If you start feeling heart palpitations when you’re separated from your mobile phone for more than five minutes, maybe Lord Howe Island isn’t the place for you. Then again, it could be just what you need.
There’s no mobile phone reception on this 11 kilometre-long, coral reef-bordered, UNESCO World Heritage-listed island. Not really surprising, as this isolated paradise is 700 kilometres north- east of Sydney in the Pacific ocean. According to locals, the internet access is pretty patchy as well.
So if you do catch the last (and only) plane out of Sydney to Lord Howe Island, you won’t need to remember your phone charger – nor would you want to, unless it’s from a lingering desire to phone your friends and tell them just how amazing it really is.
My island home
As your small plane circles the island and you gaze over the aquamarine lagoon, green forests and twin volcanic peaks of mounts Gower and Lidgbird, you may feel like you’re the first human explorer here. You’re not far off: humans only set foot on Lord Howe just 150 years ago. Now, three quarters of the island and its islets are permanent national parks, brimming with marine creatures and wildlife.
With visitor numbers capped at just 400 at a time and a local population of around 350, Lord Howe has a small-town feel that’s missing from other crowded tourist islands. Like the wildlife, this idyllic balance is something the locals are passionate about preserving.
Cows graze in a field next to the airport ‘terminal’ (a shed with a desk and computer), and don’t go looking for a taxi rank outside. There are only a few cars on this tiny island, so when you’re not being chauffeured around by friendly locals, cycling is the way to go. You can hire bikes on the island, but be sure to wear your helmet – the lone policeman spends most of his beat having stern words with bareheaded cyclists.
There’s also a prevalence of something that’s almost disappeared elsewhere: the honour system. Far from needing to sign thick wads of disclaimers and leave ID (and possibly a loved one) for security, much of the equipment hire on the island is on a ‘drop the money in the tin, return it when you’re done’ system. This includes snorkel gear at some beaches, and sets of clubs and balls at the local nine-hole golf course.
Luckily, small-town values don’t translate to small-town style on Lord Howe. There are plenty of high-quality accommodation options, whether you’re into the family-friendly self-catering of beachcomber guesthouse, or the luxurious spa resorts of Arajilla or Capella Lodge. The latter, with its postcard-quality vistas of mountains and lagoon, is the ideal spot to watch the sunset while native kentia palms sway above.
Where the wild things are
The late arrival of people on the island means that along with swathes of almost untouched forest and reef, animals are numerous and unperturbed by gawking tourists. Let that exuberant child inside you come out as you stand in the shallows of Ned’s beach where, since 1974, visitors have fed metre-long kingfish that swoosh around their legs.
Ned’s beach is also one of the island’s many fantastic snorkelling spots. The world’s southernmost coral reef stretches around Lord Howe, populated by over 400 species of fish and 90 species of coral, 4 percent of which are unique to the area. Snorkel the coral reefs of Ned’s beach and you’re likely to see giant clams, sea urchins and turtles, as well as shoals of curious fish and the occasional (small) reef shark.
Lagoon beach is another snorkelling hotspot, and several glass-bottom-boat operators berth there. Two accredited diving schools on the island run tours, and for the adventurous there’s snorkelling at the wreck of the fishing trawler The Favourite at North bay. or, you could always hire a glass-bottom kayak from Pro Dive for a do-it-yourself paddle tour.
The sheltered stretches of Lagoon beach are also ideal for young swimmers. both Lagoon and Ned’s beaches have barbeques and picnic spots, or, if you’re too hungry from swimming to wait for the barbie to heat up, Thompson’s Store on Ned’s beach road is the place for takeaway burgers or fish and chips.
When it’s time to dry off, you’ll find plenty of places to walk and ride around the island. Take a ramble with Ian Hutton, the island’s best-known naturalist, and he’ll show you terns, muttonbirds, noddies and red-tailed tropicbirds which soar around the cliff tops.
Other guided and self-guided walks around the island are handily graded from 1 (gentle stroll) to 10 (serious hike). For the serious trekker, there’s the eight-hour round trip to the summit of mount Gower, which must be done with a guide.
Not only is the view from the peak worth the sore thighs, the climb is also a good excuse for a restorative one-hour ayurvedic massage among the banyan trees at Arajilla retreat.
Whether you’ve spent the day at the spa, striding trails, swooping around on your bike, or snorkelling reef crannies, you’ll build up an appetite.
At the top end of the restaurant scale, book well in advance to secure your table at Arajilla restaurant, where locally-caught seafood dominates the menu. And, if your Saturday night with friends and wine does become a little rambunctious, you could head to local favourite Humpty mick’s Café on Sunday morning for a restorative cooked breakfast.
But for a real taste of Lord Howe, join the biggest community meal on the island at the monday night ‘fish fry’ at Pinetrees Lodge. established in 1848, Pinetrees is the oldest hotel on the island and is in its sixth generation of family ownership. Every monday up to 80 people, locals and visitors alike, tuck into a seafood banquet there. It’s like the whole island has sat down for dinner together.
On the day you leave Lord Howe, you may discover that mobile phone in a dark corner of your bag, and you may decide to leave it off for just that little bit longer.
Such is the power of the remoteness of Lord Howe. It’s the sort of place where relaxation combines with simple wonder; a place where you can leave the rush of normal life behind, and tune your body and mind back to the purity of the basics.