29th Oct 2020 | Tourism Editor
 
HOW TO EXPERIENCE MONTAGUE ISLAND NATURE RESERVE

Home to the largest seal colony in NSW as well as more than 90 bird species, with plenty of whales and dolphins also attracted to its nutrient-rich waters, Montague Island has been described as the Galápagos of eastern Australia.

Just 9km (or a 20-minute boat ride) from Narooma on the Eurobodalla coast, the protected nature reserve also has deep cultural significance to the Yuin people, who have traditionally used the island, which they call Barunguba, as a men’s teaching place. Officially discovered by the master of the convict ship Surprise 20 years after it was spotted by Captain Cook, Montague Island – which was named after British statesman George Montagu Dunk, Earl of Halifax – also has a rich colonial history.

With its incredible wildlife and fascinating heritage, Montague Island is the ultimate bucket-list South Coast experience. Here’s how to plan your visit.

Take a day trip

The most popular way to visit Montague Island is via a half-day trip with a local tour operator, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Based in Narooma, Montague Island Adventures offers a range of tours running from three to four hours.

If you’re interested in a land-based excursion, which includes visits to the island’s Australian and New Zealand fur seal colonies and well as its distinctive granite lighthouse built in 1881, you can choose from a morning or an afternoon tour. Following an informative boat ride out to the island, land-based guiding is conducted by NSW Parks & Wildlife Service rangers who share their extensive knowledge of Montague Island’s unique environment and heritage.

These tours also include whale-watching from September to November, with pods of dolphins also known to play around the boat throughout the year.

Love penguins? Then Montague Island Adventures’ evening penguin tour, which runs from September to January when adorable little penguins nest on the island, is for you. You can also opt to swim amongst the island’s seals on an island and snorkel tour, which also includes a guided land-based excursion.

Similar tours are also available with Narooma Charters, which also runs scuba diving trips to the island. Underwater Safaris specialises in marine-based Montague Island tours including whale-watching, snorkelling, and scuba diving with seals, while Island Charters Narooma and Lighthouse Charters offer land-based, snorkelling and diving tours. Visiting with a group? Most operators can also arrange private Montague Island (or fishing) charters.

No matter which option you choose to experience Montague Island, you’re bound to spot loads of wildlife while also getting a taste of the island’s historical and cultural heritage, from Aboriginal Dreaming stories connected to the island, to tales of how this windswept landscape doubled as a goldrush-era supermarket, when bird eggs were harvested from the island to sell to miners. If you’re visiting the Eurobodalla region with your own boat, note there’s no private vessel access to the island.

Stay overnight

To really immerse yourself in this wild place, consider spending a weekend away in one of Montague Island’s two historic lighthouse keeper’s cottages.

Also built in 1881 and beautifully restored in the style of the era, the cottages are managed by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service, with the minimum two-night experience including boat transfers from Narooma and a 2.5-hour ranger-guided tour of the island.

Setting the scene for a memorable special-occasion escape for a family or a group of friends, the three-bedroom Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage can accommodate up to seven guests, while the five-bedroom Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage can take up to 12 guests. Couples seeking a romantic getaway may wish to book a cottage just for two; it’s also possible to rent both cottages and enjoy the island all to yourself.

Each cottage is fully furnished with a well-equipped kitchen as well as barbecue facilities, making self-catering a cinch. Take the strain out of meal planning by recruiting the likes of Mr Bold Catering to prepare you a selection of gourmet take-home meals or a grazing box packed with the finest Eurobodalla region produce.

While some parts of the island are off-limits to visitors for wildlife conservation and cultural reasons, overnight guests are welcome to tackle the Montague Island walking track, a steep, paved 1.5km circuit offering excellent lighthouse views.

Or simply enjoy unwinding on the verandah of your cottage with a cup of tea, watching humpback whales dance past hundreds – sometimes even thousands – of fur seals dozing on the rocky shoreline.

When to go

Montague Island tours run year-round, with each season offering a unique wildlife experience. While seals can be spotted on the island throughout the year, the colony reaches its peak in mid-spring. Penguins and whales arrive in September, with whale-watching through November, and penguin tours available through January. Huge numbers of shearwaters begin to arrive on the island in October and nest on the island throughout the summer months, with the warmer weather making it the most comfortable time of year to don a snorkel.  

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