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'So extraordinary it's almost unbelievable': 8 reasons why you should visit Australia’s Lord Howe Island

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 09/02/2019 Georgia Hopkins
a close up of a hillside next to a tree © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Lord Howe is one of the most captivating destinations I have travelled to so far.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, over 75 per cent of the island is protected, including a marine park and the southern-most coral reef in the world. The island is both fascinating and outrageously beautiful. Sitting pretty in the Tasman Sea, somewhere between Australia and New Zealand, this island paradise is home to sandy beaches, rolling surf, subtropical forests, and azure waters.

Lord Howe Island was uninhabited until the mid-1800s, the first airstrip was built in 1976, and Qantas started flying there in 1991, opening up the tourism floodgates. At just 11km long and 2km wide, Lord Howe Island has 350 permanent residents and can only accommodate up to 400 visitors at any one time - making it an exceptionally intimate place to visit. Locals are laid-back and friendly and revel in sharing the magic of their home with guests. There is only one school, with 40 students, all of whom go to school barefoot. There is one police officer who looks after the entire island, and there is no crime. Locals and visitors alike get around by bicycle, and there are only few cars.

Here’s why a visit to Australia’s Lord Howe Island is a must...

1. The spectacular nature

a large body of water with a mountain in the background: Welcome to Lord Howe Island (Georgia Hopkins) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Welcome to Lord Howe Island (Georgia Hopkins)

Have you ever heard of a “Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest”? Don’t worry, nor had I. A natural phenomenon that is confined to Lord Howe Island, it is a lush mossy rainforest area restricted to the summit plateau of Mt Gower (Lord Howe’s highest mountain) and on the summit ridge of Mt Lidgbird (the second highest). The island is full of dramatic mountain peaks, valleys, lowlands, and there are more unique and endemic species on the island than most other places in the world. Whether it be plants (of which there are 241 species of indigenous plants, 50 per cent of which can not be found anywhere else in the world), bird species, fish or coral species. It's also worth noting that Lord Howe Island is the first place in Australia to welcome the sunrise each morning - a truly special daily occurrence.

2. The amazing beaches

a tree next to a body of water: The spectacular turquoise waters of Ned’s Beach (Georgia Hopkins) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The spectacular turquoise waters of Ned’s Beach (Georgia Hopkins)

Blinky’s was our favourite beach. A long, pristine sandy beach with good waves, this is a popular spot with local surfers and body-boarders alike. Locals come here for the ‘Champagne Surf’, and to ride the good right-hander wave. Ned’s Beach, on the island’s north-east, is equally as beautiful, with its turquoise waters, just at the base of Malabar Hill. Here, you can hand-feed the fish. Just pop a $1 coin in the dispenser inside the beach shed, collect your fish pellets, and take them down to the sparkling water to wait for a frenzy of Mullet, Wrasse, Garfish, Silver-drummer, Spangled Emperor and Kingfish to arrive. Snorkelling gear, wetsuits and paddle boards are also available for hire there as well, and the same honesty box system for hire fees applies. North Bay, which is only accessible by boat or by foot, was another favourite of ours. This is where we took a short walk over to the Old Gulch - a secluded, black rocky beach with aqua waters.

3. The incredible hiking trails

a person standing in front of a body of water with Lord Howe Island in the background: The views back over Mt Gower from the Malabar Ridge hike (Georgia Hopkins) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The views back over Mt Gower from the Malabar Ridge hike (Georgia Hopkins)

There are endless trails to choose from, ranging from short walks through lush Kentia palm and Banyan forests, to moderate cliff-top hikes, and then some that are much more intense. If you have the stamina, it is definitely worth tackling the eight-hour return hike to the top of Mt Gower (you will need a guide for this one), which is rated one of the best day hikes in the world. We recommend using Jack Shick from Sea to Summit Expeditions, he is knowledgable and keeps the group motivated on the long trek up. The hike up Mt Gower is very steep and not for the faint-hearted, but you will be rewarded with spectacular views and plenty of wildlife.

Other great hikes include a self-guided one from Ned’s Beach up to Malabar Ridge (for the sunrise) and then onto Kim's Lookout: a lot shorter than the Mt Gower hike but it also offers outstanding views of the whole island. The Transit Hill hike is shorter still, at just 2km, but offers beautiful views from above Blinky beach and is an easy walk through a Banyan tree forest to the Clear Place lookout, which offers stunning views out to Ball’s Pyramid, the highest sea stack in the world.

4. The coral reef

a plane sitting on top of a boat: Jaw-dropping views out the window of our little Qantaslink Dash 8-200 (Georgia Hopkins) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Jaw-dropping views out the window of our little Qantaslink Dash 8-200 (Georgia Hopkins)

We recommend booking a trip with Anthony Riddle from Marine Adventures to take you around the crystal clear lagoon. Anthony (and his family) are extremely passionate about the island, its history and natural beauty. A descendant of Nathan Chase Thompson who arrived on Lord Howe Island in 1853, Anthony is well-placed to pass on local knowledge which has been handed down to him through the generations. With his glass bottom boat, Anthony takes you out on to the lagoon to witness marine life from a large 3m glass viewing panel. We saw giant 130-year-old green turtles pass us by. Anthony will then stop at a number of great snorkelling spots around the reef (including the Coral Gardens and Erscott’s Hole) and then over to North Bay where you will likely be the only ones on the beach. We saw all sorts of beautiful, brightly coloured coral and fish including Blackback Butterflyfish, Lord Howe Butterflyfish, neon-rainbow coloured Surge Wrasse, Sunset Wrasse, scary looking doubleheader “Coris Bulbifrons”, and Clown Triggerfish.

5. Endless outdoor activities

a group of people on a beach posing for the camera: Lord Howe Island, a snorkelling paradise (Georgia Hopkins) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Lord Howe Island, a snorkelling paradise (Georgia Hopkins)

From bike riding (rent a bike from Wilson’s Bike Hire) along pretty palm-fringed roads to a relaxing game of lawn bowls, or a game of golf on one of the world’s most spectacular golf courses, there are plenty of fun outdoor activities to enjoy on the island. Sailing, snorkelling, diving, stand-up paddle boarding, windsurfing, kayaking and tennis are also all on offer as well.

6. Accommodation options for all budgets

a view of a living room filled with furniture and a large window: Capella’s corners (Georgia Hopkins) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Capella’s corners (Georgia Hopkins)

For such a small island, there are plenty of great accommodation options. We loved our time at Arajilla Retreat, a beautiful Balinese-style hideaway buried deep amongst a forest of ancient Banyan trees and Kentia palms. Staff are warm, the service is laid-back, and the restaurant serves exceptional food. There are 12 suites and a serene Ayurvedic-inspired day spa - the only day spa on the island. A treatment here is a must. We were blown away by the sweet, professional nature of our therapist and the heavenly 90-minute massage treatment we enjoyed in the quiet of the forest. The highlight of our stay at Arajilla was our private beach BBQ which we enjoyed as sky turned pink and purple around us and the sun fell into the water.

For something more low-key and affordable, we can’t recommend Ebbtide more highly. Sitting pretty on a beautiful parcel of palm-fringed land and only a short walk from the glorious Ned’s Beach, Ebbtide has been operated by local woman Julie and her family since 1991. Julie (a local golf champion) and her daughter Emma (a fishing pro) were the most affable hosts, driving us to dinner each evening and sharing their local knowledge and stories. Perfect for families, the cabins can accommodate up to four people. Look out for the secret hammock we found strung up between two trees on the way down to Ned’s. Sitting there, swinging gently in the breeze while reading my book, looking over the beautiful beach, was another highlight.

For the fanciest option in town, head to the recently-renovated Capella Lodge. With just nine suites, this is an intimate accommodation experience with impressive views of Mt Gower and Mt Lidgbird. The restaurant is a destination in itself.

7. The food

a plate of food on a picnic table in front of a mountain: Lunch with a view at Capella Lodge (Georgia Hopkins) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Lunch with a view at Capella Lodge (Georgia Hopkins)

For such a small island, there are a surprising amount of dining options on offer but it is essential to book ahead wherever you go. Dinners on the island start and finish early. Your accommodation will generously provide a transfer to dinner, and your chosen restaurant will drive you home when you are done. We had seriously good fish and chips at the golf club one evening. A great atmosphere, it was a Friday evening and packed to the rafters with friendly locals. The bowling club does a pizza night on Saturdays, and Anchorage became our go-to for every meal. At Anchorage you can find the best cup of speciality coffee on the island, and it was great for breakfast, lunch or dinner as well. Capella Lodge has an exceptional restaurant, as does Arajilla, and some of our favourite meals during our stay were at both places.

8. The trip out to Balls Pyramid & the Admiralty Islands

Something phenomenal lies 23 kilometres southeast of Lord Howe Island, a piece of volcanic rock that rises 552m out of the ocean. This is the world’s tallest sea stack and is home to some of Australia’s most remarkable diving (the only place in the world where the Ballina Angelfish can be sighted). It is possible to visit Balls Pyramid by boat, if the weather conditions are favourable. Greenback Eco Tours is one company that offer such a service. The Admiralty Islands, just 15 minutes by boat from the island, are another impressive set of volcanic rock formations that are well-worth a visit. Also popular with divers, you'll find coral reefs and exceptionally diverse marine life.

Details:

Where is it?

600km east of the Australian mainland, somewhere in the middle of Australia and New Zealand, in the Tasman Sea. A short 2hr flight from Sydney.

Who flies there?

Qantas.

When to go?

March/April (or anytime really, apart from July when a lot of things shut down for the winter).

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