With more wind in his sails than he bargained for, David Whitley leans into the stiff breeze on Muttonbird Island to see if it’s worth braving the elements for.
The terrifying, howling gusts of the Sahara or the Antarctic surely can’t be this bad. It’s a job and a half to stay upright, let alone stride along purposefully, savouring a mini wildlife wonderland.
So forget Chicago, forget Wellington and forget industrial strength aircraft testing tunnels, Muttonbird Island at Coffs Harbour is surely the windiest place in the world. Attached to the NSW coastal city by a stone walkway, this is one of the headlands that gives Coffs a beautiful natural harbour. If you want to see just how beautiful, take a ten minute drive up to the rainforests in the hills behind town and look out to sea; it’s one of the most gorgeous views in Australia.
With the sky clouding over, and the exposure to the elements becoming all too apparent, it’s Mother Nature’s way of saying: “Yes, there are some great things here, but you’re going to have to work hard for your free entry.” I’m lucky, and get my viewing in just before the skies lash out in anger and everyone combines in an undignified huddle underneath the roof of the disabled toilet for 45 minutes.
The island is a designated nature reserve, primarily for the wedge-tailed shearwaters that migrate to and from here every year. The name “muttonbird” came from the taste, although they look far too much like pigeons to even contemplate throwing mint sauce over them. They return from their annual Asian jaunt in August every year, from which point onwards they don the aftershave, tell really bawdy jokes and desperately try and pick each other up.
Walking down the track, you can see their burrows. Not content to live in trees like the rest of their birdy pals, the muttonbirds make like badgers and head into the earth. It’s for this reason that everyone’s told to keep to the path.
And that path, with the wind up and the hill a lot steeper than you initially thought, is tough going. It’s worth getting to the end, though, because that’s where you get to see what’s properly special about Coffs: it’s a convergence point between the colder southern waters and the East Australian Current before it branches off to Lord Howe Island. This means that the diversity of the wildlife is incredible, and it’s well known as a great spot for diving.
However, for those not clad in wetsuits, sat on the edge of the island and looking out to sea, there’s one thing to bear in mind; little creatures attract big ones that want to eat them.
And after a bit of patient waiting, out they come, dolphins playfully cutting through the swells, three in a little pod, followed by a breaching whale. Now if that’s not worth braving the elements for, then I’d like to know what is.
*For more info on Muttonbird Island and the surrounding Coffs Coast, check out www.coffscoast.com.au