The Last Paradise
Lord Howe Island
The inhabitants of Lord Howe Island are fond of calling it ‘the
last paradise’. Whether or not it’s the last one is open to debate, but a
paradise it certainly is. Lying in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New
Zealand, this tiny island – about eight miles long by a mile wide – has a lot
going for it. It is free of pollution, the population is tiny and it enjoys an
abundance of natural wonders.
The island is sometimes visited by cruise ships plying the
routes between the Australian coastal cities and New Zealand. If you’re one of
the lucky cruisers who visits the island, don’t expect to walk straight off
your ship on to the quay side: the island does not have the port facilities or
depth of water to handle modern cruise ships, so the chances are you’ll be
ferried ashore by boat or helicopter. Only four hundred tourists are allowed on
the island at any one time.
This may be awkward – and expensive – but it’s worth it. And
once you get ashore there’s an astonishing range of things to do. For starters,
hiking and mountain biking are very popular on the island, and particularly
well catered for in terms of guides and hiring facilities. However, if time is
a little short there are plenty of other options open to you. If you feel like
some exercise, there’s a lot of scope for kayaking in the shallows immediately
offshore. Lord Howe Island has the world’s most southerly coral reef, which
wraps itself around the island to form a still and peaceful lagoon. What better
place to learn your kayak rolls and rescues in the calm, warm waters of this
tropical heaven? In a similar vein, great surfing is to be had on the waves of
If full immersion is your thing, there are a number of fully
qualified dive masters on the island who will take you exploring the reef and
other areas of interest – there’s a whole network of underwater trenches, caves
and volcanic drop offs to look around.
If you want to take to the waves without getting your head wet
why not take a trip in a glass-bottomed boat? A journey over the reef allows
you to inspect the beautiful coral formations and their exotic fishy
inhabitants at close range. At shallow points (your captain will tell you) you
can even hop over the side and wade around for yourself.
For those who like to watch rather than do, there’s a wealth of
natural wonders here to observe. Lord Howe Island is one of the world’s premier
bird watching destinations, and ‘twitchers’ come here from all over the world
to admire the fourteen species of rare seabirds that inhabit the island and its
shorelines. Inland you might be lucky enough to see a Lord Howe Woodhen –
having evolved separate from the mainland of Australia, this is the only place
in the world where they can be found!
If you like nature but you haven’t patience or knowledge to sit
in a hedge waiting for a rare bird to come along, you can feed some fish. This
may sound pretty dull, but in fact it’s anything but: visit Ned’s Beach to hand
feed some of the beautiful Pelagic fish that arrive and congregate in the area
every afternoon – to hop back aboard a glass bottomed boat and feed the coral
fish. This is a great activity for kids who can’t get enough of Finding Nemo!
If you want to explore the less wet parts of the island, you can
spend a day climbing Mount Gower – reputedly the best one day mountain hike in
Australia. At just under three thousand feet, Gower is a stiff climb without
being intimidating and huge. From the summit you can appreciate just how tiny
Lord Howe Island really is – it seems entirely lost in the great sweep of the
Tasman Sea, with neither Australia nor New Zealand even remotely visible on the
distant horizon. If you’re going to take this hike, make sure you’ve hired one
of the local guides – he or she will help you to hire the gear that you need.
Walking on the mountain is generally safe, but the presence of a guide is
considered essential for strangers to the island, as the peak drops off sharply
on three sides. You wouldn’t want to take a wrong turning!
Getting to Lord Howe Island isn’t easy, and few cruise
itineraries take it in. But if you get the chance, seize it: this really is one
of the most beautiful, peaceful, remote and lovely places on the entire planet.