The platypus and echidna are the only two egg-laying mammals in the world and these characteristics identify them as monotremes. Today we had the opportunity to learn more about them at Platypus House in Tasmania’s far north.

Platypus House, Beauty Point, Tasmania, December 2012
Platypus House sits on the pier at Beauty Point — a misnamed town and possibly the only ugly township in Tasmania.

Visitors to Platypus House are taken on tours through its rooms after first watching a video on platypus nesting habits. Our guide today was Lyndall, and she was an excellent fount of knowledge, weaving the usual litany of facts and figures with her own personal anecdotes.

Brioni touching a stuffed platypus, Platypus House, Beauty Point, December 2012
Thank you for clear signage! This is the first time we've encountered exhibits that say "OK to touch", and it's wonderful to offer them to children instead of jumping as they reach out to finger something forbidden.

Platypus hind leg with spur, Platypus House, Beauty Point, Tasmania, December 2012
The spur on the hind leg of the male platypus contains enough venom to kill rival platypus males — and to hurt a human for several months.

Platypus House, Beauty Point, Tasmania, December 2012
We are ushered into a dark room with a well-lit tank where four young platypus play together. The platypus are fed during each tour — mimicking their constant grazing habit in the wild.

Platypus House, Beauty Point, Tasmania, December 2012
As air-breathing mammals, the platypus surface about every minute. They leave a trail of bubbles when they submerge — this is the tell-tale sign for platypus-watchers in the wild.

Dell looking at platypus eggs, Platypus House, Beauty Point, Tasmania, December 2012
Our guide passes around a jar with replica platypus eggs to show us the size of them. (The real eggs are too precious to hand around.)

Brioni rescues an earthworm, Platypus House, Beauty Point, Tasmania, December 2012
When we're invited to feed the platypus, Brioni accepts a live earthworm. But instead of throwing it to the platypus, she hides it away — rescuing it from certain death.

After leaving the platypus rooms, we enter one with three echidnas named Eddie, Edwina and Thomas. Sexing an echidnas is notoriously difficult — impossible, in fact, until the female lays eggs and grows a pouch — and so the staff at Platypus House have ironically misnamed both Eddie and Edwina, and Thomas’ gender is yet to be determined.

Echidnas at the Platypus House, Beauty Point, Tasmania, December 2012
In the echidna room, we're invited to sit on the ground and observe the echnias eating up their meal of mixed cereal, ants and meat.

Long tongue of an echidna at the Platypus House, Beauty Point, Tasmania, December 2012
A full-grown, short-beaked echnidna — such as those found in Tasmania — have tongues between 30 and 45 cm in length.

Echidnas at the Platypus House, Beauty Point, Tasmania, December 2012
After they're finished eating, the echidnas wander around their room, and we marvel at their backward-facing rear feet.

Dell reaching out to touch an echidna at the Platypus House, Beauty Point, Tasmania, December 2012
Unlike porcupines, echidnas don't shoot their spines into other creatures. They're safe — but spiky — to handle, and we reach out to feel their spines that are really just overgrown hairs.

We are satisfied with our encounters with these fantastic and rare Australian animals once we leave Platypus House. A visit to this attraction is highly recommended, and we have lots to think about — and the hope of seeing platypus in the wild — in the next few months!

Bush track in Tasmania, December 2012
A track into the bush beckons me. I walk it to check its appropriateness for overnight parking before we drive down to a clearing and turning circle — all out of sight of the road. It's our first night of bush-camping in Tasmania.

This unmarked free-camping location is just north of Andersons Creek on Greens Beach Road, on the eastern side of the road. It must be used by locals for accessing the estuary and fishing, as I noted the remains of several fires. It’s a lovely, remote spot for a night or two of camping, and it’s right on the water, although access to the water is muddy at low tide.