“It’s dusk. You’re canoe-gliding across a remote forest-fringed lake, the air bristling with birdcalls and eucalyptus aromas. From the water, skeletal grey tree trunks claw for the sky. Your guide gestures towards a ripple and (at last) you’ve got what you came for … a platypus encounter in the wild.”
It’s months since I wrote those words for the Great Ocean Road 2015 Travel Planner. And I haven’t stopped thinking about that eerie, other-worldly lake that Bruce Jackson, the playtypus tour operator, described to me across my dining table as we sipped on cappuccinos I’d whipped up with my new coffee machine.
Bruce told me he had the best job in the world, introducing visitors from far and wide to Lake Elizabeth, hidden deep in the Otways in south west Victoria. His canoe tours of the lake serve up a platypus sighting more often than not. Much more often.
Inspired by Bruce, we’ve come to see Lake Elizabeth for ourselves. We haven’t come at dusk. We’ve come mid-morning after spending the night with friends sharing a bottle of wine and a crackling fire in our rented digs in the nearby town of Forrest.
Although we’ve come without Bruce, we’re secretly hoping to glimpse a platypus. It’s how they roll in these parts where the wildlife is both elusive and very spottable. You might not spy the legendary Otways Black Panther or an extinct-or-not spotted tiger quoll, but kangaroos, koalas and a legion of birds are on the cards. In fact, on the super-scenic seven kilometre rainforest drive from Forrest to Lake Elizabeth car park, we have to brake to a crawl to give way to a kangaroo casually making its way across the road.
In the car park I’m struck by the towering, straight-as-light-poles trees. I wonder whether they’re Mountain Ash, but I’m not sure.
We take the path to the lake, winding along the river’s edge, past solemn reflection pools, ferny walls, and lush new growth. It’s been raining overnight, so it’s muddy in spots and the path narrows and widens to accommodate hefty tree trunks. There are a couple of steep patches but the walk engenders a real sense of journeying into the forest.
And then it opens out onto the space of Lake Elizabeth, and we arrive.
Gnarly ghost trees grope skywards from the still water, fringed at every edge by looming forest. We find Bruce’s canoes chained to a timber boardwalk at the shoreline. There are signed walks that take in Lake Elizabeth beach and loop right around the waterway.
We decide to pause at the boardwalk, take in the scenery and keep an eagle eye out for any movement on the water’s mirror surface. We’ve come for the vista, not the wildlife, but it doesn’t hurt to surveil (just in case).
We learn (from an interpretive signage panel) that Lake Elizabeth formed in 1952 when heavy rainfall caused a landslide to dam the river, creating a lake within the valley. The ghost trees are remnants of the valley forest.
I wonder when the platypus arrived. Before or after the damming?
We have no luck with a wildlife sighting, but we’re entranced by the renowned scenery … it’s beautiful, still and evocative.
Eventually, we drag ourselves away from the vista and wander slowly back along the path, through the lush forest and ferns to the carpark.
Lake Elizabeth, you’ve been quite an experience. We got what we came for.
And we’ll be back. Maybe next time with Bruce. At dusk.