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Blog: Whale tales

Paul Chai journeyed up the NSW coastline during the 2012 whale migrating season. Recount his trip.

Flapping brilliant

Posted by: Paul Chai | 26 November 2012 | 0 comments
Adult seagull with chick

Montague Island Nature Reserve may by just off the coast from Narooma but it provides a great insight into the remoteness of island life.

With a mad birdwatcher in our family (our six-year-old son) our destination of Montague Island Nature Reserve has already been dubbed Bird Island for days and he excitedly straps on a life vest and heads to the front of the Island Charters Narooma boat. He is not disappointed on the short trip out to Montague, home to some 8,000 pairs of little penguins, when we get a rare daytime sighting of the isle’s famous penguins floating belly up in the heavy swell.

By the time we reach the reserve our tiny twitcher has seen a wealth of other sea birds (both real and imagined, he gets a bit loose with his facts when excited) and is ready for the two-hour walking tour with National Park ranger, Ian.

Remote and uncontrollable

Ian introduces us to the seagulls and crested terns that line the island, then leads us up a path littered with small boxes that act as penguin refuges. We dutifully scale the island’s lighthouse (lighthouses and whale-watching seem to go together like seagulls and chips!), before negotiating the “Hitchkockian gauntlet” a narrow island path where the sea birds are particularly testy. Ian is a voluble guide, patient too as the kids rush ahead more excited by the wealth of fluffy seagull offspring than by any pertinent information – except when Ian spots a sooty oystercatcher scouring the rocks and the tiny twitcher dutifully ticks it off on a growing mental bird list. He talks as much about the harsh reality of current island life – being stuck on the island during punishing seas and currents that would “sweep you away to New Zealand” – as its fascinating history as a 19th century lighthouse station.

Whale of a time

When the tour is over and our boat returns it’s time for morning tea with a mixture of Australian and New Zealand fur seals, the whiff of which had the kids labelling them “stinky seals” a phrase that still manages to crack them up. On the trip back to Narooma we keep an eye out for whales but, like our very first outing earlier in the season, this final cetacean spotto is sadly whale-free.

Still, this season I have circled whales from a six-seater plane, paddled out towards a breaching pair of humpbacks in a sea kayak and spotted whales over morning coffee at Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse in Seal Rocks. The kids have foraged for bush tucker, watched dolphins surfing our boat wake in Port Stephens and developed a lasting love of exploring rockpools.

In a school report my six-year-old, a flat-bound inner-city kid, wrote: “I love nature because it is full of creatures”, which is as accurate as it is economic.

For all these reasons, what started out as a job blogging for National Parks following these amazing creatures along our coastal parks, will now turn into a regular pursuit. Looking forward to next season…

Montague Island Nature Reserve rocks

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