Lord Howe Island is a little piece of Australian paradise in the Pacific and it’s just a two-hour and twenty-minute flight northeast of Sydney, off the coast of New South Wales. Yet sub-tropical Lord Howe couldn’t be more different, its pristine environment more closely resembling that of New Zealand than mainland Australia.
Lord Howe Island. Yes, that’s me sighing. Islands don’t come more beautiful than Australia’s Lord Howe Island. Just over two hours after departing Sydney’s airport, our small plane, the Pixie Rourke, brings us out of the clouds and over the Pacific Ocean where a little piece of paradise comes into view. The jagged arc of the island is a jaw-dropping sight.
Lord Howe Island’s rugged Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird rise dramatically from one tip of the island, their volcanic pinnacles encircled by cloud, while at the other end of the island are the gentler humps of Mount Eliza and Malabar Hill, blanketed in luxuriant vegetation.
Two-thirds of Lord Howe Island is covered in natural forest. In between, protected by these peaks and the ridges that connect them, are two pretty bays fringed by sandy beaches, and an aquamarine lagoon, its still, shallow, crystal clear waters looking very inviting.
Off-shore a handful of rocky outcrops are scattered about the sea – the Admiral Islands to the north, Mutton Bird Island to the east, and Blackburn Island in the west. It looks like paradise and we’re soon to discover that it is.
Lord Howe Island – Australia’s Little Piece of Paradise in the Pacific
Lord Howe Island looks miniscule from our tiny aircraft. It’s only 11 kilometres long and less than two kilometres at its widest point. We can just make out a main road that runs the length of the island, and a smattering of houses and small buildings.
There are no high-rises on the island, very few cars, a handful of shops on the charming main street, and the dozen and a half low-rise accommodation options are mostly owned by island families whose ancestors, mainly British whalers, settled here in 1833.
Only 400 visitors are allowed at any one time and the local population numbers just 350. Everybody knows everyone we will discover, making for a warm, friendly community – most of whom appear to be at the small airport to welcome the latest arrivals when we land.
The lush-green UNESCO World Heritage-listed Island is recognised for its unique natural beauty, native habitats, and species of bird and marine life not found anywhere else, such as the flightless Woodhen that we’ll see running around the island, the White Gallinule, a bird almost eaten to extinction by early settlers, and the Phasmid, a stick insect once thought to be extinct.
If that weren’t enough, Lord Howe Island is home to 500 fish species, 90 species of coral, seven native bird species, and 241 plant species, including the Kentia palm, the world’s most popular indoor palm.
We get a taste of these natural wonders on a nature walk with the island’s renowned naturalist Ian Hutton up to Mount Eliza and a glass bottom boat trip to North Bay with Peter Tisdale of Islander Cruises.
Discovering Lord Howe Island’s Natural Wonders on Land and Sea
Ian Hatton takes our small group for a stroll along North Beach for a spot of Lord Howe Island’s brilliant birdwatching where we see hundreds of Sooty Terns hovering above the sand dunes, protecting their young in the nests below. They swoop down and drift about our heads, warning us not to get any closer.
The Sooty Turn, Ian tells us, will head to the Coral Sea after they’re done breeding here. Able to filter salt water and surviving on a diet of seafood, they’ll stay at sea for six months until they return to Lord Howe again.
We help Ian check some data on a Kentia Palm experiment he is monitoring, we visit a colony of Black Noddy in a colossal pine tree, and learn that the lofty pine trees that line the picturesque waterfront are native to Norfolk Island, not Lord Howe. And we climb to the top of Mount Eliza for sweeping views of the island.
On the cruise back, through the glass bottom of Peter Tisdale’s boat, we see loggerheads turtles, a sort of sting ray called a Bull Ray, countless varieties of rainbow-coloured fish, and blue-tipped coral beds that look like fields of lavender.
Some participants in the group slip on snorkels and dive in for a closer look. Back on shore on a picnic table outside Peter’s boatshed chocolate cake and tea are served. After a sip and nibble, we hop on bikes.
Fish Barbecues, Cold Beers and Sunset Canapés on the Beach
We cycle back to Pinetrees, the family-owned accommodation where we’re staying for our first couple of nights on the island in a comfortable apartment with kitchen. It was one of the owners of Pinetrees, Dani Rourke, who had organised for bikes to be left for us at Peter’s Islander Cruises.
Dani is a sixth generation islander and her family has been on the island for 150 years. Our plane was named after her mother, something of a legend on the island.
Another day, Dani organises a barbecue for us at an agreed location, which she marks on a map, arranging for the drop-off of a cooler and picnic basket packed with fresh fish, salad, cheeses, cold beers, and a box of matches at one of the many barbecues with firewood dotted around the island that the local municipality maintain.
Terence barbecues the fish and we eat our barbecued fish sandwiches, with lemon juice and salt, at a picnic table under the Norfolk Pines, overlooking that aquamarine lagoon. Magic.
Also special are the sunset drinks on the wooden deck of Pinetrees Boatshed overlooking the striking silhouette of Blackburn Island, hosted by one of the other owners, Jim McFadyen, who, barefoot, serves canapés to guests on the beach.
It’s something of a ritual for locals as much as tourists, who help themselves to a drink from the fridge (there’s an honesty bar), pull up a chair, settle into a seat on the dunes, or spread out a picnic blanket on the sand to savour every second of the sun as it sinks slowly toward the horizon.
Bike Rides, Beach Walks, Seafood, and Sea Views
The sunset drinks – minus the Blackburn Island vistas – but with magnificent Mount Gower views instead, are also memorable from the wooden deck at Capella, a luxury lodge where we spend a couple more nights, so we can explore every inch of the island on bike and foot.
We ride Capella’s bikes to Kings Beach, waving to the cows on the way, where we leave them for a lovely walk along the water’s edge to Little Island beneath the 777-metre high Mount Lidgbird.
We cycle back to the opposite end of the island again and we walk. Walking is the main activity for visitors to Lord Howe Island and Capella has a good walking map identifying routes and distances, as well as good marked tracks.
We walk as many trails as we can in our short time on the island, rewarding ourselves with wonderful vistas and lunch at Humpty Micks, where we feast on locally caught Kingfish with chips and schooners of icy beer.
We also eat well at the stylish luxury lodge, Capella, where contemporary Australian cuisine is the specialty. We eat locally caught trevally sashimi, spanner crab with a papaya tian, poached cuttlefish and mango salad, and seared kingfish with homemade fettuccini, which we wash down with Australian Rieslings and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.
Capella is just stunning with a beach-house sense of style that suits Lord Howe Island. Our two-storey loft room has a spacious living area and bathroom downstairs and a light-filled bedroom up. There are verandas on both floors, the top level boasting spectacular Mount Gower views. Sublime.
Lord Howe Island Guide
How to Get to Lord Howe Island
The only way to get to Lord Howe Island is to fly. QantasLink has at least one daily flight from Sydney which takes 2 hours 20 mins. Planes are small and luggage limits are strictly enforced so you may need to store luggage at your Sydney hotel.
Getting Around Lord Howe Island
Your Lord Howe Island accommodation will provide transfers. On the island, you can ride bikes and walk everywhere. There are also guided tours can be booked upon arrival.
Where to Stay on Lord Howe Island
All lodgings on Lord Howe Island offer airport transfers.
Located right opposite the beach, family-owned Pinetrees is one of the most hospitable properties on the ilsand, with a range of super-comfortable rooms and apartments with kitchenettes, an excellent restaurant serving fresh local seafood, and a laidback beachside bar which pops up each evening in time for sunset, where they host sundowners. They also offer bicycles and can prepare picnics and barbecues for guests.
Somerset Apartments offers comfy, affordable, self-catering accommodation with kitchens, which are ideal for families, groups of friends, and people who simply like to cook when they travel. As there are few restaurants on the island, this is a great option. We stayed in one of their properties on the main street.
Set in tropical forest just off Old Settlement Beach, Arajilla Retreat offers beautiful five-star lodgings in the form of luxurious one- and two-bedroom suites. They have a fine restaurant and spa and provide snorkelling gear, bicycles for hire, and packed lunches. You can go bird watching and bushwalking directly from the property.
Waimarie Apartments has two one-bedroom apartments in lush gardens with mountain and sea views, so you can savour sunset from your own verandah. It’s just a five-minute walk from two beautiful beaches: the still lagoon, home to a coral reef and ideal for snorkelling, swimming, kayaking, and standup paddle boarding, and Blinky’s Beach, Lord Howe’s best surf beach and a great sunrise-watching spot. The owners provide freshly baked bread, coffee and sparkling, and will take guests shopping for other essentials.
On five acres of tropical gardens near Ned’s Beach and Middle Beach, Beachcomber Lodge offers studios and apartments with well equipped kitchens with proper stoves, and shaded patios, verandahs and timber decks. There’s both a wood-fired and gas barbecue, a restaurant, and free nightly transfers if you want to dine out.
Lorhiti Apartments has immaculate units with white-washed walls, vibrant art on the walls, spacious living rooms, and proper kitchens. There are wooden decks and shaded patios, a gazebo overlooking the manicured lawns and tropical gardens, and there’s a private path with direct access to Ned’s Beach.
The chic Capella Lodge, part of the luxury lodge group that also owns Southern Ocean Lodge fame, is Lord Howe Island’s most exclusive boutique accommodation with a superb restaurant, bar-lounge and spa, and balconies with stunning views.
Where to Eat on Lord Howe Island
Capella Lodge and Pinetrees offer some of the most delicious food on Lord Howe Island in their restaurants and can arrange barbecues and picnics. A short stroll from Somerset Apartments, Humpty Mick’s, located on the main street, is the island’s best café-bar.
Lord Howe Island Essentials and Tips
If you’re not an Australian or New Zealand citizen visiting Lord Howe Island, you need a Tourist Visa, Electronic Travel Authority or eVisitor before you travel to Australia. To determine which visa you need contact your nearest Australian embassy.
Lord Howe Island uses Australia’s currency, which is the Australian dollar. ATMs are scarce on the islands, so take cash, although major credit cards are accepted. Tipping is at your discretion.
Lord Howe Island has long warm summers extending into autumn with daytime temperatures around 25–28°C and winters 18–22°C.
Pack mosquito repellent, sun cream, swimwear, hat and flip-flops for the beach, light cotton trousers, walking boots for hikes, and a fleece or sweater and lightweight wet weather jacket.
There was no mobile phone coverage on Lord Howe Island when we stayed. Bliss.
Visit NSW www.visitnsw.com/destinations/lord-howe-island
Tourism Australia www.australia.com
We travelled to Lord Howe Island as guests of Lord Howe Island Tourism but all our opinions are our own obviously.