The best things to do on a Norfolk Island holiday

From its underwater treasures to dazzling celestial visions, a Norfolk Island holiday is in one of the most spectacular playgrounds in the South Pacific.

Captain James Cook was the first person to officially discover and record Norfolk Island, describing it as “paradise” – a term he did not use liberally in his journals. From 1788 to 1854, this paradise became Australia’s harshest penal colony and home to hapless convicts. Today, it is home to the descendants of the Bounty Mutineers whose barefoot manners, warmth and hospitality have been woven into the island’s unique and timeless rhythm. It’s a special charm that draws visitors back time and time again.

The island is clean and pristine, uncrowded, safe and friendly. There is so much to do; visitors can take advantage of the fresh air, peace and quiet and simply disconnect to reconnect. For the active at heart, bushwalk through the National Parks and Public Reserves, discover giant tree ferns, rare flora and fauna rainforest species that make Norfolk Island’s Parks and Botanical Gardens and coastal reserves. For the more adventurous, escape to Phillip Island, just a short boat trip away.

Norfolk Island Captain Cook hike
Norfolk Island Captain Cook hike © Norfolk island Tourism

Disembark for a trek around Phillip Island

Marvel at the dramatic volcanic landscapes and thousands of sea birds on their great migrations. Being by the South Pacific Ocean means plenty of water activities. Like deep-sea fishing, swimming in Emily Bay lagoon, surfing the reef breaks and snorkelling amongst incredible coral gardens and fish life.

Whether you are having a quick bite to eat between activities or settling in for an extended dining experience, Norfolk Island’s dining experience is all about its produce’s seasonal, homegrown freshness. As the island is only 8km x 5km, there is no long delivery drive to receive your produce – it is a total ‘paddock to plate’ experience.

© Carolyn Beasley
Surrounded by the South Pacific Ocean means plenty of water-based activities © Norfolk island Tourism

UNESCO paradise

Norfolk Island can boast Kingston being a UNESCO World Heritage Site (part of the 11 Australian Convict sites and, in fact, the oldest of all), a protected Marine Park right to the shoreline. Due to minimal light pollution, it is a Gold Level Dark Sky Town making it perfect for stargazing.

Aside from lazing under the cliff-top Norfolk pines overlooking the dreamy blue Pacific Ocean, you’ll be entranced by the romance, beauty, history, adventure, culture, people and serenity that define a holiday on this tiny island. It is becoming more popular as a 3G holiday destination, so bring the whole family and have an incredible time together. Norfolk Island is a short international flight from Brisbane, Sydney or Auckland yet Australians can travel over on a valid Australian passport. “Kam lukorn” – come and have a look (the island has its own local language) and discover the best things to do on Norfolk Island.

Read more: 12 of Australia’s best islands

Emily Bay

At Emily Bay, snorkel over coral bommies and fend off aatuti – Norfolk’s cheeky, territorial fish that believe they can kiss you to death with their teeny weeny mouths.

© Carolyn Beasley
Emily Bay, Norfolk Island © Norfolk island Tourism

Scenic cruise

Meet at Cascade Pier for a scenic cruise. With no port or marina on the island, this is the only way to launch a boat; it’s a thrilling, if slightly nerve-wracking, experience. As the sun speeds towards the western horizon, negotiate the shoreline through a narrow tunnel and around formations called Elephant and Cathedral rock – their names suggesting not only their shape but also their size. Enormous columns of basalt loom above and, arriving at Anson Bay.

Phillip Island

Phillip Island is called the ‘Uluru of the South Pacific’ – it’s a landscape like nothing else on Earth. Red, purple, ochre, white and yellow soils have been wind chiselled into dramatic valleys, wild-looking sand dunes and strange rocky outcrops. Earth colours made unworldly, like Mars and the Red Centre on the same playing field. Petrels, gannets, sooty terns, shearwaters, noddies and the elegant red-tailed tropicbird come here to breed, nest then leave.

Exploring Phillip Island © Norfolk island Tourism

Norfolk Island Golf Club

At Norfolk Island Golf Club, the views could put you off your game. The South Pacific will treat your eyes on one side, while the historic convict buildings of Kingston guard the other. In between, hundreds of Norfolk Island pines with fronds like baseball mitts catch every sliced ball. Maybe take a private lesson with Andrew Umlauft, the club professional, to learn how to avoid them.

Norfolk Island Golf Club © Norfolk Island Tourism

Scuba diving at Norfolk Island

After 10 years without a commercial dive operation, local Mitch Graham has made scuba diving possible on a Norfolk Island holiday. Underwater, the reef crackles and pops like breakfast cereal. Coral-crusted chimneys, chasms, caves and tunnels swarm with schools of drummer, kingfish, trumpeter and snapper. Stingrays soar on currents like submarine albatrosses. Green turtles make dashing cameo appearances. And sharks cruise past with ‘border patrol’ authority.

Exploring caves off Norfolk Island © Susan Elliott

Governor’s Lodge Resort

Boasting 55 cabins scattered among the retreat’s tropical gardens, Governor’s Lodge Resort is run by owner, Mat Christian-Bailey, a seventh-generation descendent of Fletcher Christian. Fletcher led the mutiny aboard the Bounty. Now his great-great-great-grandson manages the manicured gardens and the estate as a whole.

“I grew up running around here,” says Mat. “I rode bikes, horses, all over this place. And I always wanted to own it, even as a kid. I’m just so happy it’s now back in my family.”

Governor’s Lodge Resort © Norfolk Island Tourism

Bailey’s Restaurant

The centrepiece of Governor’s Lodge Resort is Bailey’s Restaurant in the original homestead. It has pit-sawn ceilings and a verandah of limestone from the old jail in Kingston. Homestead Restaurant is another Norfolk Island beauty that has been given fresh life. The 1930s estate has been in the Menghetti family for 40 years. Chef Kurt Menghetti cooks over a traditional Argentinian perilla grill handmade by his dad. He also makes his own charcoal from olive tree wood on the property.

The Homestead Restaurant
The Homestead Restaurant © Norfolk Island Tourism

Norfolk Island Brewing

After years of being asked by visitors if there was a local beer, Tony Watts decided to brew one. Norfolk Island Brewing now has seven beers on tap, made with Australian and New Zealand barley. Tour the brewery and enjoy a tasting on the sunny deck. Make sure to order Tony’s bread baked using the spent grain from his brewing process.

Getting to Norfolk Island

Regular flights from mainland Australia to Norfolk Island operate from Brisbane and Sydney. With connecting services to all other major capital cities and from Auckland, New Zealand. Norfolk Island is one of Australia’s seven external territories. It’s an international flight – but no passport is required. At the airport, there’s still the thrill of over-spending on duty-free goodies.