Friday 28 June 2013

10 reasons to love Lord Howe Island

There's one question I'm always being asked, as a travel writer: "What's your favourite place in the world?". Which is, of course, impossible to answer. So I usually mumble something about having lots of favourites before remembering that there is one place I really love: Lord Howe Island.

World's most beautiful place?
It might sound parochial, picking somewhere in your own country when you've been to places like Mongolia and Madagascar, but this little island is a special place.

The first time I went to Lord Howe was for the 25th anniversary of its World Heritage listing six years ago. It was love at first sight. I was almost in tears flying in, seeing this mountainous tropical island appear out of the blue, so pristine, so natural.

Afterwards I fantasised about living there, vowed to return. And earlier this month, I did. For a week-long break from travelling and writing - which amused the owners of Pinetrees Lodge (where my lovely friend Emma and I stayed), who blogged that Lord Howe is where travel writers go on holiday.

Happiness is a Lord Howe holiday:
(with Em on our first day)
It was a week of peace and plenty in a natural place. I came back feeling as if I'd been away for a month. I felt healthier for breathing sea air, bushwalking and riding a bike (instead of a desk) every day and eating well (without having to cook!). And happier for the friendly vibe and for having time and space to relax, look at the trees, the sea, the tropicbirds.

Ah Lord Howe, let me count the ways I love thee:

1. Natural beauty - Lord Howe has it by the truckload: mountains (the twin peaks of Mt Gower and Lidgbird at the southern end, Mt Eliza at the northern end), a long, tropical-island lagoon encircled by the most southerly coral reef in the world, and wild surf beaches that'd fit right in on the NSW mid-north coast.

2. An island attitude - in a good way. Supplies come by sea every fortnight, supplemented by the catch of the day (usually kingfish), kids go to school barefoot (it's allowed under NSW law). You soon get used to waving at everyone as they walk, ride or drive by (there are a few cars on the island). After a day or two you can start to feel as if you've been living there all your life.

View from the dinghy
3. You can surf there - sometimes. The waves aren't reliable enough to put Lord Howe on the surf-trip map (thank goodness) but you can be lucky - as I was. The morning after I arrived Luke Hanson of Pinetrees kindly found me a wetsuit, borrowed a surfboard for me from his friend Bonky (true) and took me out to the edge of the reef in his aluminium dinghy. It was like surfing in Tahiti (I imagine): aquarium-blue water, those imposing mountains, long left-handers and only two of us out. I was as happy as a puppy for the rest of the day.

4. It's safe. Wherever you stay on the island, you won't have a room key. Nor will you get a lock when you pick up your rental bike from Wilson's Hire (only $32 for the whole week!). And when you want to go snorkelling at Ned's Beach, just drop a few coins in the honesty box; there is a price list, but it doesn't seem to have been updated since 1975, the rates are so low. At $3.50 an hour for a mask and snorkel, you're not renting it, you're borrowing it and leaving a tip!

Lord Howe's Norfolk Island pines
5. Pinetrees Lodge - the oldest lodge on the island, still family-run after 120-odd years (Luke and his wife Dani Rourke's daughters Elsie, 4, and Pixie, 2, are the seventh generation of the Rourke-Kirby dynasty). It has the best location - across the road from the middle of the lagoon beach, where its Boatshed is the perfect place for sunset drinks. Meals are included in the room rates - including afternoon tea (especially welcome in winter), a picnic or barbecue lunch delivered to your beach of choice when you're out exploring, and fine dining at night in the lodge's communal restaurant.

Sunset from Little Island,
beneath Mt Gower
6. The stars! Being 600 kilometres off the east coast of Australia, there's no light pollution, which makes for spectacular star-gazing. Em and I got into the habit of taking our after-dinner cups of tea over the road to Boatshed just to look up at the night sky, framed by the feathery tops of the Norfolk pine trees. The sunsets aren't bad either.

7. Birds. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds nest on Lord Howe and its satellite islands every year, including providence petrels. One afternoon we walked to the base of Mt Gower to call them down out of the sky. They'll land at your feet, apparently, or in your outstretched arms - but not for us. We did have a close encounter with an RAAF Hercules, however. Having seen it fly low around the island a few times, we joined a few locals on the breakwall at the end of the airstrip to watch this great, grey bird fly towards us over the ocean and right over our heads. So LOUD, so exciting!

8. It's off the grid. Seeing the Hercules was the high-tech highlight of our week. You can leave your phone, your mini iPad and your laptop at home when you come to Lord Howe; there's no mobile reception, no wifi. No TVs in the rooms at Pinetrees either. Long live printed newspapers: that's the only way you can know for sure the outside world still exists, thanks to daily Qantaslink deliveries. The perfect place to unplug.

9. You can go car-less. I loved exploring the island on my trusty rental bike, particularly the strip of road between the island's "main street" and the airstrip, a cathedral of green punctuated by fishing buoys tied to the trunks of palm trees (the locals' way of marking the secluded paths and driveways to their houses).

The view from the Mt Eliza track
10. It's an adventure playground. Unlike so many tropical islands, Lord Howe is rugged and wild. There are cliffs, canyons, offshore islands you could kayak too (on a calm day). I hiked up Mt Gower last time, a 10-hour epic you can do only with a local guide. This time I was content to take some shorter tracks that are no less spectacular. We hardly saw another soul.

I could go on, but you get the picture. As Emma put it, in her Lord Howe Love-in post: "If I could live there, I would, but failing that I will simply spend my days telling anyone with ears to go." Exactly.

Want to go? See the Lord Howe Island website and check out Pinetrees Lodge's winter deals and walking, wellness and wilderness weeks. I'll see you there.


  1. Oh Lou! What a beautiful story. And what a beautiful holiday - when are we going back???

  2. Thanks, Em! Ready when you are... I think we're due for a summertime LHI experience, what do you think?

  3. all of the above and it is not too far away, when you need a break you can get there in no time!!!

    1. Thanks for reminding me: #11 reason to go to Lord Howe is that it's only a 2-hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane.

  4. Love your story Lou - and so happy I 'introduced' you to LHI all those years ago - fond memories of that trip! Remember Neville Wran? But what, no repeat of Mt Gower this time? ;) Such a special place - top of my list, too.

    1. Hi Kerry - thanks for the lovely comment, no, no Gower trek that trip, but I've climbed it again since. Have been to LHI four times now! Including an Adventure Week and an Ocean Swim Week. Pinetrees has changed in so many good ways. Can't thank you enough for that first trip there, though. Happy travels this summer! Lx

    2. PS This is my all-time most popular post! Glad to be spreading the word about lovely Lord Howe :-)