montague island tours

 

MONTAGUE ISLAND

New website coming soon - for now please read about Montague Island's history, wildlife, birdlife and environment.

Montague Island Tours provides visitors with the chance to explore this unique NSW south coast destination - Montague Island Nature Reserve - through regular half day (3-4 hr) offshore adventures or the opportunity to stay overnight in the island's restored Head Keeper's Quarters.

Whichever experience you choose, it will include:
• thousands of years of Aboriginal heritage
• over 125 years of lighthouse history
• the surrounding marine environment including the East Australian Current
• NSW's largest Little Penguin colony
• NSW's largest fur seal colony, with up to 1000 on the rocks in spring
• seasonably variable wildlife - always something different
• NPWS management and conservation projects on the island
• spectacular scenery
• spectacular views back to the mainland and out to sea

Access to Montague Island Nature Reserve is provided by a local charter operator from Narooma's Town Wharf.
The 9km trip takes around 30-40 minutes and is an adventure and educational experience in its own right with the great variety of marine life to be seen in the area.... perhaps seabirds such as the mighty Albatross or migrating Humpback Whales in season.
Year-round, the Island's Fur Seals are viewed up-close during your boat trip.

The Island is a significant feature of the Batemans Marine Park and an iconic destination for travellers to the NSW south coast and the beautiful Eurobodalla Shire - "Land of many waters".

Due to the island's Nature Reserve status, a Montague Island Tour is definitely the ONLY way to be able to venture ashore to experience this unique destination...

Indigenous history

Officially known as Montague island, local Aboriginal people call the island “Barunguba.” The name affectionately refers to Montague island as the oldest son of Guluga, which is located on the mainland and officially known as Mount Dromedary, and the brother of Najunuka, located at the base of Gulaga and officially known as Little Dromedary.

Both oral history and archaeological records confirm that the Aboriginal names for the island date back quite some time. This evidence explains the strong connection between the Aboriginal people and the island, which used to be the site for traditional Aboriginal ceremonies as well as a food source. Significant Aboriginal sites and artefacts can be found throughout the island, except for on the east coast. To this day, the island remains a significant site for men’s teaching.

After the ice age, the only way to get to the island was by bark canoe. The distance between the mainland and the island is 8-9km and the journey could be particularly dangerous due to the constantly changing sea conditions in the area. In the 1800’s, a single trip from the mainland to the island caused the deaths of 150 men.

However, the connection between the Aboriginal people and the island is kept alive through their involvement in the island’s management and cultural activities hosted by local elders.

European history - the beginning

Over 200 years ago during a sea voyage, James Cook renamed the island. On 21st April 1770, James Cook gave Barunguba the name “Cape Dromedary,” as he incorrectly assumed that it was part of the mainland, where he had given Gulaga the name “Mt Dromedary.”

However, the island officially began known as “Montagu,” after the Earl of Halifax George Montagu Dunk, in 1790. However, it is unknown who named the island and why they chose “Montagu.” A few years later, the island was officially confirmed as such by Bass and Finders.

As sea-travel was the fastest and most efficient method of travel, the mainland’s coast became scattered with settlements. With so many ships making the voyage to the mainland, there arose a need for navigational beacons.

It was for this reason that the island’s resources began to be exploited by mariners. It was turned into a sealing site and fishing base for those in the industry. Camping was permitted on the island- and enjoyable in nice weather- until the island was transformed into a Flora and Fauna Reserve in 1953. The island simultaneously became the first property of the Australian National Trust and was managed by them until 1990, when the island was deemed a nature reserve.

In the early 1800s, prior to excessive human occupation, the island was filled with animals like goats and rabbits. While many other islands around the world saw their animal populations die out quickly after people began occupying the land, this was not the case for the goats on Montague Island. In fact, they were only removed from the island towards the end of the 20th century because they had caused significant environmental damage.

Montague Island Lighthouse

The southern side of the island is particularly historic. The lighthouse tower, keepers quarters and other buildings in the area represent more than 125 years of lightkeeping.

In 1873, the concept of a lightstation was born. However, it struggled to obtain appropriate funds for several years. Construction officially began on 1 November 1881.

The lightstation is largely unchanged from its original form, which makes it a significant historical landmark. The only changes made to the lighthouse have been done to enhance its technology, living standards and working conditions.

Well-known colonial architect James Barnet drew the plans for the lighthouse quarters, which reflected his typical Georgian style. The resources used to construct these quarters were inspired by the island environment, while the specific style Barnet used was indicative of the culture.

There is one small cemetery on the grounds, which is the final resting place of an Assistant Keeper and two young children who passed away sometime between 1888 and 1894.

The island’s remote location made for a difficult lifestyle for many of the families that occupied the island. However, over the 100 years that these families lived on the island, they were able to adapt to the conditions.

To learn more about Australian lighthouses, head on over to the website of Lighthouses of Australia Inc.

Public Access to the Island

Before 1953, the island was easily accessible by all. However, an initiative by the determined Miss Judith Cassell caused authorities to restrict access to the island, as it became a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1953. The NSW National Trust then managed the island, which became its first ‘property.’

However, the island was declared a Nature Reserve in January 1990, which meant it was then under management of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. The only area of the island not under this management was the area which contained the lighthouse. This area is controlled by the Australian Maritime Sea Safety Authority (AMSA).

There are several reasons to declare an area as a nature reserve. The act defines this reasons as: "(a) the care, propagation, preservation and conservation of wildlife; (b) the care, preservation and conservation of natural environments and natural phenomena; (c) the study of wildlife, natural environments and natural phenomena; and (d) the promotion of the appreciation and enjoyment of wildlife, natural environments and natural phenomena."

The declaration of an area as a nature reserve not only allows the area to be preserved, but allows the phenomena and wildlife of the area to be studied by experts. Nature reserves are different from national parks because they are not areas for recreation. However, the provisions of (d) in the act allow guided tours of the area. In 1990, supervised tours began on the island and have continued to grow.

The tours of the island are lead by a guide trained by the National Parks & Wildlife Service to ensure the safety of the tours, both for those in the tour group and the island itself. The only way to visit Montague Island is via one of these guided tours.

MONTAGUE ISLAND BIRDLIFE

There are many species of birds on Montague Island. As the island is free from snakes and predatory mammals, the only danger to the island’s bird population is birds of prey. There are even plenty of seabirds on the island, as the East Australian current pass acts as a source of food.

The island holds NSW’s largest colony of little penguins, officially called Eudyptula Minor. Over 8,000 pairs of these little penguins call Montague Island home. The penguins are most active during breeding and moulting seasons and spend the rest of their year at sea, foraging for food. Those interested in visiting the little penguins have several opportunities during their breeding season, as the island offers evening half-day tours. The island’s illuminated observation platform allows visitors to see the little penguins during their evening routine. There are also some overnight tours available for those interested in assisting with counting birds at the remote landing sites on the island.

Shearwaters are also prevalent on Montague Island. Three species of shearwaters travel thousands of kilometres just to breed on the island. The largest shearwater population is comprised of wedge-tailed shearwaters, while short-tailed shearwaters are also common and sooty shearwaters are rare. These birds spend several months on the island, as they typically arrive late in the spring season and stay until April. Shearwaters are also referred to as “mutton birds,” as their flesh is quite oily when cooked.

Birds of prey, typically raptors, can be spotted on the island daily. White bellied sea eagles are the most common bird of prey that frequents Montague Island and the surrounding areas. While these birds are typically territorial, the island has seen groupings of up to nine of these birds. However, they made a daily commute between the island and the mainland to watch over their territories. Australasian kestrels and back-shouldered kite are also prevalent on the island. The latter, also referred to as elanus axillaris, use the island as a breeding ground. Peregrine falcons and swamp harriers also nest on Montague Island, while the former is known for eating other nesting birds. Whistling kites, also known as haliastur sphenurus, can be spotted flying over the island hunting for food. They have very unique wing tips, which make them easy to identify.

Crested terns (sterna bergii) are another breed of nesting bird that frequents the island, although this species is known for traveling in large groups. However, they keep their nests far enough away from each other than they are just out of reach. These birds will stay on the island from spring until January and are often seen fishing together and returning to their nests with baitfish.

Before the crested terns arrive on the island, silver gulls come to Montague Island to breed. Pairs of silver gulls can have up to four chicks, which makes the island both a noisy location and one peppered with small white chicks. These birds typically leave the island by January.

There are many other bird species that permanently settle on Montague Island. Groundbirds and songbirds stay year-round, while birds on their way to migrate often stop on the island for short periods of time. If the winds come in strong from the west, birds like owls and pigeons may wind up on the island. Similarly, particularly strong easterly winds can carry rare seabirds to Montague.

Popular sea life

The island is no stranger to marine mammals. Aside from birds, marine mammals are the most common wildlife on Montague. This is due to the East Australian Current, which runs near the island. The current attracts baitfish, predator fish and squid, which in turn attract larger marine mammals.

Fur seals are one of the more common marine mammals on Montague Island. While the highest number of fur seals are seen during winter and spring, some fur seals are annual residents of the island. During peak season, more than 1000 fur seals can be seen on and around the island, but this number decreases to 200 post-December. If visitors are lucky, they might even be able to sopot some baby seal pups after December!

Annual island fur seals are typically one of two species: the Australian fur seal and the New Zealand fur seal. While Australian sea lions, antarctic fur seals and carnivorous leopard seals have also been seen on the island, they are not common. Australian fur seals, scientifically known as Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, prefer to sit on rocks in large groups. These seals sit so close to each other that they are oftentimes directly on top of one another. New Zealand fur seals, on the other hand, will be near Australian fur seals but enjoy their personal space. In fact, they have been known to attack other seals that get too close.

Fur seals travel in colonies but do not stay in one site for very long. They prefer to move around to different sites on the northern side of the island. However, a phenomenon observed by researchers is the existence of a New Zealand Fur Seal colony that has stayed on the southern end of the island for two straight years. While different species, all fur seals cool down in the same way. They roll on their side on top of the water and stick a flipper in the air, which looks to some as though they are waving.

Due to the lack of resident predators, seals based on Montague Island are at the top of the food chain. The only recorded death of a seal by a predatory mammal was a few years ago when the seal was taken by a group of Killer Whales. More often than not, seals on the island are killed by hooks and rope from fishing rigs, trawler nets and playing in ship wreckage.

Montague Island visitors are big fans of the seal colony and enjoy snorkeling, diving and exploring near their colonies.

WHALES & SEALIFE

Common dolphins, also known as delphinus delphis, are seen regularly around Montague Island. Visitors to the island are often fascinated by common dolphins, as they enjoy swimming alongside boats for long periods of time. Common dolphins travel together in large pods and can be seen from outside Narooma port to the waters surrounding Montague.

Bottlenose dolphins, referred to scientifically as tursiops aduncus, rarely swim out to Montague but can be spotted near Narooma. Some of these bottlenose dolphins also playfully ride alongside boats.

Humpback whales are seen near Montague quite often in the spring. The East Australian humpback whale population passes near the island while migrating south towards Antarctica. These whales can be seen in the springtime eating fish and krill very close to Montague, although they are rarely spotted in the winter. During winter, this population of humpback whales travels to Queensland for breeding and occasionally passes near the island. Montague Island offers whale-watching tours in the spring.

RARE VISITORS

Killer Whales (orcinus orca) can be spotted throughout the year, but do not frequent Montague.

Mink, Fin, Sei and Pilot Whales are sometimes seen during whale-watching tours, but rarely approach boats. When spotted, they are typically just passing through the area.

Ocean sunfish, also called Mola mola, are often mistaken for sharks, as their top fin protrudes above the water. They can be seen at any time of the year around the island, but are not regular visitors.

Green turtles follow the current down the coast and oftentimes end up on Pebbly Bay, located in the western part of Montague. While they don’t travel in groups, it isn’t uncommon to see at least one green turtle on pebbly bay during the year.

ENVIRONMENT

The simple fact that Montague is a massive island located near the East Australian Current gives it an incredibly unique environment. With it only being located 5 nautical miles from the continental shelf, its environment is heavily impacted by its size and precise location.

Montague Island resembles a large rectangle, with its widest point measuring 1.4km long and 525 meters wide. A large gully divides the northern and southern sections of the island and covers over 30% of the island’s total area. The ravine is so large that, although Montague is a single island, it is often referred to as being comprised of both north and south "islands".

The color contrast on the island provides for a breathtaking landscape. The south section of the island is covered in grey and brown rocks, while the north section is littered with dark black rocks. A layer of neon orange lichen is sprinkled over the tops of the rocks, which makes for quite a sight when the waves crash against them. The bright white lighstation can be seen clearly, overlooking the island, due to the low vegetation.

GEOLOGY

The island’s geology is quite fascinating. It comprises part of the Cretaceous Mount Dromedary Igneous Complex. On the southern end of the island, a granitic rock, banatite, can be found while the northern end of the island is home to andesitic lava. The rock outcrops on the southern end of the island stretch high into the air, 64 metres above sea level. On the northern side, there aren’t nearly as many rock outcrops and none of which that are particularly high. However, the coastline on the northern side of the island is littered with steep cliffs. Several small bays exist on the island, although their “beaches” are only several metres wide during low tide. 1m thick sand dunes cover most of the island and the slopes of these sand dunes contain swamps. The presence of these remnant sand dunes remind visitors of the island’s unique history. The island’s coastline was formed over 8500 years ago when it was cut off from the mainland.

FLORA

The flora on the island has changed over time. Photographs taken years ago serve as evidence that the southern side of the island used to be filled with greenery like small trees and shrubs like acacias and casuarinas. Today, there is no evidence of this native flora. It is assumed that the lack of trees is a result of lightkeepers obtaining firewood and that grazing animals have destroyed the shrubs. However, over the years, over 160 plant species have been recorded on the island. 50% of these species were introduced to the island, either by nature of humans, while some of the original native plant species imply the island’s original ties to the mainland.

Matrush, also known as Lomandra longifolia, is the most common vegetation on the island. It coats the ground on the majority of the island. Along with matrush, bracken, tussock grass and blady grass can also be found throughout most of the island.

Each of these types of vegetation are dominant in their own local territories on the island. For example, Tussock grass dominates much of the northern island slopes. Some shrubs such as Westringia fruticosa, Pelargonium australe, Melaleuca armillaris and Correa alba can be found on the edges of cliffs and in areas secluded from grazing animals. Additionally, the only Acacia species on the island, Coastla Wattle, can be seen scattered around the island in small groupings. Reed and ferns grow in the swampy areas of the island, while ferns can also be found below cliffs. There are several ground covers and herbs that grow on the island, as well.

INTRODUCED FLORA

Several species of introduced flora have replaced native vegetation on the island. For example, kikuyu and buffalo grass are prevalent in open grassy areas, although neither are native to the island. These species are typically found near buildings and tracks, while kikuyu has taken over the majority of the western part of the island. Little penguins have suffered from the overgrowth of kikuyu and conservationists are working to fix the problem. To learn more, you can download the Shorebird Habitat Improvement Program pdf Case Study.

Another species causing alarm on the island is rambling dock, which can be found in large groups around the southern side of the island and pushes native plants out of these areas.

Other species that have been introduced to the island have not grown to be large populations. They exist mostly around tracks, residential drainage lines and garden areas.