Lord Howe Island: Visit the exclusive ‘Galápagos of Australia’

At a time when space and a connection with nature are the travel world’s greatest luxuries, Lord Howe Island may well take the trophy as Australia’s most exclusive destination. By Susan Elliott.

If a destination could be on Australia’s Most Wanted, it would be Lord Howe Island. The offence in question? Harbouring exotic fish, supplying unspoiled beaches, touting delicious food, trafficking passengers to untouched coral reefs and being outrageously beautiful. Lord Howe – guilty as charged.

At Ned’s Beach, Lord Howe’s dreamy northern cove, I tiptoe through the shore break. My movement triggers hundreds of mullet, wrasse and garfish, whipping them into a frenzy. Tiny, gaping mouths punch the surface and swirl around my feet – forming a scaly mosh pit. Moments later, the party is disrupted by a juvenile Galapagos shark, who snaps an unlucky mullet and shoots off. The ‘happiest fish in the world’ resume their watery dance. Nature experiences like this are what Lord Howe is all about. And, for this tiny drop of land just 600 kilometres off the east coast of Australia, there are many.

Lord Howe Island from above
Lord Howe Island from above © Ian Hutton

Bike or hike your way around Lord Howe Island

Bikes are the best way to get around Lord Howe. And the only way to travel faster than the 25km/h speed limit set for the few cars on the island. Lagoon Road tracks the foreshore and is as flat as the Tasman Sea alongside. But you have to suck in lots of air for the heart-pumping pedal up Middle Beach Road. At the top, a 10-minute walk past centuries-old banyan trees leads to an ocean view that draws what’s left of your breath away.

If it’s not two wheels, it’s two feet – hikers say Lord Howe has some of Australia’s most epic trails. Tens of thousands of sooty terns are my escort for a sunrise hike up Malabar Hill. Locals call these birds ‘wide-awakes’, as after a few seconds of their incessant screeching, you are just that.

The track I’m on is a mix of paddock paths, forest trails and steep steps. But with views spanning the entire 11-kilometre island, it’s well worth the effort.

Biking around Lord Howe Island
Biking is one of the best ways to explore Lord Howe Island

Dizzying views from Lord Howe’s Mount Gower

Other popular walks include Mount Eliza, the Old Gulch and Transit Hill. But Mount Gower, towering 875 metres above the lagoon, is Lord Howe’s crowning glory. It’s a gutsy eight-hour, 14-kilometre round-trip across rugged terrain, with dizzying drops and rope climbs. The mountain-top reward is a seabird’s view of the island. Not to mention a walk among some of Earth’s rarest ferns, trees, mosses and orchids. Meanwhile, if you visit in winter, you’ll have the company of providence petrels. This seabird is so trusting it literally drops out of the sky when called in by your guide.

In contrast, you won’t see are many people. With only 400 visitors allowed on Lord Howe at any one time – and a permanent population less than that number – it’s rare to pass a soul.

Views from the top of Mount Gower
Incredible island views from the top of Mount Gower Kayla Hiscox

Wonderful Wildlife: Australia’s Galápagos Island

“Pick me! Pick me!” The call of the muttonbird, or flesh-footed shearwater, is hilariously human-like. It is dusk at Ned’s Beach and the ‘fighter pilots of the sky’ are crash-landing through the forest canopy. What’s more, with their webbed feet, they stumble like drunks to their sandy burrows for the night. It’s a fantastic sight. I gently relocate several birds who’ve paused to warm themselves on the road. But it’s my heart that is warmed by their absolute trust of humans.

“This is the Galápagos of Australia,” says Ian Hutton, when I manage to catch up with him later. Hutton is Lord Howe’s 30-year resident naturalist, biologist, conservationist, bird expert and museum curator. In addition, he is also the author of 11 books on Lord Howe and an island guide. Track him down if you can. He’s a treasure as rare as the hundreds of endemic birds, plants and sea life on this UNESCO World Heritage-listed Island and marine park.

Lord Howe is an important breeding ground for sooty terns
Lord Howe Island is an important breeding ground for sooty terns

Discover Lord Howe’s Southern Barrier Reef

I feel spoiled simply swimming. The Tasman Sea to the west and South Pacific Ocean on the east are eye-popping shades of blue. Meanwhile beneath me is the extraordinary palette of the world’s most southern barrier reef. Dean Hiscox, from Lord Howe Island Environmental Tours, shows it to me from his glass-bottom boat.

“We probably shouldn’t have a reef here at all,” Dean says. “It’s only because the East Australian Current flows here from the Coral Sea, transporting coral species that have colonised this isolated reef.”

Double-headed wrasse crowd the glass window. Below, massive stingrays play hide and seek in the sand. Moments later, a turtle glides past, while tropical rock lobsters stage a thrilling world-class fight below us. It’s an incredible underwater world to behold.

Snorkel off the coast of Lord Howe Island
Snorkel on the world’s most southern coral reef © Jewels Lynch

Witness the world’s tallest sea stack

After a week of unbridled nature experiences, it’s a whippet called Eli that makes my trip. He’s the ‘sea-dog’ buddy of Dave Gardiner from Reef N Beyond Eco Tours. We’re on an offshore trip to the world’s tallest sea stack, Ball’s Pyramid. At 562 metres, the rocky monolith is all that’s left of a volcanic island that rose from the ocean about seven million years ago. I didn’t imagine a big rock in the ocean could be so moving – it’s simply jaw-dropping.

It could be the thousands of seabirds swirling above. Or perhaps the bright yellow drummer leaping out of the waves or the dolphins riding our bow. Maybe it’s Eli, Lord Howe’s cutest canine skipper. Whatever the charge, it’s clear Lord Howe is a repeat pleasure offender. And there’s no doubting its position on the list of Australia’s most wanted travel destinations.

The view of Lord Howe Island from Mt Eliza with The Old Gulch on the bottom left
The view of Lord Howe Island from Mt Eliza ©Ken Lees

Sleep like a celebrity on Lord Howe Island

Want to sleep in a bed that has also hosted Chris Hemsworth? Then why not check in to celebrity favourite, Island House. This design-driven bolthole is hidden amid a forest of kentia palms and ancient banyan trees. Two pavilion homes sleep eight guests (you can have one, or both). On request, there’s a private chef, and Lord Howe’s new brewery is also on site.

QantasLink flies to Lord Howe Island from Sydney, while Eastern Air Services flies from Port Macquarie. To find out more about Lord Howe island, visit: lordhoweisland.info

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