There are countless words I could use to define Lord Howe Island …“A picture perfect island paradise that captivates and casts a spell on all who visit.” FOCUS chilled out with Kristy Fikkers, to find out about her experience while holidaying at the beautiful Lord Howe Island.
Sir David Attenborough described Lord Howe as “so extraordinary, it is almost unbelievable”. The first island in the world to be added to the World Heritage List (1982), Lord Howe seduces adventure travellers and those seeking a relaxation and “switch-off” (yes, that’s right – there is no mobile reception and WIFI is limited) holiday experience. A destination bursting with simple pleasures and pristine natural wonders: golden beaches, lush grasslands and bushland, crystal clear water, the most southerly barrier reef in the world, captivating wildlife, and the friendliest locals.
Located some 600 km east of Port Macquarie in the Tasman Sea, my partner and I spent a blissful five nights on Lord Howe during their “off-season” (July). Taking only two hours to fly from Sydney, Lord Howe is a tightly regulated holiday destination, with no more than 400 visitors permitted at any one time. (A miniscule 350 residents live here permanently.) Rigorous laws also protect the island from overdevelopment, with any property which comes to sale offered to islanders first (someone who has lived here for 10 years or more) before an outsider has a chance to purchase it.
Arriving at Lord Howe Island is a jaw dropping experience in itself; the views from the plane as you approach the island to land are simply breathtaking – a long, skinny island skirted by spectacular turquoise water, hiding an impressive coral reef beneath its surface. As soon as we stepped off the plane and made our way into the tiny terminal, we were greeted with a relaxed feeling … Accommodation hosts waited to greet their guests and family waited to welcome home their loved ones, standing merely metres from where the plane came to a halt behind a white picket fence. In a casual fashion, everyone found their luggage and headed towards one of many awaiting minivans provided by the eighteen accommodation venues on the island.
We settled into our seats in the van and took in the natural beauty, and the fat, grazing cows, who know nothing but lazy, peaceful lives.
“You got lucky with the weather today,” explained Teresa, host at our temporary home, Beachcomber Lodge, as she drove us the less than four kilometre trip from airport to accommodation (yes, less than four kilometres. This island is tiny). “The weather can change so suddenly on the island due to its remoteness. Flights yesterday were cancelled in and out of the island.”
Teresa was a wealth of knowledge, explaining that: “Lord Howe was totally uninhabited until its discovery in 1788, with settlers not arriving until 1834”. Teresa continued to point out local landmarks on the way, including Wilson’s bike hire. “Most people get around here on bikes,” she said. And if you do drive: “there’s no need to wear a seatbelt, with the speed limit restricted to 25 kilometres an hour”.
On route, every passer-by waved greetings to the week’s new arrivals. We felt welcomed and almost like part of the family before we had even arrived at our accommodation. On arrival, Teresa showed us to our studio apartment, a spacious and well-appointed apartment for two, containing most items one requires for a partly self-contained holiday. Surrounded by lush gardens, filled with birds and butterflies, the apartment truly did become our home away from home, with high quality bedding (ensuring comfort and relaxation after a long day exploring the island), local art decorating the walls and yummy home cooked biscuits delivered each day to your room.
After settling in, we strolled down the hill (Beachcomber Lodge is located uphill from the main settlement and lagoon), to find Wilson’s bike shop. With around 13 km of scenic road and tracks to explore by bike, we paid the minimal fee for a week’s hire.
Cruising around the island on our two wheels, we discovered that some restaurants were shut for the winter (off-peak season); not a worry though, as we booked a table at The Anchorage Restaurant for our first night in paradise. We dined there numerous times during our stay, spending many hours happily consuming local and mainland produce at each several-course meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner). We also enjoyed a “local” buffet night at the bowling club (the island’s only pub and only establishment to provide Fox Sports for my die hard AFL fan partner).
With no taxis or streetlights, accommodation hosts transported guests to restaurants for dinner each evening, with restaurant staff then providing the “taxi” service back to your accommodation when you were ready. Again, testament to the relaxed and free-spirited nature of the island.
Likewise, many activities on the island are a chilled affair, with honesty boxes and a help yourself policy in place at the golf course and Ned’s Beach, where you can borrow snorkelling gear, surfboards and kayaks (just make sure you rinse the equipment before you put it back, instructs the sign).
The next few days were spent exploring the network of walking tracks around the island, with fabulous views from many of the hills and mountains. Notable tracks and sights included: the wreckage of an RAAF Catalina flying boat that crashed in 1948 while attempting an emergency landing, killing seven of the nine crewmen; Old Glutch; Malabar Hill (209 m) and Mount Eliza (147 m); Intermediate Hill (250 m) with views across the ocean to Ball’s Pyramid, the world’s tallest sea stack; Transit Hill (121 m); and Ned’s Beach.
Malabar Hill and Mount Eliza are located at the Northern end of the island, and proved to be the most challenging tracks we explored, mostly due to the rain that we encountered, which created a tranquil yet slippery environment. The views from Mount Eliza are simply spectacular, as you look southwards over the lagoon and main settlement, towards the dominating Mount Gower (the highest point on the island standing at 875 m above sea level). As Teresa had warned, the weather can be unpredictable, and boy did we experience that unpredictability. Standing atop Mount Eliza, we watched as a storm rolled in – do we stay, or do we start the climb down? We stayed, got drenched, and watched as the clouds and rain rolled over us, over the lagoon and captured Mt Gower. As soon as it came, it was gone, and the rainbows appeared.
Walking or riding around the island, you felt blissfully peaceful; perhaps it was the fresh air, or maybe it’s the fact that there were no snakes, no poisonous spiders and no fast cars to worry about. The only thing to worry about was how unfit you are, as 60 and 70 year olds zipped past you on the bush tracks, and what indulgent food to devour after a long day exploring.
Another major attraction of Lord Howe is the lagoon, which is enclosed by a barrier reef on the island’s western side. The most southerly coral reef in the world features some 500 species of fish and 100 species of coral. Ken, our guide from Lord Howe Island Environmental Tours, explained to us while enjoying our glass-bottomed boat tour, that there are 15 types of fish that are found nowhere else in the world. Tempted by the lure of the sea life below the surface, we jumped into a wetsuit and off the side of boat for a snorkel with the local Galapagos Sharks, yet they showed no interest in us, and quickly swam off.
Ken also runs kayaking tours around the island and is one of the few guides for the Mt Gower climb, an all-day trip that provides vigorous exercise rewarded by impressive views of the entire island, or so I’m told. We unfortunately didn’t have the time to complete the climb on this trip; however, we have every intention of returning one day soon to conquer the island’s highest point.
On our last day we headed to Ned’s Beach, on the North Eastern side of the island, before packing up and making our way to the airport for our trip home. All I can say is – why did we wait until the last day to visit Ned’s Beach? Arriving at the secluded beach, we were greeted by a fish food dispensing machine. Grabbing a cup of food, we waded into the water, threw a small handful of food, and instantly we were surrounded by a feeding frenzy of the most amazingly coloured Kingfish, Mullet and a number of other species, including a cheeky turtle that came in for a closer look. Wishing we had time to snorkel with the fish and turtle, we headed back to our accommodation, only to be welcomed home by Lord Howe’s endemic Woodhen, a rather ordinary brownish bird about 35 cm long. They were once one of the rarest birds in the world, with only 30 left on the island; however, a breeding program in the 1980s has increased numbers to around 300 today. Just another picturesque moment to top off an amazing holiday.
As the plane took off, we waved goodbye to our island paradise, dreaming and scheming of when we will visit again.
Getting there QantasLink flies direct from Sydney daily and direct from Brisbane on weekends. Flights are also available seasonally from Port Macquarie. Lord Howe Island is part of NSW, so leave the passport at home. Be aware that luggage is restricted to 14 kg per person.
Where to stay We stayed at Beachcomber Lodge, a sixth generation family-run lodge located on the north eastern side of the island. There are, however, 18 different accommodation options, ranging from five star all-inclusive resorts such as Capella Lodge and Arajilla Retreat, to self-contained apartments.
Food If you’re not staying at one of the all-inclusive resorts, then groceries can be bought from the Top Shop, Joy’s Shop and Thompson’s General Store. If eating out, I cannot recommend highly enough, The Anchorage and the bowling club for a more relaxed meal with the locals.
Need to know Summer is the ideal time to travel, but winter was just as beautiful, and offered cheaper flights and accommodation packages.
Be warned though, the wind can be crazy in winter. Lord Howe runs half an hour ahead of EST. There is no mobile phone reception, and internet is not reliable. Flights are weather dependent, and cancellations occur often in winter due to wind and cloud cover.
For my photos, please visit my website www.kirstyfikkers.com