Swimming with seals
Montague Island, Narooma, New South Wales, Australia
He seems a little shy… but confident enough to come closer each time. He seems curious. Maybe he’s trying to work out what is this strange new shape in his watery home.
Well, this strange new shape is me and ‘he’ is a little seal pup, floppy and playful, splashing in and out of the water.
I’m at Montague Island off the coast of New South Wales, Australia. Not too far away is the town of Narooma, just visible on the horizon almost ten kilometres away. The trip over here on a small boat takes about 30 minutes – long enough to feel like you’re out in the ocean but close enough to be easily accessible.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the seals like Montague Island so much.
And the seals are the reason I like Montague Island so much.
They come and go during the year, moving with the seasons. At most, you might find up to 1000 seals living at Montague Island. In quieter periods, the number might be closer to 200. The most common species here is the Australia Fur Seal and you can spot them because they like to huddle together – almost on top of each other. There are also New Zealand Fur Seals but they’re slightly antisocial and like to have a bit of personal space.
I see the seals sitting on the rocks as we approach the island in the boat. Some are huddled together and others are alone. Most of them seem like they’re sleeping – but that’s how seals almost always appear, I’ve found. A few of them raise their heads slightly as they hear the sound of the engine and open a lazy eye. They make a quick assessment that we’re harmless and then go back to being blubber on a rock.
You can’t come out to Montague Island on your own, even if you’ve got a boat. It’s a nature reserve and so you need to use one of the authorised tour operators. I’ve come out with Island Charters Narooma and they’re equipped to help me do more than just see the seals from the deck. I’m going to jump in and swim with them as well!
Swimming with seals at Montague Island
I pull on a wetsuit (the water’s cold this far from the coast, even in summer). Flippers, goggles and a snorkel, I’m almost set. I also grab my GoPro, hoping I’ll be able to get some cool underwater photos or videos of the seals swimming.
At first, I don’t see many animals in the water. But I swim up close to the rocks and pop my head above the surface. A few seals are perched on the edge, amongst some seaweed, looking down at me.
I’ve been told that some of the seals like to play and that if they get in the water, the more animated I am, the more they will also be. When one does dive in near me and start swimming around, I do what I was advised. I dive down with it, swim up the surface, roll around a bit. It doesn’t come as close as I was hoping but it does stick around, going around me in circles and gliding gracefully up and down through the water.
It’s all worth it, though, for when the little pup slips into the water and starts frolicking near the rocks. I am fairly close but I swim over softly so I’m even closer, near the coastline that the small seal seems scared to get too far away from. It is going back and forth from a small inlet where the waves crash onto seaweed, to a few metres out in the water. To the spot where I am.
The guides on the boat had mentioned the seal pups. They are still young and hadn’t been seen in the water yet. Normally they stay on the shore with their mothers until they think they are strong enough to try swimming. I wasn’t expecting to see one in the water at all, let alone so close to me. I am amazed. So I just float there, letting it play around me. It’s incredible.
Things to do on Montague Island
There is more to Montague Island than just the seals. This time, though, that’s all I do. I have to jump on the boat and head back towards Narooma. If you have more time, you can do a tour that will land on the island and let you get off and explore. There’s a heritage-listed lighthouse, a walking track, lots of birds to see and also a penguin colony.
Montague Island is the largest island off the coast of New South Wales (if you don’t count Lord Howe Island which is 600 kilometres offshore). It’s a special place, worthy of a visit at any time. But when there are seal pups to swim with – it couldn’t be better!
What is the best way to visit Montague Island?
You need to use a tour operator to visit Montague Island. There are a few based out of Narooma that offer different packages that can include a guided tour of the island and snorkelling with the seals.
If you’re interested in having a look at some of the options, I would recommend these tours. You should book in advance because numbers are limited each day.
Where should you stay near Narooma?
For campervan accommodation, you can’t go past the Beachcomber Holiday Park. It’s actually about a 30 minute drive north of Narooma – but that’s part of its charm. The park is right on the beach and surrounded by bush.
For a great affordable option in a good location, try The Top of the Town Motor Inn.
And if you’re looking for one of the best spots in town, I would suggest the Amooran Oceanside Apartments.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by Sydney-Melbourne Touring but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.