I spy…whales!

Between spy hopping and bait balls the whales regularly put on a show for the owner of Montague Island Adventures and Charter Fish Narooma
Charter at Montague Island

Life as a land lubber isn’t for everyone. It’s a reality Benn Boulton quickly realised after starting a career as an engineer.

“I just had a love for the water, so ended up working on boats,” Boulton says.

As the owner of Montague Island Adventures, Boulton now gets to enjoy life on the water year-round. Each spring, from September to mid-November he has plenty of extra company while he does so. This is when thousands of whales (and often, their calves) cruise south close to the mainland at Narooma as they return to Antarctic waters after a winter up north.

Mill Bay Narooma

Across the whale watching season, Montague Island Adventures is busy.  The company has two boats; the larger takes 24 (although there’s space for 30), while the smaller vessel carries up to 8 people (it’s popular with families and groups of friends). Departures aren’t from Narooma’s main marina – instead, these vessels leave from a private boatshed on the opposite side of the harbour, near the start of Narooma’s Mill Bay Boardwalk.

“We put a lot of effort in to make sure it’s comfortable,” says Boulton.

He often comes back to the boardwalk in the evenings, an activity he says is especially great for families.

“We like to walk the boardwalk at night with torches, as the rays and eels come out at night. In summer there are lots of little tropical fish too,” he says.

whale breaching

Back to whale watching, by the time passengers arrive for their trip, Boulton and his crew have checked out the whales’ locations by looking for the blows in the distance. That way they track straight to their general area when the trip starts. Unlike Narooma’s locals, who can be blasé about whale watching (after all, they see many from land over the spring season), tourists get ‘super excited’:

“Every year there’s more demand because the whale populations are coming back and getting bigger,” he says.  

His most memorable moments with the whales include watching bait balls, when seals, dolphins and whales feed on a group of fish clustered together.

whale breaching

“I had one when I had at least six whales spy hopping around the boat,” Boulton says, describing a practice where whales lift up their body to let at least one eye emerge from the water.

While boat owners can’t go closer than 100 metres to the whales, the whales can go wherever they like. Boulton has seen sky hoppers up close.

“It’s like they’re standing on the water around the boat. They are super inquisitive so a couple of them you could pretty much touch,” he adds.

snorkelling at Montague Island

The whales’ behaviour also changes on each leg of their winter migration. When travelling north in winter they move quickly. But coming back down, often with their calves, they take their time and mostly travel between Narooma’s Montague Island and the mainland.
“They are just cruising slowly back down the coast,” says Boulton.

Boulton’s favourite tip for seeing the whales?  Don’t be put off by less than perfect weather.

“Whenever there’s a change coming, the whales absolutely know. They all start breaching,” he says, pointing out that while this is an excellent time to see the whales, it’s important to head back to shore before the weather turns.

Despite the whales garnering most of the attention in whale watching season, there are ways to combine them with some other impressive marine life. Afternoon trips with Montague Island Adventures incorporate a visit to Montague Island to see its seal colonies and fairy penguins.  “That’s a big winner,” Boulton says.

Benn's top 5 things to do in Eurobodalla

Gulaga National Park

There’s a ton of things to do on and off the water according to Benn. Here’s his top 5 picks!

  1. Walk up Mount Gulaga (Mount Dromedary) from the little village of Tilba Tilba
  2. Cruise the Wagonga Inlet on the historic Wagonga Princess, a 100-year-old electric ferry
  3. Rent ebikes or take an ebike tour with Sally from Southbound Escapes.
  4. Go swimming and snorkelling with seals in the summer
  5. Check out the fish under the start of the Mill Bay Boardwalk (especially good on a summer evening)