From the moment you step off the tiny butter-box sized plane at Lord Howe Island, you know you’re in for something special. Walking towards a small airport gated by a white picket fence, palm trees and a backdrop of rolling mountains, faces are friendly and life suddenly seems a whole lot lighter.
Jumping in a car with the guy who was doing the transfer to the lodge, I started rattling off questions about the weather and the phone reception on the island. He was quick to pull me up, “I’ll get to all of that – just relax, we move pretty slow here” – a gracious substitute for leave your city hustle at the door.
The locals at Lord Howe are all about the visitors adopting the same island mentality that they have. Most of the folks are easy going, down-to-earth and trust people to do the right thing.
This island gives you a free pass to ever-so-briefly press pause on your real life, slow down and do the one thing that actually matters in life and properly connect with people. With that, comes trading your opal in for a bicycle helmet, the city smoke for the fresh air and the overflowing restaurants for barbequing by the sea.
Flights to the island are expensive, but if you’re looking for Australian travel spots and want to marvel at something, reserve your awe for this.
Capella Lodge serves up a panorama like no other. Rolling mountains to your left, twin peaks (Gower and Lidgbird) ahead of you and the Pacific Ocean’s turquoise waters and coral reef to your right.
The height of Lord Howe luxury, your all-inclusive stay includes breakfast, sunset drinks, canapes, dinner (with a daily menu of seafood and fresh regional produce) and an open bar each evening. You’ll be greeted with welcome drinks on the terrace upon arrival and then taken to your beach-house style suite (views also stunning!) to settle in. There are no locks on the doors, so prepare yourself to be quickly catapulted into the island’s circle of trust.
If you can, try and stay a few nights at Arajilla, a retreat nestled under a canopy of Kentia Palms and Banyan Trees. The vibe is completely different to Capella (more understated) but it has a really lovely lavish-getaway-in-the-rainforest type of feel.
If you do stay with them, I’d recommend asking for a picnic hamper to take down to the beach for lunch or dinner. They’ll pack you some drinks, fresh seafood and salad and you can just wander down and find yourself a cooking spot. Arajilla is located on the northern end of the island and is just a moment from Old Settlement Beach – there are so many perfect and isolated little spots with barbeques…I just hope you’ll have more luck than I had getting your fire started!
For an island only 11km long and 2km wide, it sure is crammed with walking trails.
One of the greatest things I have ever done was wake with the sun and run up the top of a mountain in the northern part of the island – it was truly beautiful. Getting to the top and being surrounded by nothing but the breathtaking views and swooping seagulls was magical stuff.
The trails are varied, with a range of easy strolls, moderate cliff-top hikes and then the more strenuous Mount Gower climb which is rated as one of the best day treks in the world.
I have a love/hate relationship with bikes. When I moved to Amsterdam I got off to a rocky start and had two (small-ish) cycling accidents the first week; I had to learn to make my bicycle my most cherished companion. Mastering Amsterdam’s chaotic streets was testing, so I now revel in the chance to jump on a bike, on an open road with no traffic and sans a sea of rushing Dutchies – Lord Howe was perfect for this.
Many places on the island will lend you bikes and you can just casually spend an afternoon riding around the island, stopping in at all the secluded little beach spots you see along the way. The unique delight of these beaches is there is rarely anyone else there, an experience not often available when it comes to beautiful Aussie beaches.
You’ll find some of the clearest waters in Australia at Lord Howe and the swimming is beautiful everywhere – from wonderful little rock pools, swimming with turtles or heading over to Ned’s beach for a snorkel above the colourful coral just metres from the shore.
Feeding the fish at Ned’s Beach is one of the most wonderful experiences. Grab a handful of fish food from the dispenser in the shelter by the beach and feed the schools of eager mullet, garfish, silver drummer, spangled emperor and kingfish – you are literally surrounded by hundreds of them!
And if you’re interested in snorkeling at Ned’s and you’d like to hire masks, fins or a wetsuit, you’ll find there’s no one manning the desk. They work with an “honest box” system, where they leave a price list and a locked box and hope that you will drop your money in. It’s a nice – and rare – reminder of how comforting it can be to just trust.