Freediving with Seals at Montague Island
Freediving with the seals at Montague Island has been a bucket list item for me ever since I arrived in Sydney 3 years ago. Last year, during a scuba diving trip, we had the chance to dive with seals at Jervis Bay. It was my first time interacting with seals – the actual puppies of the sea – and I loved it so much. We had heard that the Montague Island was even better for seal interactions, with clearer water and tonnes more seals.
Thankfully for all of us, my friends are more organised that I am. One of them who jumped right in to organise a group trip as soon as we were allowed to travel again, post-lockdown. Huge thanks to Olimpia for finally getting this organised (note for you all – Olimpia also organises regular Ocean Clean-Ups in Sydney, so stay on top of her….)
Also, big thanks to my friends for letting me use their amazing photos in this post: Rachel, Olimpia, Susan, Dylan, Tahlia and Anne
Narooma and Montague Island
Narooma is a coastal town on the NSW South Coast, about 5 hours south of Sydney by car. It sits at the Wagonga inlet and is known for beautiful inlet beaches, diving, fishing and golf (Yep). It’s also well known as the best access point for Montague Island.
Montague Island is a Nature Reserve with a long history as a sacred place for the Yuin people. It’s popular as a place to visit for birdwatching and swimming with the seals. The island itself is currently closed due to Covid, but you can usually explore the island and even stay at the cottages by the lighthouse if you get organised.
The drive from Sydney down to Narooma has so many spots on the way, you might as well give yourself a day (or a few days) to stop off for some of the hikes, forests, beaches and towns on the way down. The area was badly affected by bushfires earlier this year, and the tourism industry has taken a second blow with Covid. This means that a lot of the hiking trails are closed for repairs. Our big plans to stop for a hike on the way were shafted when the two spots were closed due to fire damage or public health reasons. That’s what you get for not planning ahead. Oops. With that said, the small towns along the stretch are in need of business, after the double blow of fires and COVID-19. So take your empty esky when you go, and be prepared to be flexible with plans.
Here is some more inspiration for places to visit on your way down, from other blogs I love:
- Perfect Day on the South Coast – We are Explorers
- Weekend Trips from Sydney: Wollongong – Jessica Pascoe
The Boat Charter
We booked our boat to Montague Island through Narooma Charters, who organised a boat for all 18 of us for both of the days we were there. Narooma Charters offer a bunch of different types of tours and boats for big and small groups, and had only just reopened for trips to Montague.
We met our boat around 8am and got suited up in our neoprene. Montague Island is about a 30 min boat ride from the harbour in Narooma, and on the way to the island we saw huge stingrays and breaching humpback whales. Olivia and Norm from Narooma Charters chatted to us about the seal colonies, and how to tell the difference between the Australian fur seals and the New Zealand fur seal.
Once anchored up, we had about 2 hours at the ssland. If we wanted a break from the freediving with seals, we could get back on the boat for hot soup and a rest.
We genuinely could not have asked for better company than with Olivia and Norm. They kept us super safe, had amazing knowledge about the seal colonies, and took every opportunity to slow down for wildlife in the water. While we were on the boat ride we saw breaching humpback whales, and the first pod of false killer whales I’ve ever seen. Norm even stopped the boat to turn around and collect a foil wrapper that flew off the boat into the sea. That might not get you off quite as much as a group of freedivers, but it showed that the team have a lot of respect for their environment.
If you’re keen to book a trip too, keep reading for tips.
Freediving with the Seals
There. Were. SO. MANY. SEALS – in the water and up on the island. It took everything in me not to try to wrap my arms around one and squish it. Clearly, every interaction with a seal is incredible. But I was not prepared for the number of seals at Montague and their level of interaction.
The seals hang out in teams, floating head-down-bum-up in the water, watching people. Once we got close to them, or dived, or did anything to excite the seals, they start going wild. They zipped all around us, leaping out of the water, blowing bubbles, twirling, shooting at our faces like a torpedoes and darting away at the last second. They also love to mimic people, and mirrored our spins. There were a couple of pretty nibbly young seals who got pretty mouthy with fins, hair and GoPros. They also literally poo AT people, so that’s fun.
The water where we anchored up is only 5-12 metres deep, and we had around 10 metres of visibility on the day. This meant that we could always see the seals, and all of we could dive down and watch them overhead. We also saw loads of huge rays and Port Jackson sharks (getting tormented by little seals). So, on the off chance that seals become boring for a second (spoiler alert: they don’t), there are other creatures to watch.
We were all finding that trying to keep up whilst freediving with seals was exhausting. If you plan to freedive at Montague, you may as well get comfortable with the idea that your breath hold will be significantly less. There is also the option to scuba dive with the seals. We saw tonnes of seals checking out the scuba divers and playing with their bubbles. With that said, all of us were stoked to have the freedom to splash, swim, take breaks and zip around.
Outside of the Montague Island trip, we found some other ways to keep ourselves busy during the weekend. In hindsight, we should have planned an extra day. But now you know better than we did.
- Australia Rock at sunset as the moon rises
- Glasshouse Rocks
- Watch the giant stingrays at the harbour after the fishing boats return
- Snorkel in the harbour to get up close with said stingrays (for the love of God, be careful of boats)
- Rent a kayak or SUP to explore the inlet
- Explore the beaches along the coastline
- Watch the sunrise from the cliffs and the beaches
There are also plenty of little Airbnbs and guesthouses to stay in super close to the town and the harbour. It IS worth having a car to get around.
Things to know before booking
Organising a Charter
Based on our experience I would 100% recommend Narooma Charters, although there are some other companies operating tours and private boats. Narooma Charters run trips out to Montague Island which include:
- Whale-watching on the way to the island during the whale season
- 2-2.5 hours at the island for snorkelling, scuba diving or freediving with seals
- Hot soup on the boat
Even if you don’t have enough people to rent out the entire boat, the team will group you up with other people who want to go to the island. This means you don’t have to rely on finding enough people to get a whole boat. There is no minimum number per group booking but I strongly suggest you find a buddy so that you aren’t in the water alone. This is a blanket nope if you’re scuba diving OR freediving, with seals or without.
Remember – there are loads of Facebook groups to find buddies to join you freediving with seals. If in doubt, get in touch with me and I will try to link you into some groups of freedivers!
What to Bring
- A WARM wetsuit because the water is pretty cold. I would suggest going 5mm+. You can survive in a 3mm surf wetsuit, but you’ll be really really cold after a short time. Check with your boat charter company – they may rent wetsuits.
- Mask, Snorkel and Fins
- Weight – please only if you know how to use weight
- Snacks – Diving is the hungriest sport of all time
- Flask filled with hot drink (thank me later)
- Something warm to put upon for the boat ride. Ideally something you don’t mind getting wet. The best thing on earth you can wear is a windproof change robe like this one.
- GoPro – you’ll be so glad you did
When to Go
- Best Whale Watching – June-July and September-October
- Best Water Temperature – March-April
If you’re looking for more places to freedive in NSW, read my guide on the best freediving spots in Sydney for beginner freedivers. If you’re still under lockdown and just dreaming of getting into the water, get stuck into some breathing exercises. Get wet soon!
I always appreciate thoughts and questions, so please leave a comment or get in touch with me here.