Back in January 2014, to celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary we visited an Australian hidden gem, Lord Howe Island. It is a place we have wanted to visit for a long time, we even considered going here for our honeymoon, but unfortunately, the plan fell through and we went elsewhere. Since our first child was born over seven years ago, this is the first time we have spent a night away on our own without the kids, and we had four nights to ourselves on this sub-tropical island paradise.
Day 1: New Year
No staying up late on New Year’s Eve for us, as we had an early start the next morning. We are a little apprehensive about leaving the kids with their granny, but they should be OK. What could go wrong? We had to fly from Melbourne to Sydney, then transfer to a small plane out to the island. Straight away we felt at ease, sitting on a plane without having to keep the kids occupied, and being able to relax and eat and read.
It was a tiny airport on Lord Howe Island, resembling a very small country town, and with super friendly staff. The lady who welcomed us as we stepped off the plane, knew the person from our hotel who was meeting us, who knew the people sitting on the plane next to us. Small town!
We are staying at the Blue Lagoon Lodge, in a small studio unit just right for us. It is located right in the centre of town, only a few minutes walk to most services.
We hired bikes straight away from the accommodation and rode around to check everything out. The island is structured that you book restaurants by putting your name down on the bookings sheet out front of the place during the day. We booked restaurants for the nights ahead, and a few places were all booked up, so we had to compromise on a few restaurants we had planned to visit.
We also wanted to grab some supplies, but being New Year’s day, all the shops were closed early. We’ll have to wait till tomorrow and eat the food that we brought with us. We rang home to check on the kids (we could not resist), it was all fine (of course) so we decided to have a beer at the Anchorage across the road. We realised the sun was setting, so we hightailed to the beach to walk along the pristine sand and watch the sun go down, before heading back to our unit for a home-cooked dinner. This place has the feel of a holiday island, you can do nothing but relax. This has been a beautiful day and a wonderful start to our second honeymoon.
Day 2: Beachcombing
While we were waiting for the shop to open for our breakfast supplies, we went for a bushwalk through the temperate forest of Stephens Reserve. A path led a couple of kilometres through the bushland behind our hotel, with lots of palms and other endemic trees and some of the island’s unique birdlife.
Thompson’s Store is right next door to where we were staying, which is handy, though we were surprised with the high prices. Some items seemed to be about double what we expected: a two-litre juice was $8, but the takeaway beer seemed reasonable, about $4 per stubbie. We will have to get some of those and walk down to the beach for sunset drinks one night.
Clare had left behind on the plane something she had purchased in Sydney, but she needed not worry. They had worked out who it belonged to (as Clare had thoughtfully left her boarding pass along with it). It was brought to our hotel and left at a public place, knowing that things can be safely left laying around here. I can’t imagine any crime problems here on the island.
We rode to the museum to learn about some history of the island. We watched an old film about life on the island and looked at the many displays. We indulged in coffee before heading up the hill to get some supplies from Joy’s Shop. We had a celebrity sighting of actor Colin Friels, though Rob was not convinced it was him!
Lunch was burgers at Thompson’s Store next door, a fairly affordable lunch. If you look around there are plenty of options for meals and not all as expensive as we expected.
We headed down to Ned’s beach to go snorkelling but the wind had picked up on that side of the island and the water was a bit choppy. We went down to check the temperature of the water, and then we noticed all the fish swimming in the shallows. People come down to this beach to feed the fish, so the fish were all expecting some food from us. There were some big and colourful fish which we hope to see tomorrow if we can go in for a snorkel.
Instead of a swim, we decided to hike up the hill to Mullabar Lookout. It was a steep climb through some interesting landscapes, with fantastic views from the top along the island. We continued along the track, following the ridge and back down to Old Settlement Beach. There were a few steep climbs up and down which ended in quite a tiring outing. We have not done a lot of hiking lately so we are not used to this amount of exercise.
Dinner was at Beachcombers for tapas night. The hotel arranges to drop you off at the restaurant, and after the meal, they have a bus to take you back home. The restaurant is actually within walking distance, but we are in the mood for being spoiled.
The tapas plates were great and it was nice to go out for a relaxing meal. A couple of sangrias was a great accompaniment to the Spanish meal. We decided to walk home rather than take the courtesy bus. It was a lovely evening, it was hard walking back in the dark without a torch, but it was all downhill, relaxing and it feels totally safe on this island utopia.
Day 3: Transiting the Island
We had hoped to spend the day snorkelling, but first thing in the morning it was already quite windy. We made the decision to go on another walk, not quite as demanding as yesterday though – our legs were still a bit weary. This walk took us through a few different landscapes in the central part of the island, culminating at the peak of Transit Hill and a great 360-degree view. The hill is so named as it was the place from which the transit of Venus was viewed in 1882.
We came back for a self-catered lunch. We are constantly surprised about how cheap it is here, much more affordable than we expected. It is probably because we are used to the high Perth prices and have had an expectation that prices would be higher.
We finally were able to get into the water for a snorkel. It is still slightly windy, but there are a few sheltered spots. We just have to get out there anyway, only a couple of days left here on the island.
At Old Settlement Beach, we have been advised that there are turtles to see. As we paddled out there was not much to see and we were getting disappointed, but about 50 meters from shore we came across some nice coloured coral and plenty of fish of all colours and sizes. The big purple double-headed fish was a standout, but unfortunately, we did not see any turtles. As we were leaving the beach though a guy came out of the shallows saying he had just seen one, but it had darted away. We may try again tomorrow. We headed across the island to Ned’s Beach, and again within a few metres, we were swimming amongst coral with an even better array of really colourful fish. The coral here on this side of the island was also healthier.
After a rinse off and a relaxing drink with nibbles, we headed out for our ‘anniversary night’ dinner at The Beach House on the Moon. A restaurant with a strange name but a nice and casual setting. Most restaurants here are set among very lush tropical gardens. The buffet salad bar was the highlight, though the meals we ordered were average. We had missed out on booking one of the nicer restaurants to celebrate our anniversary for tonight as it is peak season here, so we had to settle for a not so fancy place, but that’s OK as our whole stay has been our anniversary celebration!
Day 4: Turtle Spotting
It was another windy day, we have not had much luck with that, but it is still warm and swimming weather, about 25 degrees. Overnight it has been dropping not far below twenty, which makes for very comfortable nights.
It is our last full day on Lord Howe Island, so we’re trying to complete all the things we wish to do here. We would have liked to take a kayak out into the lagoon and try a few different snorkelling spots, though with the wind and swell we decided it would not be too much fun.
The sun was shining so we took a refreshing swim at the main beach in the lagoon, a quick look under the water did not find any fish.
We headed home to cook up some local fresh fish that we ordered yesterday. Some fresh kingfish, 500g for only $15. Simply grilled on the BBQ with a little salad was a great lunch. On an island in the Pacific, fresh fish is exactly what you eat, a staple food!
We did not waste any time and headed back to the beach, this time to Old Settlement Beach with the hope of spotting a turtle. Fortunately, someone had already found one in the shallows, so we jumped in with our snorkels and swam along next to it. We followed it along the shoreline, swimming on each side of it, gently touching the shell of this metre long sea creature in awe. We were satisfied having now swum with a turtle, so we crossed the island again (it’s less than a km) to Ned’s Beach, hoping the sea would be calmer on that side. It wasn’t. We did not swim but fed the fish instead. There is a vending machine supplying fish food, which you can feed to the masses of fish that come right up to the shore. Lots of fun and many close encounters.
For dinner, we went to Pandanus. It had been hard to secure this booking since it’s a popular place. However, we were terribly disappointed to have been misled about the menu tonight. We came here expecting an Asian-style menu, as usual for the weekend, instead, we were offered the regular weekday menu. The food was still delicious and very much enjoyed. We left quite early and walked back to our room via Neds Beach to see the mutton birds fly back to their nests in amongst the palms at dusk. It is an amazing sight as heaps of birds swoop down right past you to get to their homes.
Day 5: Departure day
Our last day on the island today, and the weather is much improved from yesterday! Almost too late, except that we have a few hours this morning to do some final activities. We had to check out of our hotel, but in the island’s most hospitable style we could leave our gear in a transit lounge to grab later.
We are lucky enough to be here for an annual island event, the Mount Gower Race. We cycled down to the far end of the island to view the festivities. The main event is a race to the top of the highest peak on the island. The record time to complete this is about 1hr 40minutes, just a bit faster than the usual hike time of 9 hours! The event included a short (800m) and long (1.2km) fun run for locals and tourists, and then the main race which involved five athletes looking to break the record which stands from 1995! They served a breakfast of fish, sausages and muffins, with an interview with some locals who have climbed the mountain hundreds of times. An interesting insight into the life of a local on the island.
After we watched the start of the main race, we rode back past the airport, stopping to watch planes take off over us, on to Ned’s Beach again for a final snorkel. This time we saw a shark, two turtles and a clownfish, along with loads of other fish life and coral. A great way to end a fabulous holiday. We finished with a lay on the beach before handing back our gear, snorkels and bikes.
We showered in the ‘transit lounge’ then headed across the road for a small bite for lunch at Anchorage. Our flight was delayed by half an hour, so it was great to have somewhere to hang out before departing to the airport.
The flight took us to Sydney, then a short transit to our next flight from Sydney to Melbourne, but we made it just in time. Back home to the kids and a very warm reception. They have been missed.