We had a week on LHI and were blessed with perfect weather and sea conditions.
Most important general tip is check what's on IMMEDIATELY you arrive. If you want to night snorkel it only runs reasonably infrequently if the conditions are right. It was on the night we arrived, and not again while we were there, but we didn't realise.
Cash is available on the island, but arrive with a few hundred at least. Cash out at Thomspson's store limit of $200 per day with a minimum spend of $20. They also operate the Westpac Branch (limited opening hours) Westpac will give you money from accounts of other banks. There is also a Commonwealth bank branch at the Post Office, also limited hours, only will give money to Commonwealth customers.
Nowhere will give you change for the phones that we could find. Go to the post office.
Many, but not all tour operators take the major cards, there's a surcharge for credit card payment in some places.
LOST AND FOUND
If you lose anything, go to the Police Office. If it's found its extremely likely to be handed in there. It's a very honest island, noone locks cars or doors or anything. No hassles leaving valuables on the beach etc.
DOWNLOADING YOUR DIGITAL PHOTOS. Yes there is a service. Ian Hutton offers it. Amazingly cheap and he home delivered ours, which meant we could have the empty card for our tours next day.
There is no mobile coverage on the island. Our accommodation did not have phones in the rooms, but did have a pay phone in the games room, so you need change or a phone card. You can get change from the post office (limited hours) You have to ring up a fair bit. Booking for dinner, booking a tour if you're a way from the boatsheds etc. Don't neglect to plan for this aspect of your trip. Ask how this is organised where you plan to stay.
We stayed at Blue Lagoon and were really happy with the location. A very quick stroll to the lagoon and the boat sheds, slightly further to the jetty or in the other direction to Neds Beach for good snorkelling and fish feeding. Being in among the White Tern nesting area was also wonderful, they're not raucous and are very pretty things, chicks easily visible sitting on the branches of the trees. Somerset is along the same road but a little closer to Ned's beach. Howeana Apartments is around the corner a little way near the boat sheds on the lagoon. This area is the main hub of activities and I reckon these would be good places to start looking at accommodation.
Our 2 bedroom apartment was very nice and roomy, easily fits 6, or even 7 if you use the fold out bed in the living area, with a little balcony and outdoor chairs on the grass in front. Nice gardens. Beds were a bit variable, some hard some soft. If they're thinking of upgrading anything, the beds would be where to start IMHO, though I've certainly slept on worse. It had a decent sized fridge and adequate skeleton kitchen arrangements and equipment.
We've come to the conclusion that you wouldn't bother, perhaps other than breakfast. Grocery and food supplies are really expensive, and for the additional hassle you're better off eating out. Even my sister agreed and she was definitely looking to cut the expense in this way if at all possible. A couple of shopping trips later she was happily booking the dining places.
you won't find meat and fruit and vegetables of any reasonable quality other than up at the Top Shop, and even there the choice is limited, the prices high and opening hours limited. Top Shop also offers a few other grocery supplies. For general supplies Joy's Shop is the place to go. Thompsons Store in the most obvious option close to "CBD" but it's a bit mangey and the service isn't good.
If you want fresh milk, go to Joys. It's frozen or UHT at Thompsons.
The island is rather hilly. Bike is main form of transport, but unless you're reasonably fit, it could be a bit of a trial if you're staying at one of the places up in the hills...or buying your own food. The Top Shop (best place for meat and fresh fruit and vege shopping) is right up the top of the island.
Our accommodation (Blue Lagoon) offered lifts to anywhere you wanted to go (observation suggested others do too, but check it out) we had a hire car due to travelling with mobility impaired father and on the whole weren't sorry, as aside from getting to the shops without a drama, a couple of us with mobility limitations liked to get out pre dawn to get to the walking tracks nice and early, perhaps go and view the shearwaters leaving their rookery in the morning on the way, or watch the sunrise, and be back for the whole group activities, with some energy left.
If you're hiring a bike, we weren't happy with the one we hired from Blue Lagoon and gave it back. Tire was flat, it was too big for the rider, no basket or anything charge $6 per day. The bikes from Wilsons looked better and we one rider we asked about it said they cost $4 per day, but we ended up not bothering with it.
Be prepared to pay. You can get first class, average, or downright awful and overpriced food and the cost of your meals won't be terribly different. We ate at: Arajilla (twice) Shores Buffet, Pandanus, Palm Sugar and Humpty Micks. These aren't the only options of course. We were stupid and despite planning to eat at Capella left it too late to book so missed out. Book a table at Capella either before you arrive or as soon as you arrive. They don't do lunch unless you stay there, though they advertise it all over the place. Also book Pandanus as soon as you arrive, it took a couple of days to get in. Arajilla wasn't so difficult and we had no trouble booking on the day.
We are MORE than happy to recommed the restaurant at Arajilla and Pandanus. Both excellent food. Service is better at Arajilla and so is the steak and they also have fabulous fresh bread rolls. The ordering set up at Pandanus is rather weird and inconvenient, but I had a quail and cous cous dish there that was just divine. Prices for both of these restaurants were similar to Sydney prices for similar standard. Entres high teens, mains high twenties or just over $30 deserts about $12. Arajilla had no problem with serving entre's with other people's mains for those that weren't very hungry. Like I said, service at Arajilla was very good. Both have a nice ambience.
SHORES BUFFET was $38 you get 3 courses. The night we were there this was pumpkin soup, a range of salads of interesting flavours and types and grilled or battered Kingfish, which in this case was expertly cooked and very very nice. The grilled was moist and delicious (though I think probably had as much fat as the battered one), the battered one was a very light crisp batter, NOT heavy and oil soaked. The pieces small so you don't feel guilty trying both styles. After the main round, they brought round chili squid, which was nice, but we were all rather full. They also come around offering more fish (which is hard to resist)and of course you can return for more to the buffet if you're so inclined.
Desert was a range, a chocolate cake thing, vanilla slice, fruit salad and sticky date pudding. Desert was pretty average I thought. Once again small portions so you can try a range of things. All and all an enjoyable meal.
Humpty Micks was mostly nice food. As an informal cafe you'd expect cheaper prices than the swankier restaurants, but for what you get it isn't really. It still cost us $30 a person for a meal and drinks, but it's for a lesser standard of food. It does have a nice outdoor location with umbrellas and you don't have to book which is a bonus. We had pizza from Humpty Micks one night. High twenties per pizza, and we didn't like them much. The pizza at the Coral Cafe (attached to the Museum)is cheaper so my advice is try there if it's pizza you want. Certainly the Coral Cafe has very nice fresh cakes, so worth a go. My daughter reports that the coffee at Coral Cafe was dreadful though.
We didn't enjoy PALM SUGAR and don't recommend it. It cost as much as the meals at Arajilla (what cheek!)much less choice (3 main options, 1 entre, 2 desert) and what we had was pretty horrible with the exception of the mixed platter entre $20 per platter (suitable for two people) which was OK, except they're stingy with the bread for the dips and though tasty, it's oiled, which wasn't really necessary, except perhaps that fresh bread supplies are limited. It's mainly a cafe, but the cakes were nowhere near the standard of Coral Cafe and for a higher price. Each serve was ridiculously humungous, more than you want to eat, so if you do go there, consider sharing a serve. My kingfish was overcooked to b*gg*ry. Very dry and not at all appetising. Mum's was the same. The chips were OK. My sister couldn't stomach her lamb shank, even though I wasn't happy with the fish, I was heartily thankful I didn't order the shank it smelled horrid, maybe a mix of too much red wine and poor quality lamb/mutton. Mum and I had no hesitation offering some of our fish to my sister LOL. Daughter ate the lamb, as did Dad, but she was starving hungry and was picking copious quantities of whole black peppercorns out of it constantly..gave the impression they may have thought the black a suitable substitute for green peppercorns. For $26 a main we were NOT impressed.
BBQs. There's BBQs scattered around the island with wood stacked neatly at them. Our supplies for a BBQ - 5 reasonably big scotch fillets 1/2 doz sausages, punnet of tiny tomatoes, cucumber and some dressing sachets cost over $80. If you do the all day tour to North Bay, you take your lunch and Pete cooks it. Rest easy if you take steak Pete knows how to cook it. We were impressed. We each got our meat cooked exactly as requested.
A highlight of our trip was patronising LHI Environmental Tours. These are the friendliest people ever! They went out of their way to make our holiday enjoyable and look after my father who has some issues. We HIGHLY recommend their tours, and they're cheap as chips. $25 for coral viewing or specialty snorkelling. Night snorkelling $30. Dean was the ranger on LHI for 16 years and knows his stuff. They don't take card though, so have cash or cheque available. I can't stress enough how lovely, helpful and friendly they were.
If you want to go to BALLS PYRAMID do yourself a favour and go on the Phasmid if they've got a trip available. We did two environmental tours around the island and to the pyramid. The first on a smaller boat for $100 pp over 3 1/2 hrs. Sea was pretty calm. These trips don't run if it's not. Smaller boat is a rougher ride as you would expect. They go pretty quick to do it in the time frame, you're on the move all the time with some brief slow down in a couple of places. You get to the Pyramid circle it and head straight back. Frankly, it was a bit of an ordeal. The same tour next day, apparently a lot of people were sick. People on that tour that we spoke to didn't enjoy it either. Our second trip was next day on the Phasmid over 4 1/2 hrs for $130. Dean from Environmental Tours along for commentary, provided stacks of info as routine, and can answer just about any question you're likely to have. Phasmid is a bigger boat, with air conditioned cabin if you want to get indoors and flying bridge. Being bigger and more powerful it gets in closer and can maintain position better during the tour. We circled around the admiralty islands, which we hadn't the previous day and that was more interesting.
A comfortable trip out to the Pyramid. Along the way we came across a pod of dolphins, Dave turned the boat around and went with the dolphins for a while, and we went up on the front deck to watch them over the bow. They even helped my mother (almost 70 yrs old) to get up there too. It was awesome, and special as there were a couple of calves in the pod. Out at the pyramid, if conditions are appopriate, they let you snorkel. Unfortunately the two good snorkelling spots were too choppy the day we went, but we anchored at a calmer spot and spent some time, had afternoon tea. After the long trip out there, you want to stay and soak it in for a while. My daughter and I had a swim/snorkel, I stayed close to the boat and wasn't confident to go too far, but my daughter was keen so Dean jumped in and swam with her over to the rock and back. It's interesting hopping in for a look, the water is SOOO blue even underwater, and water is very clear. The colour around the north end of LH itself is also absolutely amazing in colour. Phasmid supplies top notch equipment, no struggling getting your fins on after locating an appropriate size, they're infinitely adjustable ones, very flash! Hopping into the water is easy, the back of the boat opens up to the landing stage. A breeze.
Dave also threw some fish scraps to the birds mostly shearwaters came in on our day, but of course each trip varies. A grey ternlet came very close but stayed airborne. I was hoping to watch them from underneath, but they took off. It was a brilliant trip and DEFINITELY worth an extra $30 pp. The two balls pyramid options we tried just weren't in the same league at all. I would not hesitate to go on any trip Phasmid was offering at the time. www.phasmidcharters.com
NORTH BAY. We opted for the full day with environmental commentary from Ian Hutton. This was a great tour. Pete was also really nice and helpful. North Bay is beautiful. We started off about 10 am. it's a short trip across the lagoon, then you snorkel for 40 mins or so. Pete has been feeding the fish there for 12 years so large numbers following him around. He offers a guided snorkel then time for your own thing, or you can do your own thing from the start. There's a wreck in the area, but it's broken up and not ship shaped. Plenty of good stuff to see. After the snorkel you head to shore (you can also swim in rather than go in on the boat) and set up camp at a really well set up and pretty picnic area, totally invisible from the water. Very nice with dressing sheds and picnic tables in the shade. We then had a very easy guided walk to the Black Noddy Tern rookery at the end of the (fairly short)beach, which was great. Then lunch (as mentioned above, Pete knows how to cook your -self supplied - meat or you can just pack a sandwich if you like). After lunch you can do your own thing or go on the guided walks up Mt Eliza and/or across to Old Gulch. If conditions are right you can swim and/or snorkel at the herring pools and the gulch. They weren't right the day we went, but the walks were very interesting. Wonderful views from Mt Eliza, and you're up closer to the seabirds flying around with is great. A juvenile sooty tern was curious and kept coming over to check us out hovering only a few meters over our heads. The highest section of the track was closed due to terns nesting on the path. Mt Eliza is steep, but the group stops regularly and it didn't feel difficult for me or my daughter. Even my mum made it to the top though she took a little longer. Tour cost about $35 no guided walks, or $50 with them. There's morning and afternoon tea in there somewhere too. There's also a half day option. Good value. We all really enjoyed it, the day went so fast!
Mum and I did a number of walks. Four of our group went part way up MALABAR which climbs to the cliffs on the northern end of the island. Really rather steep, with great views even from where we got to, but we ended up not going all the way as my daughter and I decided it was a bit much for some in the party. Still we enjoyed that part we did. It's a fairly rough trail. Tricker than the one up Mt Eliza. We didn't have time to have another crack at it before we left. We were walking in the morning before other activities that my father could participate in and it would have consumed most of a morning I reckon, especially if you want to stay and watch the birds for a while.
Track to MUTTON BIRD POINT was quite rough too, I did that one on my own. It had rained overnight so the rough track was quite slippery. An enjoyable but reasonably challenging walk to view the Masked Booby rookery. A Noddy Tern nest was also visible through binoculars. Easier in drier conditions no doubt.
The walk to THE CLEAR PLACE I recommend, though I must admit it hadn't inspired me from the description. This is where you'll find the biggest banyans, at the end you get views down the east coast of the island. Gives you quite a different perspective on the island.
LITTLE ISLAND this walk is worth doing, it's mostly open track along the lagoon, but passes through a couple of patches of forest. The second patch was the best place to see LHI Woodhens, though you can see them round about the settlement and elsewhere in the early morning. A family group came out and wandered around our feet for quite a long while. Very special. Worth doing.
We weren't up for Mt Gower which is a full day walk and requires substantial fitness and a head for heights.
REEF WALKING MIDDLE BEACH. You need a low tide. Tides were around the 0.7 mark while we were there with prevailing wind making it a bit higher, so we were advised it wasn't really a good time to do it. It's a BIG staircase down to Middle beach too so you'd want the right conditions. Access is along the track to the Clear Place. If you're really keen to do this, perhaps check tide information when planning your trip.
OTHER GENERAL ACTIVITIES
NEDS BEACH. Wonderful. Good snorkelling and if you're imagining that the fish feeding is a few mullet or whiting think again, there's stacks of huge Kingfish easily a metre long, and other smaller (but still big) fish, not sure of the variety. Be careful if you want to get them to eat out of your hand, they have big sharp teeth. Safer to throw the bread to them, as we learnt from experience. Wonderful snorkling among them when someone is feeding them in waist high water. There is also some pretty decent corals and fish to snorkel over from the beach.
You can also see Galapagos Sharks in the area both Neds Beach and the snorkelling holes in the lagoon. One of our group saw eight at once. Mostly only small and no great threat. Just interesting.
KAYAKS - Don't bother with the glass bottomed ones. You can't see a thing through them and the design of them to allow for the glass bottom is uncomfortable.
OLD SETTLEMENT BEACH - a very flat fairly shallow area, that apparently has a deep hole to snorkel, but we didn't find much to see. Best attraction we thought was the turtles which we understand pretty much live in that part of the lagoon I didn't see them as I was busy with other responsibilities at the time my sister and daughter saw them.
JETTY - hop in for a look with your snorkelling gear, there was a huge group of striped catfish consistently there while we were on the island, and on one of the days a big stingray as well.
AIRSTRIP - a good place to look for birds if you're into that sort of thing. 8 Double Banded Plovers there in the morning of our last day.
MUTTON BIRDS. It's really worth going down to the road to Ned's Beach to see the Muttom birds (Shearwaters) arriving / departing. Arriving is timed right when you're having dinner this time of year approx 7:15 apparently, so good for day where your main meal was lunch. We went to watch departure two days in a row. Even my non-birdwatching sleep in inclined sister loved it. The birds make their way out to the road then waddle down the road in small groups at a time then fly out to sea. If you stand in their way sometimes they don't notice you and bump into you. If you stand in the dark looking out towards the beach, the birds creep up behind you. If you look around they all stop. Like a game of red light. Great fun. If you're in a vehicle, park near the walk marker for the Malabar, just before the side street. then you can turn down past the cemetary to leave and not have to make your way throught the denser bird area in the dark. We don't want road kill do we..
CUSTOMER SERVICE ON THE ISLAND IN GENERAL
Customer service standards vary from extremely good to appalling and unfriendly. The shopkeepers in general need to give some attention to this aspect. Thompson store probably the worst we thought, so we actively tried to avoid dealing with them. My daughter (who works as a manager in the tourism industry) commented that if any of her staff were observed to conduct themselves in the way Thomspon's Store staff routinely did with us, they would be given a formal warning. They'll serve you when they're good and ready and not before, and then generally with bad grace, as though you're an unwelcome interruption to what they are doing...even if that was just (apparently) standing around believe it or not. This is evidently not only our experience as when we were chatting with a couple of men at Neds Beach we were recommending the friendly service at Environmental Tours and they commented "Friendly people!! that'd be a change..."
The store operators aren't forthcoming with simply bits of useful information either. Say you go in to see if you can get change for the phone. No they don't do that. But do they bother to mention that the post office offers that service. Of course not! You have to buy a phone card, which may be way more than you want or need. Simple things like that that make such a difference to your experience...but don't let the turkeys get you down. LHI is a wonderful spot for a holiday and there's enough great service that you can enjoy your holiday very much as we did.