Unique island paradise east of Port Macquarie.
Of all the islands off the coast of Australia none quite matches the sheer, breathtaking beauty of Lord Howe Island. Located in the Pacific Ocean directly to the east of Port Macquarie on the New South Wales Mid North Coast it is about as perfect as any destination can be. The number of visitors is restricted by the clever device of restricting the number of beds available (400 is the limit) with only new beds becoming available if one of the accommodation destinations closes or reduces its number of beds. Lord Howe is known as an excellent place for snorkelling, fishing, diving, walking, cycling and, most importantly, for getting away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. The island is 11 km long and 2.8 km wide. Crescent shaped, it covers 1,455 hectares. There is a coral reef which runs for 6 km down the western side of the island enclosing a lagoon. The shape of the island, as the travel writer Jan Morris once observed, is "some sort of a sea scorpion, with the two high mountains at its southern end representing the sting in the tail." It is a unique mixture of sophistication, isolation, simplicity and natural beauty. In short, an island paradise.
Lord Howe Island is located 702 km north-east of Sydney by plane. It is two hours from both Sydney and Brisbane via a regular air service.^ TOP
Origin of Name
The island was named after Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe, Admiral of the British fleet who was prominent in both the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary Wars. It was named by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball who sighted the island on 17 February, 1788 while in command of the HMS Supply during a journey from Port Jackson to Norfolk Island.^ TOP
Things to See and Do
The Geology of the Island
Lord Howe Island is part of a series of volcanic pinnacles which lie on a submarine ridge which runs from the north island of New Zealand. It is part of a continental fragment known as Zealandia, which broke away from the east coast of Australia some 60-85 million years ago. The volcanic action which produced the islands occurred 7 million years ago and produced outcrops which were 40 times the size they are today. The pinnacles include Balls Pyramid (552 m); Gower Island, Sugarloaf Island, Mutton Bird Island, Blackburn Island and the Admiralty Islands. Both of the Lord Howe Island's mountains - Mount Lidgbird (777m) and Mount Gower (875m) - are volcanic in origin. Over the past 130,000 years sand and saltwater have combined to form a rock known as calcarenite which is common on parts of the island. This calcarenite has fossilised a number of unusual extinct creatures including a large horned turtle. The coral reef of the western coast of the island is the southernmost coral outcrop in the world and has over 60 different species.
The World Heritage Listing
World Heritage has explained the importance of the island and the surrounding rocky outcrops in terms of: "The Lord Howe Island Group is considered to be an outstanding example of an island ecosystem developed from submarine volcanic activity, having a rare diversity of landscapes and biota. The high proportion of endemic species make the Group a superb example of independent evolutionary processes at work."
Flora and Fauna
It has been claimed that when the first Europeans settled on the island there were only two types of lizards and a solitary species of bat native to the region. There were substantial numbers of birds, insects, spiders and snails. Today 18 species of land birds and 14 species of seabird breed on the island. Lord Howe Island is a remarkable place for twitchers (bird watchers) as it is home to the flightless and rare Lord Howe Island Woodhen (an endangered species) as well as shearwaters (mutton birds), Providence petrels, brown noddies, red-tailed tropic birds, white-bellied storm petrels, sooty terns and masked boobies. There is a very useful Nature Calendar at http://www.lordhoweisland.info/things-to-do/bird-watching/nature-calendar-2.
Feeding the Fish
One of the island's most popular activities occurs every afternoon. It is the feeding of the fish at Ned's Beach and is a reflection of the simplicity of the island. All that happens is a local with a bucket feeds the fish who, not surprisingly, have come to see it as a daily ritual and respond with fevered enthusiasm. It is a pleasant way to take a late afternoon walk and the journey around to Ned's Beach is ideal for those wanting a short cycling trip.
Catching the Fish
Lord Howe Island is known as one of the top fishing destinations in the world. It is a Marine Park where commercial fishing is banned and consequently the enthusiastic amateur can organise a fishing trip and expect (if they are good) to catch Lord Howe kingfish, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, black and blue marlin, trevally, garfish, silver drummer, bluefish and double-header wrasse. The activity is so popular that there are now ten fishing charter boats operating on the island.
Snorkelling and Scuba Diving
The island has the southernmost coral reef in the world and, not surprisingly, it is a wonderland of over 90 colourful corals and 500 species of tropical fish. It is possible to hire snorkelling gear from the dive shops around the island and to hire a boat and be taken to over 60 dive sites around the island. The Lord Howe Island website (http://www.lordhoweisland.info/things-to-do/diving/diving) points out that "The island’s most spectacular dive is Balls Pyramid – the world’s tallest sea stack, located 26 km south of the island. Divers (Advanced certification required) can expect to see massive schools of Violet Sweep, Amberjack, Kingfish, Silver Drummer, Rainbow Runners, Trevally and occasionally Marlin, Dolphins and Wahoo. It’s also possible to see Ballina Angelfish – a deep water Angel that is generally only found in water in excess of 100 metres, and Balls Pyramid is believed to be the only destination where you can see them on recreational scuba in 25 metres. Dives at Balls Pyramid average 25 metres in depth and range from drift dives to cave dives to simply following a coral wall."
Cruising Around the Island
There are a number of ways to cruise around the island. Check out http://www.lordhoweisland.info/things-to-do/tours-and-services/ for options. One of the most popular is Islander Cruises which offers glass-bottom turtle cruises with snorkelling (tel: (02) 6263 2021). Others include the MV Carina which offers trips to Balls Pyramid (3 1/2 hours) and around the island (2 hours) as well as fishing trips (tel: (02) 6563 2041); Wolfe Sight Seeing Tours offers a round island cruise and Balls Pyramid tour taking around 3 hours, tel: (02) 6563 2032; and Lulawai specialises in a two hour round-the-island tour, tel: (02) 6563 2195.
Lord Howe Island Museum
Located adjacent to the Visitor Information Centre, the Museum is an ideal way to learn about the island's marine life, land plants, birds, geology and climate. It also has historical artifacts; information about shipwrecks and corals; and historical photographs. There is an Ian Kiernan Environmental Gallery "featuring displays about the islands volcanic origins, biogeography, biodiversity, scientific interest; World Heritage values, the impact of humans and conservation, plus dedicated school children’s display area".and a James Dorman Historical Gallery which "features displays about the Island’s discovery, early settlement, shipping, the flying boats, tourism, administration and the palm industry". It has a comprehensive website at http://www.lhimuseum.com.
There is a single road on the island which runs from beyond the jetty at the north end past the airport to Salmon Beach in the south. There are numerous trails around the island including tracks to the top of Mount Gower (875m) and Mount Lidgbird (777m) and the smaller hills - Intermediate Hill (250m), Transit Hill (121m) and Mount Eliza (147m). There is an excellent and downloadable map of all the main walks on the island - check out http://lordhoweisland.info.tmp.anchor.net.au/wp-content/uploads/walking_tracks.pdf. The walks include:
Level: Class 3, Time: 2 hours return, Distance: 2 km - walk through dry rainforest to a viewing platform and then descend from Transit Hill and walk along the Blinky Beach.
Level: Class 2, Time: 1-2 hours return, Distance: 1.5 km - walk across paddocks, through a palm forest and along Middle Beach.
Level: Class 1 - walk through a rainforest of palms, blackbutt, maulwood, greybark and sallywood - the path has a number of interpretative signs dealing with the island's flora and fauna.
Max Nicholls Track
Level: Class 3, Time: 4 hours return, Distance: 4 km - starts near Old Settlement Beach, winds up Dawsons Ridge, then descends through rainforest and on to North Beach picnic area.
Coastal Track to Rocky Run and Boat Harbour
Level: Class 3, Time: 2 hours return, Distance: 2 km - starts at Intermediate Hill near the airport, passes through lowland forest and heads towards Muttonbird Point where there is a viewing platform and the visitor can observe a breeding colony of Masked Boobies. The track continues to Rocky Run and then to Boat Harbour.
Level: Class 4, Time: 4 hours return, Distance: 4 km - starts at the base of Mount Lidgbird and passes through wet rainforest before ascending Mount Lidgbird. Ropes are used to assist the ascent. It reaches Goat House Cave on the side of Mount Lidgbird. There are great views of the island and of Balls Pyramid.
Level: Class 2, Time: 45 minutes return, Distance: 1 km - walk up Smoking Tree Ridge through the rainforest and then to Goat House and Boat Harbour.
Level: Class 1, Time: 40 minutes return, Distance: 3 km - a short walk through a palm forest with great views up to Mount Lidgbird and out to sea. There's a rock platform which is exposed at low tide and from March to September the area is populated by Providence Petrels.
Level: Class 5, Time: 8 hours return, Distance: 14 km - A walk to the top of Mount Gower (875m). You must be accompanied by a licensed guide. Be warned: if you are scared of heights there is one section where you walk along a path which is only about 1 metre wide and there's nothing between you and the ocean far below. There are also ropes along the way to help with your ascent and descent. The view from the top is, not surprisingly, spectacular.
Noise and speed on the Island
There is a limit of 400 visitors on the island at any one time and the speed limit for the island's few vehicles is restricted to 25 kph. Consequently the roads are safe and there is a sublime quietness. The result is an island which doesn't feel like a tourist destination.
If you can get to an elevated position on the island it is possible to see, 23 km to the south-east, the remarkable volcanic remnant known as Balls Pyramid. It rises sheer from the ocean for 552 metres and was first climbed as recently as 1965. It was first sighted by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball in 1788 on his journey from Sydney Town to Norfolk Island. There was a time when Balls Pyramid was too far for standard cruises but, in recent times, it has become an integral part of the island's cruise itinerary. Check out http://www.lordhoweisland.info/things-to-do/tours-and-services/ for options. The most popular are the MV Carina which offers both trips to Balls Pyramid (3 1/2 hours) and around the island (2 hours) as well as fishing trips (tel: (02) 6563 2041); Wolfe Sight Seeing Tours also offers a round island and Balls Pyramid tour taking around 3 hours, tel: (02) 6563 2032.
* The island was uninhabited when, on 17 February 1788, Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball, the commander of the HMS Supply, discovered it. Ball was on his way from Sydney Cove to Norfolk Island.
* On 13 March, 1788, on his return to Sydney Cove, Ball landed on the island and claimed it for New South Wales.
* The first settlers arrived in 1833. The group comprised three Europeans (Ashdown, Bishop and Chapman) from New Zealand accompanied by their Maori wives and two Maori boys. They supplied passing ships with meat, fish and vegetables.
* In 1841 Captain Owen Poole and Richard Dawson purchased the island for £350.
* Dawson and Poole employed people to continue to operate the business started by Ashdown, Bishop and Chapman.
* In 1847 the NSW government refused to renew the lease of the island.
* By 1851 the island had a population of 16 all of whom lived off the produce of the sea and what they could grow in their gardens.
* In 1853 Nathan Chase Thompson settled on the island.
* In 1855 official control of the island was vested in the government of New South Wales.
* Captain Armstrong became the island's first resident government official in 1878.
* By 1879 the island had its first school teacher, Thomas Wllson, who eventually married his eldest pupil.
* In 1882 the whole island was declared a Botanic Reserve.
* In 1890 Government House was built to house visiting government officials.
* By 1893 Burns Philp was providing a regular steamship service to the island.
* By 1900 there were about 100 people living on the island. The economy was a mixture of subsistence, a small trade in palm seeds and some trading with passing boats.
* By the 1920s the island was offering limited tourism with two houses being used as accommodation.
* In 1931 Francis Chichester landed on the island while making a solo crossing of the Tasman Sea.
* By 1939 there were 60 beds available for tourists.
* In 1940 a Resident Administrative Officer, Mr Kennett, arrived on the island.
* Trans Oceanic Airways commenced regular flying boat services from Sydney to Lord Howe Island in 1947.
* In the 1970s the island started to export Kentia palms which became hugely popular indoor palms around the world.
* The flying boat was replaced in 1974 when a small airstrip was built.
* By 1981 only 20 cm tall Kentia Palms were being exported. It is now the island's most important industry after tourism.
* In 1982 Lord Howe Island was World Heritage listed. That same year tourists were limited with a 400-bed maximum being placed on the island's accommodation.
* Lord Howe Island is currently administered by a board which ensures that World Heritage values are maintained.
* Today a boat travels across from Yamba every fortnight bringing supplies to the island.^ TOP
The island's Visitor Information Centre is located in the foyer of the Lord Howe Island Museum. It is open from 9.00 am - 3.00 pm Monday to Friday and 9.30 am - 2.00 pm on Sunday, tel: 1800 240 937.^ TOP
The accommodation on the island is restricted to just 400 beds which means that beds can only be added if other accommodation options are closed down. Check out Accommodation at http://www.lordhoweisland.info for details.^ TOP
The island's official website is http://www.lordhoweisland.info. It has useful information on attractions, accommodation and eating. There is also an excellent Tourism NSW site which is worth investigating. Check out http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/lord-howe-island.^ TOP