Known for its unique wildlife encounters and fascinating maritime and Aboriginal history, Montague Island is a small island crowned by a heritage-listed lighthouse that rises up over a lush landscape dotted with boulders. One of Australia’s top ecotourism destinations, the protected nature reserve is also one of few places in the world where you can observe whales, fur seals, little penguins and more than 90 bird species in the one spot. Here’s how to make the most of your experience.
How to get to Montague Island
Montague Island (or Baranguba to the local Yuin Aboriginal people, the region’s Traditional Owners) is located 9km off the picturesque coastal town of Narooma on the far South Coast of NSW. Narooma is approximately four hours’ drive south of Sydney, or three hours from Canberra. You can also fly from Sydney to Moruya Airport and rent a car for the 45-minute drive south to Narooma. The island is a 20-minute boat ride from Narooma’s marina (look out for dolphins, which are known to play around the boats en route). Note: the island is only accessible via authorised commercial vessel tour operators.
Swim with seals
Montague Island is home to hundreds of Australian and New Zealand fur seals, and one of the most memorable ways to observe these playful creatures is to join them in the water on a snorkelling or scuba diving tour. There are plenty of different tours to choose from, with some operators, including Montague Island Adventures, offering combined snorkelling and island tours. Island Charters pairs seal snorkelling with a gourmet lunch on its Meal with a Seal cruise. And with Narooma Charters, you can combine a fishing carter with scuba diving with seals. Underwater Safaris specialises in marine-based tours, including snorkelling and scuba diving with seals, while Island Charters Narooma offers mainland-based snorkelling and diving tours. You can also indulge in whale watching while out on the water, with peak whale season occurring from September to November.
Montague Island Highlight Selects
Enjoy unique wildlife encounters on Montague Island.
Montague Island, near Narooma
CREDIT: Destination NSW
Snorkel with Montague Island’s fur seals.
Tour the island
Officially discovered by the master of the convict ship Surprise two decades after it was spotted by Captain Cook, Montague Island, which was named after British statesman George Montagu-Dunk, Earl of Halifax, has a rich colonial history. For centuries before that, however, the local Yuin Aboriginal people had used the island as a men’s teaching place. You’ll learn more about both aspects of its history on a guided tour of the island, which are led by knowledgeable NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service rangers who work closely with the commercial operators who bring you to the island; a range of different tour packages are available.
Montague Island is also home to the state’s largest colony of little penguins, which you can visit on island tours from September to January. Birdwatchers can also observe three species of shearwaters, as well as birds of prey such as sea eagles and whistling kites, among the 90 bird species that visit the island throughout the year.
Stay in a lighthouse keeper’s cottage
Montague Island’s still-active granite lighthouse is a significant historical landmark, having remained largely unchanged since its construction was completed in 1881. Immerse yourself in its storied history with an overnight stay in one of the island’s two lovingly restored lighthouse keeper’s cottages. The Montague Island Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage, with five bedrooms, or the three-bedroom Montague Island Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage, both command superb ocean views. Boat transport and a two-and-a-half-hour tour of the island are included in the tariff.
Each cottage has a well-equipped kitchen and barbecue facilities. While some parts of the island are off-limits to visitors for wildlife conservation and cultural reasons, stay overnight at one of the cottages and you’re welcome to tackle the Montague Island walking track, a steep, paved 1.5km circuit, or simply enjoy unwinding on the verandah of your cottage, watching humpback whales toss themselves out of the waves as fur seals doze on the rocky shoreline.
When to go
Montague Island tours run year-round, with each season offering a unique wildlife experience. The fur seal colony reaches its peak in mid-spring, with penguins and whales arriving in September. Huge numbers of shearwaters begin to arrive in October and nest on the island throughout the summer months, with the warmer weather being the most comfortable for snorkelling tours.
Exploring such an iconic city as Sydney for the first time is exhilarating. It can also be hard to know just where to begin exploring this exciting, beautiful metropolis. From gazing down at the glittering harbour spread out below you while climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge to exploring hidden rooms on a backstage tour of the Sydney Opera Houseand hopping from one fabulous bar to another, here are 10 ways to make the most out of your very first visit to the harbour city.
Heighten your senses at Taronga Zoo after dark
Visiting harbourside Taronga Zoo Sydney to meet Australia’s incredibly diverse animals is an unforgettable daytime experience, but spending a night here will have you buzzing. Catch your breath as you catch the eye of a koala munching on eucalyptus leaves right outside your window in one of the stylish guest rooms at the zoo’s luxurious Wildlife Retreat. Or get up close to native wildlife on a guided sunset tour before drifting off to sleep in a safari-style tent listening to a cacophony of bird and animal calls on a Roar and Snore experience.
Marvel at Sydney Harbour on the Manly ferry
For an exhilarating thrill, for first-time visitors and locals alike, board the public ferry bound for Manly at Circular Quay, take an outside seat and watch in wonder as you surge past the Sydney Opera House and find the deep blue expanses of Sydney Harbour unfolding in front of you. Over the next 30 minutes you’ll share the waves with sailboats and glide by sandstone cliffs, secluded beaches and picture-perfect waterfront homes until you arrive at the beachside suburb of Manly. Step off the ferry and indulge in champagne and oysters at Hugos Manly on the wharf. Then wander along the Corso mall to Manly Beach and gaze at the ocean while sipping a refreshing drink at Little Pearl or the Rooftop Garden Bar at the New Brighton Hotel.
Connect with nature in the heart of the city
Renew your view and immerse yourself in untouched wilderness, just a stone’s throw away from the bustling metropolis of the city. Survey Sydney’s skyline from the harbour foreshore before stepping into the protected bushland of Sydney Harbour National Park to be transported far away in moments. Imagine you’re a modern-day explorer as you find hidden beaches and secluded lookouts all along Sydney’s dramatic coastline. Blend in with the locals on the 2.5km Bondi to Bronte coastal walk, beginning at the legendary Bondi Icebergs ocean pool then venturing south on a clifftop tour of the eastern shore, feeling your heart race as you spot dolphins and seasonal migrating whales in the deep blue water.
Reflect on a memorable day with a cocktail
As the sun sets on Sydney’s beautiful harbour, ease into a padded chair at one of the city’s welcoming bars for a pre-dinner drink and let all you’ve experienced that day sink in. Watch on in amazement as Maybe Sammy‘s award-winning mixologists shake and stir you a highly creative cocktail in an art deco-inspired space in The Rocks. Settle into your seat with a house-distilled gin at nearbyHickson House, or watch the ferries dock in Circular Quay from your perch at Hyde Hacienda. Enjoy a sundowner at the grand Menzies Bar & Bistro at Shell House or the decadent Dean & Nancy in the city centre, or feel like you’re on top of the world at CIRQ on the 26th floor of Crown Sydney in Barangaroo.
Enlighten yourself with art after dark
Join the locals in the know and see a different side of the Art Gallery of NSW as you delve into inspiring exhibitions, learn fascinating facts on a tour, catch a movie and then enjoy a drink at the bar until 9pm each Wednesday night as part of its Art After Hours program. Deep-dive into modern Australian art at the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay until 9pm on Fridays in summer, with sunset beats live from the rooftop bar terrace. Or be intrigued by stories of how the Sydney Opera House was conceived and constructed on an architectural tour of this iconic performance venue.
Taronga Zoo, Mosman
CREDIT: Destination NSW
Resident giraffes at Taronga Zoo, Mosman in Sydney.
You’ll truly understand what’s so special about the laidback Sydney lifestyle when you start your morning with a refreshing dip in the ocean or a harbour stroll before finding the perfect spot for brunch. Enjoy the city’s signature carefree meal that’s not quite breakfast and not quite lunch at cafés across the city, from the inner-city chic of Paramount Coffee Project in Surry Hills to beachside goodness at Bondi’s Porch & Parlour.
Soak up the views from Sydney Harbour Bridge
Scale the heights of Sydney Harbour Bridge with BridgeClimb Sydneyand you’ll be rewarded with views of a dazzling harbour that’ll take your breath away. See the city’s lights twinkle on a twilight or night climb, or tackle an Ultimate daytime walk across the entire span of the bridge. Or forge an authentic connection to the city’s Aboriginal history and culture on BridgeClimb’s Burrawa Indigenous Experience. You won’t forget the feeling of wonder as your Indigenous Storyteller guide reveals stories of the harbour dating back tens of thousands of years as you ascend to the summit of the bridge.
Wow the kids at Darling Harbour
Give your children memories to last a lifetime at inner-city precinct Darling Harbour’s family-friendly attractions. Earn bragging rights back home while enjoying close encounters with koalas and crocodiles at Wild Life Sydney Zoo, and dive into a colourful underwater world at Sea Life Sydney aquarium. Young adventurers will love splashing around in the water features of the Darling Quarter Playground, which also has impressive climbing nets and a hill of slides.
Lose yourself in Centennial Park
Spend a glorious sun-soaked day unwinding and exploring the 360 hectares of undulating parkland, woods and ponds at Centennial Parklands in Sydney’s inner east. Covering interlinked Centennial Park, Queens Park and Moore Park, the parklands are a haven for outdoor pursuits. Feel the wind in your hair on a memorable horse ride at the Equestrian Centre; explore expansive cycleways on two wheels (or four, in a two-seater pedal car); rollerblade through looping driveways or simply take in the sites on foot – the choice is yours!
Breathe in the crisp mountain air
Recharge in grand-scale nature in the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains, just 90 minutes’ drive west of Sydney. Follow walking trails through rugged bushland to epic landscapes of waterfalls and dramatic cliffs. Be transported to a more genteel era with charming guesthouses and grand formal gardens in and around historic towns like Wentworth Falls and Leura. Then use Katoomba as your base to explore the Blue Mountains National Park, Mount Victoria and the Megalong Valley. Continue on to Blackheath village to while away blissful hours in storied cafés and galleries — stopping to admire the grand Hydro Majestic Hotel, opened in 1904 and restored to its glory. Venture further to be amazed by the limestone formations and underground rivers of the Jenolan Caves.
SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, Darling Harbour
CREDIT: Destination NSW
Young boy enjoying his visit to SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, Darling Harbour.