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Montague Island

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Montague Island Nature Reserve is off Narooma on the south coast of New South Wales. It has a total area of 83 hectares and was known as Barunguba by Aboriginal tribes. It was a fertile hunting ground for them and archaeological sites indicate the area had social and cultural significance.

Conservation Tours of Montague Island all include some form of conservation activity as a part of staying there. No prior experience is required to participate and the NSW National Park Guide provides all information.

Conservation and research activities can change as work progresses and seasons come and go. The duration and nature of activities depends upon weather, interest, fitness and the skills of participants. Types of activities which may be undertaken include:

  • Manual removal of the sea spurge weed from several bays on the island to assist with habitat restoration;
  • Assisting a researcher for two to three hours in rotating groups of three to four persons with penguin monitoring;
  • Selective weeding and planting seedlings for the penguin habitat improvement program;
  • Landbird surveys;
  • Assisting with bird and whale counts

Conservation-based activities are typically undertaken for a minimum of two hours per tour, but may be extended or reduced depending upon factors such as weather.

The island and surrounding waters are teeming with wildlife, and its little penguin colonies are second only to Victoria's Phillip Island. It is one of Australia's major shearwater, crested tern and silver gull breeding habitats and its fur seal colony is eastern Australia's most northerly. New Zealand fur seals are regular visitors.

Fortunately for the little penguin population, the island has no foxes or feral cats, and breeding boxes have increased their number to around 12,000. Females usually lay two eggs and in a good year, both chicks survive. They come ashore at dusk after feeding at sea and can be watched from a platform near the island's jetty.

Shearwaters, also known as mutton birds, nest on the island and species recorded include Buller's, Sooty, Wedge-tailed and Short-tailed. Crested terns are covered with brilliant white feathers and their heads are completely black.

Montague's northern tip is the seasonal home to a seal bachelor colony. The site's remoteness means the colony can only be seen by boat. Australian, New Zealand and Subantarctic fur seals are the most prolific, and Australian sea lions have also been spotted there. At times endangered grey nurse sharks, dolphin and migrating humpback whales can be seen. From September to November, tours include whale watching.

Montague Island's unique environment is jealously guarded by National Parks & Wildlife Services' rangers and public access is permitted only by organised tours run by licensed operators from Narooma.

Tours take in historic buildings, remarkable plants, animals and Aboriginal and European history. There is a small cemetery on the bare landscape. Two graves are those of children who died of meningitis. Rough seas prevented their being taken to the mainland for medical assistance. One grave holds the remains of an assistant keeper who was killed by a bolting horse.

The lighthouse was first lit in 1881 and became an automatic operation in 1986. It remains part of a mainstay of coastal navigation.

Since 2005, Conservation Volunteers have offered eco-tourists the exclusive opportunity to stay overnight in the heritage-listed lighthouse keeper's cottage. It has been restored in Edwardian style and is a most impressive mansion, designed by James Barnet. He was responsible for at least 15 major light stations along the New South Wales coast.

There are five bedrooms — two queen and three twin — and they can be re-configured. There are two bathrooms and linen and towels are provided. There is a lounge room, kitchen and dining area, television room and 10-12 people can be comfortably accommodated.

Stays are fully catered and you just need to take your clothing, alcohol and gear if you want to dive or snorkel.

There are around twenty types of weed on Montague. They were introduced early in the 19th century as food for lighthouse keepers' stock. Kikuyu is the most invasive and it spread to cover most of the southern part of the island. The NWPS officers poison, burn and replant with various native species.


350kms south of Sydney.


Montague Island tours run year round. Half-day Experience is $99 for adults and $88 for children. Boat transfer and guide are included.

Overnight Conservation Tours include two nights’ accommodation, boat transfers, meals, activities and guide and cost $550 per person double or twin share.

For best Little Penguin viewing visit between September and March. For whale migration visit in June-July or September-October.

More information

Half-day Tours
Narooma Visitors Centre
1800 240 003

Montague Island Conservation Tours
Conservation Volunteers Australia
Ph: 1800 032 501 (within Australia)

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