The first view of the island via the small window in the plane reminded me of that scene in the movie Jurassic Park when they first see their island. After crossing the reef the plane appears set to land on the water. It speeds over the lagoon at around 50 metres above the water and then touches down on the runway which is just 1km long, with the other end being the beach on the other side of the Island. In true island style the hosts of the various guest houses on the island are all there at the airport to meet you and take you, and your luggage, to your chosen abode with a little tour along the way.
The natural wonder and feeling of ‘so this is what Earth was like before humans stuffed it up’ overwhelms the senses at times and leaves you full of emotion and strong feelings of awe and gratitude just for being able to experience it. The settlement area is so much part of the natural environment that it is really indistinguishable from the all natural surroundings, birds are abundantly present with their many varied calls and songs and the rustle and scratching of wood hens and ‘true’ free ranging domestic hens add to the overall experience from the crack of dawn to dusk.
Sirens, horns and Bogan’s shouting “bring us another beer” are things not heard on Lord Howe Island. Things not seen include traffic lights, traffic jams and Neon lights and oversized billboards. Things you WILL see are, endemic wildlife, cloud topped mountains, ‘returned from the brink of extinction’ wood hens feeding from your hand, sly Currawongs waiting for their chance to snatch your snack, awesome sunrise and sunsets, fern and palm enclosed roadways and paths and bikes, lots of bike.
The sense of community is huge, there is not a walk or visit to the shops, cafes or restaurant that passes without bumping into some new found friends. Probably the best way to develop friendships quickly ‘pre visit’ is to have your flight cancelled, this creates an instant sense of camaraderie that comes with sharing the let down of the cancellation followed by the resignation that it is not that bad and then realising ‘hey we have a day in Sydney with free meals and accommodation thrown in’ (thanks to Qantas) followed finally with a double dose of excitement and expectation once you finally board the plane the next morning. Being a Qantas link flight you get all the good old fashioned service to the island, tea, coffee, snack and complimentary glass of wine if you desire.
The highlight for me was the fish feeding at Ned’s beach where various fish including Silver Drummer, Mullet, King Fish, Galapagos sharks and other reef species virtually eat out of your hand. As there is no crime on the Island there is a heap of gear in the shed at Ned’s beach, wetsuits, masks and snorkels, flippers and viewing boards available for hire via a honour system, you simply check out the price board and put your money for what you want to hire into the provided money box. I left a dollar on top of the fish food vending machine one day and the next day it was still there, in fact the day after, someone else had added another dollar! Whilst we were at Ned’s one day a guy came down, filled two Eskies with ice and beer and then just drove off leaving them there for a party later that night. The next morning the Eskies were still there the dinner party had happened and the only rubbish to indicate anyone had been there was a tissue and some egg shells, imagine that on the mainland!
All around the Island there are little BBQ’s set up with freshly cut wood that is available for all visitors to use free of charge. All rubbish is recycled 3 ways via 3 bin systems and you will not see any traditional rubbish bins. Also on Lord Howe there is NO rubbish left on the ground! Being generator powered the little township is very dark at night with only essential lights in houses and low wattage street lighting so a small torch is worth packing. Also, as you walk around you will note lost items left on posts by the road, I saw a petrol cap and a little pair of binoculars
Early morning rises can view the sunrise in perfect solitude (at least during August anyway) and it is like you are the only person on the Island. Forget about sleeping in you can do that when you get home, a special time for me was the early morning walks and rides catching the sunrise at Ned’s or Mt Eliza. Each day on the Island you discover something new and unexpected so your entire visit is one of discovery.
They say ‘like minded people’ make the best company and nowhere is this more evident than on Lord Howe. It is like everyone who visits have a very similar set of values, appreciation of the environment, low impact living, enjoyment of the simple life and gratitude for awesome, natural wonders without the need of the hustle and bustle of night clubs, fun parks and high rises. The Co-Op food store in the ‘main street’ is a prime example of unique Island values where you use old paste of pasta jars to buy your bulk produce to reduce packaging and damage to the environment whilst also being introduced to some no additive, no chemical food and dried fruits that look very different but taste amazing. The Co-Op really is a must see highlight of the ‘non natural’ features of the Island. The restaurants, whilst a little pricey (as you would expect in the middle of the South Pacific) serve impeccable food of amazing quality and unique combination of ingredients creating a wonderful flavour beyond anything I have tasted before.
Don’t be surprised to see a familiar face pop up on the Island, the guy who serves you lunch at the Museum pops up again at Pandanus restaurant and again as your ‘taxi bus’ driver after your evening meal. That by the way, is another Island tradition, all diners have the offer of a free ‘taxi’ ride home to their accommodation after their meal. One night the driver of the courtesy night taxi said he would see us at the airport when we leave, some people laughed so he said “I’m not joking I’m the guy who directs the plane onto the runway”. It is a very interconnected community! Another special event for us was the visit of an RAAF Hercules doing training runs near sunset on the short runway, it made for some once in a lifetime photos.
Take the time to chart to elderly people you see, they have great Island stories. One couple had honeymooned on the Island 50 years ago and their children had paid for them to return for their 50th wedding anniversary. Another lady we discovered on her own in Steven’s Reserve (well worth a visit by the way, it is just behind the main street) spoke of her honeymoon on the Island 60 years ago, arriving on the Catalina seaplane and having to transfer to a small boat in pouring rain and rough conditions. Back then there was just Oceanview and Pinetrees Guest houses to choose from and all the roads were still dirt. She was excited when we first saw her as she had just had a ‘up close’ experience with a Golden Whistler that had come right up to her and looked her in the eye.
There is a small primary school on the Island with around 30 children and on the weekend something rare and special happens, the children actually come outside and play! Swinging on long ropes from trees, playing in tree houses and climbing massive trees and generally just larking around outdoors with no phone or Gameboy in sight!
Sustain an injury on the Island and you become an instant celebrity as my wife Jenny found out after fracturing her rib on the way down from the massive Mt Gower walk. Over the days of recovery, taking slow walks around the Island, we were amazed by how many people stopped to ask about her welfare and how her ribs were feeling today and to find out first hand ‘the story’ of how it happened. It was just below the Summit by the way, on one of the steepest parts of the exposed rock face where a rope was attached at the stop for support. Whilst Jenny was traversing down the face of the rock all her weight veered to the right and she kind of did a 180 degree swing and fell against a sharp rock, hitting her ribs and winding herself. In an amazing display of ‘mind over matter’ Jenny managed the entire trip down the mountain without having to be carried!
Top spots for tucker are Greenback Eatery, Pandanus and the Anchorage restaurants and even the Bowling Club is great if you still want a good quality meal without the full service and at a lower price. Use Greenback Charters if you want to do a bit of fishing and expect to catch HUGE fish, Kingfish, Shark, Tuna etc. Do not book with Carina fishing charters, our friends did and had their booked days cancelled twice (one was the day I went out with Greenback Charters and the sea was fine). They were also left at the Jetty with no one bothering to tell them about the cancellation! Other great things to do include taking a Scuba dive with Pro Dive and a tour and snorkel on a Glass Bottom boat and a trip out to Ball’s Pyramid which is 23km away but a short trip on a nice day in a fast boat. Gary from Beachcomber took us out to Ball’s Pyramid and included a tour around the entire Lord Howe Island for just $100 per person.
Due to Jenny’s injury we missed out on the Kayaks and a few of the smaller walks so we spoke to a number of locals and were told that March is a great time to visit so we plan to come back in March 2015.
A final note of warning, a visit to Lord Howe can be a very profound emotional experience as you enter the ‘Lord Howe time bubble’ and distance yourself from the reality of everyday life. I therefore suggest an acclimatisation process when you return home, allowing yourself a few days of beach and nature walks before you launch back into your normal life.
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