Muttonbird Island Walk

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Coffs Harbour Visitor Information Centre
Pacific Highway Coffs Harbour
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Walking Time:
Time 1hr

Park at the Fisherman's Co-0p, or Yacht Club car park. 
The walk features spectacular coastal and hinterland views.
Walk out along the northern breakwall past the marina where the local fishing fleet, and pleasure boats are moored. At the foot of Muttonbird Island read the display boards on local history, and the Nature Reserve. 

The paved walk commences with a medium grade, but the views, and interpretive signage on the Muttonbird habitat are worth the effort. 

Very beautiful in the early morning with the sun on the marina and banana clad hills.

FEATURES

Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve provides great views of the coast and a glimpse at close quarters of the life cycle of one of Australia's most interesting migratory birds. Thousands of wedge-tailed shearwaters (or muttonbirds) travel to this island, and others in the Solitary Islands group, to breed each year.

LOCATION AND ACCESS

From Coffs Harbour on the Pacific Highway, take any turn signposted to The Jetty. At The Jetty village, cross the railway line and park near the Coffs Harbour Fish Co-op. A 500 metre walk along the breakwall gives access to Muttonbird Island.

THINGS TO DO AND SEE

Along the island's spine is a paved walkway (1km return, 30min) with interpretive signs providing information about the muttonbirds and views of the adjacent coast.

At the eastern end, perched above the surf crashing over the rock platforms and pools below, is a lookout platform providing an uninterrupted view of the Solitary Islands Marine Park with green clad islands and visiting humpback whales (June till September).

Please stay on the track - the plant cover is almost completely undermined with muttonbird burrows which can cave in and kill or maim adult muttonbirds and chicks during the breeding season.

SHEARWATER LIFE CYCLE

Shearwaters are known as wanderers of the sea and can be seen along the coast of New South Wales as they dive into the water or skim across its surface. They are named for their ability to cut or shear the water with their wings.

They were called muttonbirds by early settlers who killed them for their fatty mutton-like flesh.

Wedge-tailed shearwaters return from their annual northerly migration in August, having travelled thousands of kilometres from South East Asia. By mid-November courtship is over, birds have paired and mating begins.

They dig, or repair, arm's length burrows in the soft, peaty soil of the island and the same burrows are used year after year by the same pair.

A single egg is laid in the twig and grass lined burrow and both parents share the incubating and the care of the chick. It is a fascinating experience to watch adult birds returning just after dusk following a long day foraging for food to feed the mate and chick in the burrow. During the day you may hear the soft noises of the underground nursery.

By mid-April the chicks are so chubby that it is difficult for them to get out of the burrow. They have a full coat of flight feathers and weigh more than their parents. Most of the adults leave the island on migration first and the chicks follow, departing by the end of the first week in May.

Other seabirds that visit Muttonbird Island are sooty shearwaters, short-tailed shearwaters, lesser frigatebirds, storm petrels, crested terns, sooty oystercatchers and silver gulls. Some of these also breed on the islands.

ABORIGINAL HISTORY

Muttonbird Island was associated with a dreamtime story concerning the moon falling into the sea. The Gumbayngirr people named the island Gittain Mirera. Only the elders could go to the island, where a huge moon man guardian dept the muttonbirds on the island for the people to collect for food.

SOLITARY ISLAND MARINE PARK

Muttonbird Island marks the southern boundary of the Solitary Islands Marine Park. The Marine Park starts at the mean high water mark and includes all the estuaries between Coffs Harbour and Sandon Bluff, protecting habitats such as seagrass beds, mangroves, coral reefs and intertidal rock pools.

More information - 
NPWS Dorrigo, Coastal Sub-District Office, 
P O Box J200, Coffs Harbour Jetty. 
Phone
(02) 6651 9522.

 
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