52 Journeys, Australia: No 3, Lord Howe Island
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful places in the world, Lord Howe Island. I went there to photograph one of the guest houses and fell madly in love with it.
As I wrote on Instagram not long after, it’s “the way the little island makes you feel – incredibly lucky to be dropped onto a tiny spec in the middle of the big blue sea where nature dominates and humans are allowed to come and marvel at it all. No stress, few people, virtually no cars and beauty absolutely everywhere.”
After flying 600km over nothing but ocean for two hours, my first sighting of Lord Howe from the air is one I’ll never forget. Its fiery, volcanic beginnings around seven million years ago has produced a rugged landscape of spectacular steep cliffs rising out of a brilliant turquoise sea. Two incredibly dramatic twin peaks, Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird, dominate the southern end of the crescent-shaped island which curves around a sparkling lagoon and coral reef. As you’re flying over all this before descending onto the famously short runway, you can’t help thinking, wow, so the hype is real!
It doesn’t take long before you settle into some sort of routine on the island. I started most days before work with a hike up Malabar Hill at the north end of the island to see the sunrise.
looking down from Malabar Hill to Ned’s Beach
Standing on top of Malabar Hill, you can see right down to the Admiralty Islands, a small group of volcanic formations where divers go to explore pristine turquoise waters and beautiful coral reefs. In order to photograph birds like the Red tailed tropicbirds and Sooty Terns flying around down below, I had to lean right out over the cliff’s edge. On my own, without any sort of fence to stop you falling, I scared myself half to death as I got bolder and bolder, until finally I was far enough out to be able to capture the scene below me.
Unlike everywhere else in Australia, there are no poisonous spiders on the island (or snakes) but there are plenty of Golden Orb Weaving spiders who weave massive sticky webs across pathways.
Despite knowing they’re not a risk I still found myself shrieking and ducking madly to avoid walking headfirst into them!
On the way down from Malabar Hill one day I was delighted by all the Sooty Terns wheeling around. Against a background of the ancient volcanic peaks, Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird, the birds look almost prehistoric, like pterodactyls, the flying reptiles from eons ago.
As I said before, the way the island makes you feel is what I remember most vividly months after being there – completely relaxed, ‘unheady’ and healthy. To start with, there is limited Wi-Fi and mobile phone coverage on the island so you literally switch off and stop reaching for your phone all the time. It gives your addicted brain a break from the constant stream of information you usually feed it and helps you get out of your head and into your body more, which is kind of blissful for the overthinkers amongst us!
The second thing that helps you feel so good is the fact you get around by bike. Every morning after I’d finished my shoot at the guesthouse, I’d put my cossie on, jump on my bike and head to a beach or cove to swim and snorkel. After a while I’d get back on the bike and ride to another beach or inlet. By the end of the day I might have explored three or four beautiful little places on my trusty blue bike, which meant that after a week of doing so, I felt not just relaxed but also physically great and definitely more fit.
The lack of crowds on the island also makes for a relaxing time – the local population is around 380 and visitor numbers are restricted to just 400 at any one time. For most of us who live in crowded cities, constantly surrounded by people, it’s such a luxury to ride around without seeing anyone for ages or relax on one of the smaller beaches without a single other soul. And with so few people you’re able to fully immerse yourself in the island’s incredible natural world, which we know is so good for us but is often hard to do.
That said, after an afternoon of ‘quiet time’ on my own, I did love meeting up with people I’d met on the island to have a drink at the cool little Crooked Post bar, right across from the lagoon, or dinner at one of the great restaurants, such as Anchorage, Driftwood or Sunset Bar & Grill (which by the way, you need to book beforehand, preferably weeks if not months in advance).
Other dining options include cooking your own if you’re staying in a self-catering guesthouse (you can buy groceries in a few stores on the island) or dinner on-site at some of the higher end places. You can also DIY on one of many BBQs on the island which are stacked daily with new wood for your grilling pleasure.
Looking at these images now I’m struck by the lack of pretension; there are no big fancy resorts or restaurants and the architecture is all low-key ‘island’ style, with lots of natural materials such as stone and timber. I reckon this is yet another reason why the island makes you feel so calm and relaxed.
So that was my ‘feel good’ week on Lord Howe, a mix of business and so much pleasure. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit the island, I’d love to hear about your experience of it. Until next I post (which will be soon, and about another island!).