Montague Island/Narooma: Close Encounter With Wild Seals & Penguins in NSW

As you approach Montague Island, you immediately hear birds singing and see seals splashing in the water. It’s a nature reserve that 15 species of birds and a couple of species of seals call home. And that’s only a short boat ride away from Narooma, on Australia’s East Coast.

Montague Island is a place wildlife lovers should not miss when travelling in New South Wales.

Montague Island Lighthouse Seals Birds
Montague Island Seals and Birds
Montague Island Seals swimming

But Montague Island hasn’t always been like that. The eco-system of the island almost disappeared because of human activities. A plan to protect the island was designed before it was too late. The place was set as a protected reserve, and it’s now a paradise for local wildlife. And part of this is possible thanks to the fees charged to visitors – which helps justify the cost of all activities there. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature listed the reserve among the best managed in the world.

I realised two dreams in a few hours around Montague Island: diving with seals and watching little penguins a from a few metres away.

From September to November, you may even add another bucket list item: seeing humpback whales. We chose to travel there in summer to maximise our chances of good weather. Still, our morning tour got postponed to the afternoon because of the wind and strong waves. It is recommended to be flexible when planning to visit Montague Island.

Diving or snorkelling with seals on Montague Island

I snorkelled with sea lion pups before in South Australia and loved it. I expected this seal dive to be quite similar, but it ended up being a totally different experience. Less interactive, but a lot more impressive. Another destination that made it on my list of the best dive sites on Australia’s East Coast.

The seals came very close to us; I could even feel the water moving as they swam passed us.

Despite their size, they are surprisingly agile in the water. It felt like a game as we had to turn around our heads in all directions to follow their movement.

We shared the experience with snorkellers at the surface who had a fantastic time too. The seals keep coming up to the surface so the experience is definitely worth it for both divers and snorkellers. Don’t be too worried about sharks, they are not that interested in the seals hanging around Montague Island. Sharks would mostly hunt pups, and there are none on Montague Island. The residents are young adult males; they call them the bachelors.

We spotted other beautiful creatures down there while diving, including a gorgeous banjo ray that I had never seen before. We also appreciated the beautiful background of kelp and red algae that looked very different from the tropical dives we are used to in Queensland.

You can click here to book your snorkelling tour online*.

Are you covered for scuba diving by your travel insurance? I recommend double checking to avoid bad surprises if an incident happens. If you don’t have travel insurance, you may be interested in reading more about DAN and WorldNomads*.

Montague Island Dive with Seals 01 pano

Montague Island Snorkel with Seals 01 pano

Montague Island Dive with Seals 01
Montague Island Dive with seas 02
Montague Island Dive with Seals 03

Montague Island Dive with Seals 03 sq
Montague Island Snorkel with Seals 02 sq
Montague Island Seals while diving 03

Montague Island Dive Banjo Ray
Montague Island Nudibranch 01
Montague Island Nudibranch 02


 Your underwater pics don’t look that good? Check out my tips for beginners to take underwater photos that aren’t blue!


Watching Little Penguins on Montague Island

After spending the day fishing at sea, thousands of Little Penguins come back at dusk to spend the night on the island.

The boat we boarded for the Penguin Tour only had a dozen of people on board. It was a good number to be able to move freely on the different sides and take photos of the groups of seals we could spot on the rocks. Unfortunately, the intimacy did not last for long. All the boat tours merge once on the island, forming a group of about 70 people during the peak season.

The ranger apologised as facilities were not adapted for such a big group. I was a bit sad not being able to hear all he was saying, but at least this success also means they can raise a lot of money for conservation.

When the time arrived, we sat on the ground next to the markers they placed as the limit of the newly organised authorised area as the platform filled up quickly. We were in the front row, trying to get our eyes to adjust to the increasing darkness. It didn’t take long to spot the first penguin. All we could see really was a shape moving differently than the other birds there. And I was already happy with that!

I never expected what would happen next.

After a while, one penguin jumped from the rocks to the road a few metres away from us. I was in awe. And just a few minutes after it left, two others appeared. A few minutes later, we had more than five cute little penguins chilling just a few metres away from where we were sitting. We could not have been closer without disturbing them. It was amazing. 

You can click here to book online your evening tour to see penguins*.

Responsible Travel Tip: Always follow the rules given by the ranger. The rules exist to protect the beauty of the place you are visiting or the wildlife you are watching. I know photos don’t look that good in the dark and it’s tempting to think one flash may not be such a big deal. But with more than 70 visitors per night, it does make a difference in the end.


Montague Island Little penguins 01
Montague Island Little penguins 02
Montague Island Little penguins 03


Climbing the lighthouse on Montague Island

I love lighthouses: they are often located in very scenic areas, and from up there the views are unbeatable. When you book a tour of Montague Island, you get access to the lighthouse. Because of a large number of people who arrived at the same time than us for the penguin evening tour, our visit to the lighthouse was short. But we just had enough time to have a peek at the sunset colours from up there. Studded with granite boulders and trees gaining back territory, the island offers beautiful colour contrasts. 

You can click here to book online a tour of the island*.

Montague Island pano

Where to stay when you visit Montague Island

Montague Island tours leave from Narooma. You can stay on the island, in the lighthouse cottage, but it’s pricey.

We camped 15 minutes south of Narooma, in Mystery Bay. If you don’t want to camp, there are many accommodation options available in Narooma (click here for a list*).


Things to do in Narooma before or after your trip to Montague Island

Before embarking on the boat or when you come back, look for bull rays in the marina. When we visited, they were hanging around the boats or next to where fishermen clean their fish, waiting to grab what they’d release in the water. They’re big, beautiful and nothing but shy. Quite a fantastic experience, especially for those who aren’t fans of going in the water!

Next to the jetty in Narooma, you’ll find Australian Rock. It’s a rock with a hole that has the shape of Australia’s mainland. You can also spot it from the boat as you head to Montague Island. Have a look on the rocks that lead to the channel while you’re there. You’ll probably spot a seal or two.

If you have time to go to Surf Beach, the Glasshouse rocks are beautiful. There’s a cafe there, so it can be a good spot to start your day. And if you’re staying at Mystery Bay, it’s worth checking out the beach. The rock formations are rather nice, especially if you go left towards the small cave.

Narooma - Bull rays at the marina sq
Narooma - Surf Beach
Narooma - Mystery Bay

Where is Montague Island (Narooma)?


Montague Island is the second largest island off the NSW East Coast (Lord Howe Island is the largest). It is less than 10 km away from Narooma, the coastal town from where the tours leave. Narooma is about six hours south of Sydney and less than three hours from Canberra by car.

Although it’s a lot quicker to reach Montague Island from Canberra, it’s unfortunately often a lot more expensive to fly to Canberra than to Sydney. So is it worth it to go to Montague Island via Canberra? I admit I am not a big fan of the Australian capital, but I’m glad I stopped there once on my way back from a trip to the NSW South Coast. I wouldn’t put it at the top of the must-see in Australia, but it was an interesting visit. And I would honestly feel weird to spend that long in Australia without visiting the capital. If you’re planning to go there, check out this guide to things to do in Canberra.


Montague Island is one of the stops on my Australia’s East Coast road trip guide that you can download for free here.


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MONTAGUE ISLAND - seals penguins wildlife encounters
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8 thoughts on “Montague Island/Narooma: Close Encounter With Wild Seals & Penguins in NSW

  1. Montague islands seems like a great place to visit, especially for water adventures. Great post. The pictures are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi, Jithinj. It’s definitely a good place for water adventure. It can only be reached by boat so those who don’t like water won’t have a good time! Thank you :)

  2. How much fun you had swimming with the seals! It almost looked like you were dancing with them, as well as playing a game trying to follow their movements. Good to know about the sharks, since I was wondering just that! I’m glad that there was a protection plan that was able to be executed before it was too late. Montague Island is beautiful!

    1. Thanks, Rachelle. I’m not gracious enough to look like I’m dancing while scuba diving. Rolling on a hill might be a more appropriate description ;)

      Yes, it’s good to hear that conservation projects work :)

  3. Wow..I had no idea this island even existed..the photos look truly amazing! I will definitely try to visit it when I am in Australia

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