School excursion

Muttonbirds by moonlight

Stage 2 (Years 3-4), Geography, Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve

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Join us at twilight for a fascinating exploration of Muttonbird Island and its nesting rookery for thousands of wedge-tailed shearwaters. This Stage 2 (Years 3-4) Geography excursion examines the features and characteristics of this unique place and environment. 

Read more about Muttonbirds by moonlight

Students explore the ways people interact with this place and how this special place and its seasonal visitors are protected.

As the sun sets over Coffs Harbour, thousands of wedge-tailed shearwaters (muttonbirds) return to their nesting burrows on Muttonbird Island. Here, their hungry partners or chicks await.

Through direct observation of the birds and their environment, students will learn about the life and breeding cycles of these fascinating animals. Well discover why they travel such vast distances to breed and learn about the adaptations that support them in this.

Students will learn about the role of muttonbirds in the cultural and spiritual life of the Gumbaynggirr People, the traditional custodians of this place.

Students acquire and communicate geographical information using geographical tools for inquiry utilising maps and pictures and have the opportunity to observe and record data about birds and burrows.

Students will discuss the impacts of visitors both human and non-human to the island and how these impacts are managed. Together well examine concepts of place, space, interconnection and sustainability to develop a rich understanding of this coastal haven.

This excursion is designed to support the K-10 geography syllabus topic The Earths Environment.

For program outline, safety and practical information about this excursion, see info for teachers

Stage Stage 2 (Years 3-4)
Learning area Geography
Student outcomes

GE2-1. Examines features and characteristics of places and environments

GE2-2. Describes the ways people, places and environments interact

GE2-3. Examines differing perceptions about the management of places and environments


Students will:

  • Recognise that Aboriginal people are the first Australians
  • Make geographical observations of Muttonbird Island; its features, inhabitants and characteristics at dusk
  • Learn about the life and breeding cycles of the wedge-tailed shearwater, and discuss their unique adaptations  
  • Hear stories to understand why this place is important to Gumbaynggirr People, and how they’ve cared for it over generations 

Excursion details

Only available between the months of August to April when the shearwaters are present on the island.
Guided. Available on request.
1hr 30min

$290 per group (includes GST). Maximum 20 students per group. For groups over 20 conditions apply.

Meeting point
The outdoor learning centre located at the base of Muttonbird Island.
If you would like to organise a NPWS school excursion please get in touch with local staff or use the 'Enquire' link for the online form.
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Info for teachers

All the practical information you need to know about Muttonbirds by moonlight.

Program outline

  • Welcome, acknowledgement of Country and safety briefing 
  • Share in Dreamtime stories and learn about the cultural significance of the island
  • Split into groups (1:20)
  • Examine the nesting rookery of muttonbirds and discuss their adaptations and unique breeding cycle
  • Discuss the broader ecosystem and connection between all living things here 
  • Farewell and depart 

What to bring

Please wear long pants, closed, comfortable shoes and bring a hat and sunscreen. Be ready for all weather conditions with a jumper and raincoat. Remember to bring extra food and water, and any necessary medications. Please bring your belongings in a backpack rather than a plastic bag.

Maps and downloads

Safety messages

Pre activity briefing: participants will be briefed at the start of the activity/day.

Safety equipment: NPWS staff carry radios and first aid kits, hold current first aid certificates and are aware of emergency procedures.

Staff accreditation: NPWS staff have current Senior First Aid accreditation. They are experienced in working with groups of students in the natural environment and have excellent knowledge of the specific areas they are visiting including potential hazards. NPWS is committed to a Child Safe and Friendly Environment. Our staff have been screened for child-related employment and have completed a Working with Children Check.

Emergencies: NPWS staff are trained to deal with emergencies and emergency procedures are in place. Ongoing supervision of a student following first aid treatment will be the responsibility of the visiting school.

Risk assessment and risk benefits

Our rangers and guides have the technical skill and experience to assess the risks and the benefits of a variety of activities delivered as part of our learning programs.

We believe in including opportunities that allow students to learn and experience for themselves through exploration in the natural environment.

Please make your own risk assessment based on the information provided. Detailed potential risks and controls are provided for the site to assist teachers in risk management planning. Teachers and carers should be aware of, and consider the needs, abilities and medical conditions of students when visiting this site. The supervision of students remains the responsibility of the teacher. The school must ensure an adequate number of adult supervisors are present.


Disability access level - medium

The outdoor learning centre is wheelchair accessible. The Muttonbird Island walking track includes sections of steps, a narrow path and steep gradients. It is not considered wheelchair accessible.