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Top 5 coastal islands to visit this whale watching season

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Wild About Whales
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National parks
Bare Island Fort, Kamay Botany Bay National Park

There are so many spectacular coastal spots from which to watch whales during migration season. Some hidden gems, where you can really get an excitingly up-close view, include a number of islands dotted off the NSW coast. Here are five of the best, from easily accessible islands like Bare Island and Muttonbird Island to bucket list worthy experiences, such as camping on Broughton Island or taking in the views from the lighthouse on Montague Island.

Bare Island Fort, Kamay Botany Bay National Park, Sydney

Captain Cook first spotted the area now known as Bare Island (pictured above) in 1770, and referred to it in his journal as 'a small bare island'. The fort was built in the early 1880s to protect Sydney’s back door. Today, the historic Bare Island Fort is one of Sydney’s most picturesque spots, with its remarkable scenic views out over La Perouse. Just 16km south east of Sydney’s CBD, it offers a perfect place not only for whale watching but also for picnics, bird watching, and exploration.

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Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve, Coffs Harbour

Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve

Muttonbird Island is one of the best spots on the Coffs Coast for whale watching, with thousands of humpback whales passing the coast north and then back south between June and November. Nestled in the heart of Coffs Harbour, Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve features a prime whale watching lookout point and viewing platform, complete with interpretive signs about humpback whales. At the Eastern Side lookout, which is perched above rock platforms at the eastern end of the walkway, enjoy unimpeded views of Solitary Islands Marine Park. On a clear day you can gaze out all the way along the NSW north coast.

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Broughton Island, Myall Lakes National Park, Port Stephens

Broughton Island, Myall Lakes National Park

Beautiful Broughton Island is a pristine spot for whale watching and seeing dolphins swimming from along the sandy beaches within Esmeralda Cove or out on the waters with a local cruise operator. Situated just 14km northwest of Port Stephens, Broughton Island is part of the Myall Lakes National Park. This tranquil island is only accessible by boat and is home to an amazing array of wildlife as you’re right smack in the middle of an active sea colony. Camping at Little Poverty Beach on Broughton Island is a truly unique experience. Opportunities for swimming, fishing, boating, snorkelling and scuba diving abound and with only five campsites, visitors get to feel like they own the island.

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Montague Island Nature Reserve, Narooma

Montague Island Nature Reserve

A perfect location for whale watching. Whales come breathtakingly close to Narooma in droves as the continental shelf dips closer to shore here than anywhere else along the east coast of Australia. Montague Island is directly in the path of thousands of whales as they migrate in spring southwards to Antarctica. So prime a spot is it that pods of up to ten aren’t uncommon around the island. Montague Island Nature Reserve is also home to several hundreds of Australian and New Zealand fur seals and more than 90 bird species. There have even been several orca, false killer whale and green turtle sightings from the island. Enjoy a stay in the head lighthouse keeper's cottage or assistant lighthouse keeper’s cottage while you’re there for a truly unique viewing platform.

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Solitary Islands coastal walk, Moonee Beach Nature Reserve, Coffs Harbour

South Solitary Island

Linking the sublime Coffs Coast beaches and rainforests, it’s hard to find a better whale watching spot than the Solitary Islands Coastal Walk in Moonee Beach Nature Reserve. This picturesque four-day walk links idyllic beaches all the way from Sawtell to Red Rock and is easily accessible at four points along the way. All of the headlands along the walk, including Sawtell Headland, Emerald Beach Headland and Woolgoolga Headland, offer blissful coastal views, including ample opportunities for whale watching in season. The walk also boasts excellent bird watching and the chance to see dolphins and other wildlife.There is a remarkable once-a-year guided helicopter tour of South Solitary Island, the most remote light station in NSW, but otherwise the island can't be accessed and can only be seen from the coast.

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*This blog was originally published in 2016.

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Montague Island Head Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage. Photo: Justin Gilligan

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