Warning. This is no cheap-and-cheerful, boozy, disco nights, cheap massage, trinket-buying beach destination. For a holiday to Lord Howe Island, you save up then savour the serenity.
My husband saw a photo of Lord Howe Island back in the mid 1980s, not long before we met. We both love to travel and over the years it has been built up in our minds as a must-see destination. And I can honestly say that it did not disappoint. It is laid back, beautiful, warm, friendly, full of natural wonders and has protected plants and animals found nowhere else on earth (all of which helps it being ‘world heritage’ listed by UNESCO ).
Lord Howe Island lies about 600 kilometres east of the coast of New South Wales, just out from Port Macquarie. Here are the UNESCO maps. It’s officially part of the state of New South Wales.
The crescent-shaped island hugs a sheltered lagoon which has at its mouth the southernmost coral reef on the planet.
The main activities on the island are cycling, swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, hiking, reading, sunset-watching, photo-taking, eating and drinking. Our visit lasted one week, but we could have easily stayed another. It takes a few days to get into the island’s rhythm and really start to relax.
Our accommodation was at Milky Way near Old Settlement Beach, and we stayed in a self-contained cottage. In addition to a private veranda looking out to a sweeping paddock and the hill up to the north end of the island, we had a full kitchen, spacious living & dining area, a large bedroom and an en-suite bathroom.
There are plenty of places to eat out on the island so we did a combination of eating in and out. Food to cook at home can be obtained at two main shops and beer, wine and spirits are also available at the liquor store near the Commonwealth Bank. The main township on the northern half of the island features a few shops, the post office, The Anchorage cafe which is open long hours and also has a bakery, a community centre that serves as the movie theatre and the Catholic church, and along the beachfront, a variety of boat sheds housing different tour companies. Tours include turtle watching, snorkelling, scuba diving, hiking the magnificent Mt Gower and Mt Lidgebird, and a variety of other custom tours.
Tour-wise, we enjoyed a two-hour snorkelling trip. The fish life plus the colours and varieties of coral and reef plants were better than any we’d seen on the Great Barrier Reef, and it was all easily accessible. You could easily swim or kayak out to the spots where we had been taken.
Our rented bikes took us the length and breadth of the island. Tip: All rental bikes have a basket so keep your beach towel and snorkel handy at all times.
We approached Old Settlement Beach one afternoon and a woman excitedly ran to tell me there was a turtle in the lagoon and that I should put my snorkel on and get in straight away! I did and must say that swimming with the lovely green turtle was one of the most fabulous underwater experiences of my life. I only regret that we had no underwater photographic equipment with us.
Crime is not a problem on the island; we were given no keys for our cottage and no locks for the bikes. On a morning snorkelling trip, we left our valuables at the beach shed of the tour company. It’s that safe.
One day we hiked Intermediate Hill. We’d been told there was a good lookout at the top. Australian adventurer and philanthropist Dick Smith is a big fan of Lord Howe Island and in 2013 he donated the funds for a lookout platform. It really made the walk worthwhile as the view over the treetops is now 360 degrees.
Flights rely on favourable weather conditions to land and take off. It’s not unusual for visitors to wait a few days for a flight if there is foul weather. We had no such issues; we came and went without incident if a bit late on departure.
QantasLink flies 40 seated Dash 8 planes to the island a few times a day to and from Sydney. Additionally, on weekends there are flights to and from Brisbane. Seasonally, flights service Port Macquarie.
Only 400 visitors are allowed on the island at any time. Tourism and the export of kentia palm seeds and seedlings are the mainstays of the economy today.
Maintaining the unique environment and world heritage listing must be a delicate balancing act. Lord Howe Island seems to be doing it right.
To plan your trip, have a look at the Lord Howe Island Tourism Association website here. As their motto says: Just paradise.