visit. In the wild, males tend to have multiple honeys. Ali and I are wide-eyed.
These platypuses are rescue monotremes, as are the echidnas. None of the animals was plucked from the wild for our amusement. The platypuses of Platypus House subsist on a diet of kibble and worms. Their physical weirdness is uncontestable. Those bills. Those tails. Watch out for the males, though, for they possess a venomous spur. The poison, rarely fatal, is very, very painful and long lasting. No anti-venom is possible because each individual’s poison is chemically different. Stay away from the guys: you could end up in a world of hurt.
Here come the echidnas. Words will just have to suffice. Our group of ten is asked to stand in a circle and Ben places three bowls of insect parts in chicken broth at three points on the floor. Enter Thomas (a male) and Eddie (a female). They wobble slowly and aimlessly inside the circle, but when they discover the yummy bug feast, their impossibly slender, four-inch, pink tongues go crazy. Where’s Edwina? Ah, there she is.
These animals are fantastic and fantastically appealing. Formerly called Spiny Anteaters, they’re high on the adorability scale, yet near the bottom of the IQ scale. About the size of a quokka (semi-deflated basketball), they have a coat of fur and quills / spines and a nozzle-like proboscis. Their rear feet attach backwards, which explains the loopy gait, but this adaptation enables them to bury themselves in the sand in fifteen seconds should they perceive a threat.
After scouring the gift shop of intriguing items, we cross over to Seahorse World. It’s necessary to wait twenty minutes for the next seahorse experience. The World of Seahorses is the source for many of the world’s aquarium seahorses. The building contains many, many tanks of these critters at various stages of seahorse existence, from ovoid to grandpa. Compared to the monotremes, they’re dull and we depart midway through the tour.
It’s a short drive back to Launceston. On the way, we pass a sign pointing to two neighboring villages, Flowery Gully and Winkleigh. I have no photographic documentation, but, trust me, I can’t make this up. We find lodging in Cap’n Stirling’s House. Two bedrooms and cozy. For the evening meal, we amble a quarter mile to Stillwater, a lovely restaurant on the river. Tasting menu once again. So fuckin’ good.