montague island tours



Much of this material comes from "The Lure of Montague" by Laurelle Pacey available mail order from Narooma Visitors Centre.


To local Aboriginal people, and many others as well, the island is known as Barunguba, and is the eldest son of Gulaga ( Mount Dromedary on the mainland) and a brother to Najunuka (Little Dromedary, at the feet of Gulaga).

This long-time Aboriginal connection with the island is recorded through oral histories and physically by the archaelogical record on the island itself.

This evidence records that the island was used by the local people for traditional ceremonial purposes and also as a source of food. The island is still regarded as an important mens' teaching place.

The only possible access since the end of the ice age for local people would have been by bark canoe - a remarkable 8-9km journey considering that sea conditions can change so quickly for the worse. Indeed, the last record of such a journey from the 1800s reports the death of more than 150 men and young men when a squall knocked all the canoes over.

The island contains numerous Aboriginal sites, comprising artefact scatters and middens. Such island Aboriginal sites are rare on the east coast.

Today, Aboriginal people continue their association with the island through local elders conducting cultural activities with NPWS support, and also through being involved during decision-making processes in the management of the island.


James Cook sailed past on 21st April 1770, re-naming Gulaga as "Mt Dromedary", and mistakenly believing the Island was joined to the mainland named it "Cape Dromedary".

One of the infamous ships of the Second Fleet in 1790 reported it as an island and the name "Montagu" (after George Montagu Dunk, the Earl of Halifax) was given to the Island though it is not clear by whom. Bass and Flinders later confirmed it as an island in their voyages of discovery in the late 1790s.

Mainland settlements spread slowly along the coast. Sea-travel was much faster than road in those days, and the increase in shipping activity eventually led to the need for the establishment of navigational beacons for safety of mariners.

During this time, the island's resources were exploited as a sealing site and as a shelter and base for the fishing industry. Camping on the island during spells of good weather continued right up until 1953 when the island became a Flora and Fauna Reserve and was the first National Trust `property' in Australia, managed by the Trust from 1953 until dedicated as a nature reserve in 1990.

In the early 1800s, like many islands around our coast and the world, the island was "seeded" with goats and rabbits for future shipwrecked sailors to eat if stranded. The goats thrived and were only removed in the late 1980s due to the considerable environmental damage they caused, and rabbits are being eradicated from the island.


The southern section of the island is a significant historic place. Over 125 years of lightkeeping are represented on the island by the tower, the keepers quarters and associated features such as sheds, gardens, tracks and jetties.

The lightstation was conceived in 1873 but monies were not allocated for several years. Construction was eventually completed after some problems and the light was officially commissioned on November 1st 1881.

The lightstation retains most of its original form and fabric and has changed little from the time of construction to the present day. This enhances its historical character. The modifications that have been made to the lightstation reflect progressive changes in lighthouse technology and the living standards and working conditions for lighthouse staff and their families.

The lightkeepers quarters were designed by the colonial architect James Barnet and demonstrate the Georgian style which Barnet perfected during his career. The style and materials used in their construction were an adaptation to the exposed island environment and the distinctive architectural style of the quarters reflects the social values and work ethic of the time.

A small cemetery contains the graves of two children and one Assistant Keeper, all of whom died on the island in the period 1888 to 1894.

The historic features scattered over the island provide evidence of the harsh island lifestyle, the special requirements of a remote existence and adaptation by the families that occupied the island for 100 years.

For information on Australian lighthouses, visit the website of Lighthouses of Australia Inc.


Prior to 1953 there was unrestricted access to the island. Great foresight and persistence, largely instigated by Miss Judith Cassell, resulted in the declaration of the island as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1953 and it became the first 'property' of the NSW National Trust. Miss Cassell continued her association with the island for many years.

Management of the island was eventually transferred to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and it was dedicated as a Nature Reserve in January 1990, except for a small area containing the lighthouse which remains under the control of the Australian Maritime Sea Safety Authority (AMSA).

The purposes of nature reserves are defined in the Act as:
"(a) the care, propagation, preservation and conservation of wildlife;
(b) the care, preservation and conservation of natural environments and natural phenomena;
(c) the study of wildlife, natural environments and natural phenomena; and
(d) the promotion of the appreciation and enjoyment of wildlife, natural environments and natural phenomena."

Nature reserves are valuable refuge areas, where natural processes, phenomena and wildlife can be studied. They differ from national parks which include as a major
objective the provision of appropriate outdoor recreation opportunities.

Under the provisions of (d) above, carefully supervised tours began on a trial basis in the early 1990s and have developed since then into the current range of products as reflected in this website.

All tours are accompanied by a National Parks & Wildlife Service guide to maintain the integrity of the tours and to provide a quality experience for participants. A Montague Island Tour is thus the ONLY way to land on the island and experience its wonders.