Lord Howe Island is a piece of Australia lying some 800 km east of Sydney. The island was unknown to any civilisation until it was discovered by British seaman Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball in 1788 and was not permanently inhabited until 1834.
Apart from a climate similar to Sydney’s, Lord Howe has few other similarities with mainland Australia. It is instead, naturally enough, more akin to the other small islands of the Pacific: a small fragment of land enigmatically emerging from the midst of an unlimited ocean.
Lord Howe is often saddled with the overworked descriptor “paradise”. This Toronto Star article even ponders whether it is the “world’s last paradise”.
I wouldn’t go that far (although my wife, a Lord Howe fanatic, certainly does) but I understand where the sentiment comes from. The island’s scant population of approximately 400 permanent residents and the difficulties in getting there give it an aura of a lost island paradise. When visiting Lord Howe it only requires a bit of imagination to transport yourself back a couple of centuries to a time when stories of the South Pacific were fables come to life.
There were times during my family’s week long visit in 2010 when I felt like a proper 19th century adventurer in the mould of Robert Louis Stevenson as I hiked along the island’s rudimentary trails and peered out from various lookout points over an unending blue ocean . I did come back to the 20th century whenever I turned on the television or radio at our lodge accommodation. However, the 21st century was still absent as wifi was unavailable and internet access was restricted to two computer terminals at the tourist information office.
You might surmise that Lord Howe is not for those seeking an adventure holiday of thrills and spills. And you would be correct. Lord Howe is the kind of place you go to if you find small towns charming or you enjoy, as I sometimes do, just dropping off the face of the earth.
That’s not to say that your stay will necessarily be sedate. How sedate it will be is up to you. Some take the opportunity to just relax and take in an abundance of reading and sun. Lord Howe is just fine for that type of holiday. But for others who find too much relaxation leads to boredom, boredom can be kept at bay through physical activities like cycling, swimming, walking and hiking.
If you don’t wish to stray off the beaten track, walking and cycling around the island will probably suit you nicely. It is possible to hire a car but unless you have mobility problems I don’t recommend doing so. Much more preferable to stay as “in tune” with the island’s natural wonders as you can; particularly as you will want to stop often to soak in the island’s coast and flora.
You will also want the opportunity to study Lord Howe’s wildlife up close like so:
In general the fauna, while probably not enamoured at having to share their island with humans, are nevertheless tolerant of us.
Back on the Australian mainland my wife would have swept away any spiders and their webs that dared set up shop near her but doing so on Lord Howe feels like an unnecessarily destructive intrusion on nature. So Agnes was happy to read her book while a web hung nearby.
With a bit of luck on your island explorations you will come across a Lord Howe woodhen which may insist on entertaining you with a dance.
At first I was flattered as I took this to be a mating dance, seeing as it was all puffery and feathers; but more likely, it was a warning as woodhens are highly territorial animals. Cute dance though. Not threatening at all so I don’t know how effective the woodhen is at defending its territory.
Night life on the island is slight; perhaps some duo playing acoustic guitars and singing at the townsite’s main restaurant. Pleasant enough, but if you want some macabre excitement take a walk by the cemetery. Cawing mutton birds crowd both sides of the road during the night and a bird is likely to nimbly brush past your leg as you make your way along the unlit roadway in the dark. If caught unawares, don’t be surprised if you hear yourself scream involuntarily and then cackle maniacally as the silliness of your reaction sinks in.
If hiking is one of your favourite pastimes then Lord Howe’s hills will test your leg muscles but there is a variety of rewards waiting. Depending on your route, you will find yourself passing through a number of different geographical areas on the island.
Mountain Ridge Walks
Ancient Volcanic Rock
If you are an extremist hiker and really want to work your leg muscles then Mt Gower is a must-do. Not only will it test your stamina but Gower’s towering height will also give you a majestic view over the whole island.
Not that I would know from personal experience. I would like to claim that I hiked up Mt Gower but the truth is that various stories I heard about the hazards of climbing it gave me pause. The trail can be extremely narrow in places and from past personal experience I know that when I come up against a particularly treacherous stretch of geography I am prone to freezing. Only with the strongest psychological push have I been able to propel myself out of such predicaments. As these are not situations I voluntarily inject myself into, I declined the opportunity to climb Mt Gower.
As with any warm water island, swimming and snorkelling is an absolute pleasure on Lord Howe.
Especially if you don’t mind not looking like a fashion plate.
The January water temperature was sufficiently warm to allow us to swim comfortably at Ned’s Beach in the mornings before the sun was at full strength.
Ned’s Beach is a marine reserve so the fish are not shy of being amongst the swimmers.
If these photos entice you, then you would also like to return to Ned’s later in the day to watch the fish being fed as per this Youtube clip.
(Attentive listeners will note the use of the word “paradise” in the clip. It is not for nothing that I said above that the word “paradise” is often used in conjunction with Lord Howe.)
While not caring for seafood myself I do appreciate there are some readers who would be salivating at the thought of having a go at a Kingfish meal. Lord Howe restaurants do offer Kingfish that have unwisely travelled outside of Ned’s Beach’s marine reserve boundaries.
Ned’s Beach is located on the island’s eastern side but the western side also has its appeal. There are some good exploration sites such as a small island on the outer reaches of the bay while a shipwreck lies slightly north. I was happy to explore the outside of the wreck and stick my head in a few portholes, but my unease at the thought of the hulk collapsing in on me prevented me from venturing inside.
In reviewing the pics for this blog post I did come to realise something that had previously escaped me. The physical closeness of our family members in many of our pics indicates that perhaps our week at Lord Howe was also a family bonding experience – something that’s not all that common when a family includes teenagers. For this, I credit the island’s lack of modern distractions for forcing the kids to hang out with their parents. An extra bonus in my books.
Who knows, maybe my daughters actually enjoyed hanging out with their parents, not that I would expect them to admit it.
My wife has made it her mission to return to Lord Howe. I am amenable to returning because there is one thing that I had failed to do during our visit. Off to the south of Lord Howe resides Ball’s Pyramid which is the remnants of an extinct volcano.
There are excursions to the Pyramid but since the tourist boat is relatively small it can only make the journey when sea conditions are mild. While we did enjoy pleasant weather during our stay the sea was too choppy for the boat to venture out. Consequently, I had to content myself with viewing the Pyramid from afar as our airplane ascended for the trip back to Sydney.
But upon our return to Lord Howe, an excursion to Ball’s Pyramid will be at the top of my must-do list.