En­joy wild en­coun­ters year-round on south­ern NSW’s nat­u­ral trea­sure – Mon­tague Is­land.

Australian Geographic - - Walk About - STORY AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY JUSTIN GIL­LI­GAN

EX­PECT TO BE greeted by life at its most ex­u­ber­ant when you step ashore at Mon­tague Is­land. This tiny nature haven is a short 8km boat ride from the town of Na­rooma, on the New South Wales south coast. Yet it of­fers an ex­tra­or­di­nary wildlife ex­pe­ri­ence. If you’ve an eye for land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy, you’ll be im­me­di­ately drawn to dra­matic gran­ite out­crops adorned in or­ange lichen and the ever-chang­ing, wave-washed shore­line. And you’ll be keen to hike the is­land’s many en­chanted path­ways lined with coastal wattle and snappy-leaf mat rush. But it’s the res­i­dent wildlife that makes Mon­tague such a spec­tac­u­lar lo­ca­tion for thrilling nature en­coun­ters. It boasts more than 100 bird species, 19 of which breed here, in­clud­ing the threat­ened Gould’s pe­trel and sooty oys­ter­catcher. It’s home to the largest breed­ing colony in NSW of little pen­guins. And Aus­tralian and New Zealand fur seals form per­ma­nent colonies – with as many as 1000 an­i­mals – along Mon­tague’s rocky mar­gin.

An his­toric light­house and keep­ers’ quar­ters rep­re­sent 125 years of mar­itime her­itage atop the is­land, at an el­e­va­tion of 64m. The view from here takes in a rolling sea and un­in­ter­rupted hori­zon to the east, and the laven­der out­line of Mount Gu­laga (see page 52) and the Great Di­vid­ing Range to the west.

Ex­pe­ri­ence the is­land on a day trip that in­cludes an NSW Na­tional Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice (NPWS) guided tour. Or en­joy an overnight or ex­tended stay in the keep­ers’ quar­ters and watch the sun set over the ocean through the large sit­tin­groom win­dow, be­fore fall­ing asleep to the echo of hump­back whales ex­hal­ing nois­ily through their blow­holes.

The per­ma­nent Aus­tralian fur seal colony on the north­ern fringe of Mon­tague Is­land peaks dur­ing the spring breed­ing sea­son.

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