From the seaplane, the water is laid out like a tie-died scarf – all teal and turquoise marbled with midnight blue. In the distance, a huddle of voluminous clouds marks Montague Island (Barunguba) while further east the outline of Mount Gulaga rests against the horizon like a woman sleeping.
Hunched forward, I press my left hand against the window, positioning the heel over Barunguba and spreading my fingers so the middle one points towards Mount Gulaga. Like a compass the other digits mark the four major sacred sites between Eden and Mollymook – Mount Imlay, Mumbulla Mountain, Hanging Mountain and Didthul Mountain.
Fingers splayed I begin to see how Aboriginal people, particularly artists, interpret the landscape as if with a bird's-eye view.
"We carry the maps in our heads," Trisha Ellis had told me earlier, taking my hand and demonstrating how to orient my fingers towards Barunguba.
Two hours earlier I'd joined Trisha, a well-respected knowledge holder of the Brinja-Yuin people, for a cultural walk along a section of the Bingi Dreaming track in the Eurobodalla National Park.
Our small group of three meets at Bingi Bingi Point, where Trisha introduces us to the land as if to a living person.
"The earth is our mother, the sky our father," she says. "The oceans are our brothers, the rivers [are] our sisters."
After the welcome, Trisha performs a smoking ceremony to remove any negative energy.
"I can see you are carrying the weight of others across your back," she says, waving a clump of burning fungi around my shoulders and neck. "Say to yourself, 'take me back to the mother', and the bad energy will go away."
With a light step we follow Trisha, the privilege of travelling a section of a traditional songline not lost on any of us. Under her guidance I begin to see the land crisscrossed by a series of visible and invisible threads, each linked to the other with messages about food, water, laws and seasons. Trisha tells us how her grandmother would teach her about bush tucker and medicine.
"If your guts gets clogged, two wombat berry seeds will have you running for a week," she says, with a grin.
Another sandy track leads to Coila Lake, where a sturdy Maule M5 seaplane awaits to take us on the second leg of our adventure – a scenic flight and water landing at Narooma for lunch at The Quarterdeck restaurant. Operated by South Coast Seaplanes, the recently launched Bingi Dreaming tour is part of a new wave of innovative Indigenous tours happily combining tradition with a touch of luxury.
Pilot Tim Gilbo scribbles some figures, flicks a few levers and we are away, my stomach lurching like that first moment in an express elevator. Banking left we head across the open ocean to Barunguba, passing pods of dolphins and submerged islands on our circumnavigation of the sacred island.
From our bird's-eye view the watery whorls and swirls below have an energy I've seen before in dot paintings and sand drawings. How Indigenous Australians mastered this aerial view is as magical as it is mysterious. Sixty thousand years of unbroken culture will do that.
Kerry van der Jagt travelled as a guest of Apollo Motorhomes, Destination NSW and South Coast Seaplanes.
Moruya is a 4.5-hour drive south of Sydney.
The Bingi Dreaming tour includes transfer by car from Moruya, a two-hour tour with local Aboriginal guide, morning refreshments and a 30-minute seaplane flight around Montague Island, $536 an adult and $402 per child aged four to 12. Seaplane drop-off at The Quarterdeck in Narooma, with a three-course lunch and car transfer costs an additional $90 an adult and $60 a child. Phone 1300 359 356 or see southcoastseaplanes.com.au